When Raymond Chandler went to work for Billy Wilder
In the rat-infested trenches of France, Raymond Chandler became an alcoholic and stayed. In 1932, after alcohol kicked him out of a cushy job, he decided to cut down on gin and become a novelist. He began by selling tough detective sons to pulpy magazine Black Mask, then later sold his first novel, “The Big Sleep”, to Alfred A. Knopf. In 1943, VSHandler’s third novel, “The High Window,” was read by Paramount director Billy Wilder. He liked the way Chandler wrote the dialogue and offered him a contract for $ 750 a week for 10 weeks to work with him on a screenplay for “Double Indemnity.”, “ James M. Cain’s novel. Chandler had never written for the movies and didn’t like the idea of submitting to a young Austrian Jew who had written dozens of screenplays in Berlin and Hollywood. But Chandler was broke and had to take care of a sick woman. He signed up.
The novelist didn’t like showing up every day at the Writers’ Building to find Wilder waiting for him, wearing one of those hats he never took off. (It covered up his bald spot.) Even Wilder’s casual clothes offended Chandler, still in a tie and jacket. After Chandler submitted his first script, Wilder bluntly told him that he didn’t know the first thing about script structuring. From that moment on, their collaboration became even more strained. After three weeks of taking a sip of whiskey every time Wilder left his office, Chandler suddenly didn’t show up. Enraged, Billy broke into the office of Joe Sistrom, the producer, and found Sistrom reading a complaint letter from Chandler, which contained a list of reasons he could no longer work with the director. This is how Wilder later recalled the list: “He couldn’t work with me anymore because I was rude; I was drinking; I was [fornicating]; I was on the phone with four chicks, with one I was on the phone – he timed me – for twelve and a half minutes; I had asked him to lower the Venetian blinds… without saying please.
Sistrom allowed Chandler to calm down and Wilder to behave. Then the writers gritted their teeth and completed the script within the allotted 10 weeks. The praise the film received upon its release earned Chandler an extension of his contract and Wilder was given the green light for his upcoming film, “The Lost Weekend.. ” But the best part was that they never had to see each other again.
Edward Sorel is an artist and illustrator. His memoir, “Profusely Illustrated”, will be published in November.