Raymond And Cissy Chandler Reunited Today
Monday, February 14, 2011
Today in San Diego, the last chapter in Raymond Chandler's real life love story with his wife Cissie will be played out. More than 50 years after their deaths, Cissie's ashes will be placed in Chandler's grave in a San Diego cemetery.
They wanted to be together forever. He the British-born writer who redefined the American mystery. She, the older, beautiful, cherished, love of his life. But after she died he got more disoriented than a carrier pigeon in a tornado. And so their wish for a united eternity never materalized until now.
Even if it's impossible to imitate the magical prose of writer Raymond Chandler, we can conjure up his world, the world of noir fiction, populated with women and men torn between their desires and their lost ideals.
Today in San Diego, the last chapter in Chandler's real life love story with his wife Cissie will be played out. More than 50 years after their deaths, Cissie's ashes will be placed in Chandler's grave at 12:30 at Mt Hope Cemetary.
Guest: Judith Freeman, author of "the Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler And The Woman He Loved"
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. They wanted to be together forever. He, the British born writer who redefined the American mystery. She the older, beautiful, cherished love of his life. But after she keyed, he got more disoriented than a carrier pigeon in a tornado. And so their wish for a united [CHECK AUDIO] until now. Raymond Chandler, we can conjure up his world, the world of noir fiction, populated with women and men torn between their desires and their lost ideals. Today in San Diego, the last chapter in Chandler's real life love story with his wife, Cissy, will be played out more than 50 years after their deaths 67 sissy's ashes will be placed in Chandler's grave. [CHECK AUDIO] Judith freeman, she's author of the long embrace, Raymond Chandler and the woman he loved. Judith, good morning.
FREEMAN: Good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you're driving down [CHECK AUDIO] mount hope cemetery. I wonder why after all these years is this happening?
FREEMAN: Well, I have to say that this was the idea of a couple there in Los Angeles, doctor Anne deal and Lauren Losker. Both who are long time admirers of Chandler's work. And they came up with this idea to reunite [CHECK AUDIO] opposite sides of the mount hope cemetery. When Cissy died in 1954, Chandler was just so distraught that he appeared drunk at the funeral, he never even accompanied her ashes to the cemetery. He was just a wreck. And so sissy's ashes were entombed in a part of the cemetery, and when Ray died five years later, he was in also very bad shape when he passed away. And he hadn't made any plans, and he was buried on the opposite side of the cemetery, so for over 50 years, this couple who had a remarkable of affair, extraordinary marriage of 30 years, had been separated by a very large expanse of grass. And Anne and Lauren got the idea that it would be wonderful to reunite this couple. And I thought -- when I first heard this idea, I thought, wow, that's kind of wacky. But in another sense, when I thought about it, I thought that's so sweet. These peep were so deeply romantic. And she was such a great help to him in writing his work. So I think it's just essentially a very lovely thing to be happening on Valentine's day.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Judith, before we talk more about this extraordinary relationship between Raymond and Cissy Chandler, remind us about the books and the movies Raymond Chandler's work inspired. Some people in the audience may not be familiar with Raymond Chandler.
FREEMAN: Chandler wrote mostly in the thirties and the '40s. He began writing pulp stories for the pulp magazines in the early 1930s. Before that, he had been an executive for an oil company in Los Angeles. And many of his books were made into movies issue the big sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, farewell my lovely, he had several movies made including one with Robert Mitchell and another with Dick Powell. He worked in Hollywood in the 1940s. [CHECK AUDIO] did you believe indemnity. He was such an important writer, he was the first to put LA on the map. But when he married Cissy in 1924, the interesting thing about their relationship was that she was almost 20 years older.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.
FREEMAN: He was 35, and she was 53. So --
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And this was something Raymond Chandler didn't know for quite some time.
FREEMAN: No, because Cissy, naughty Cissy listed her age as 43 on the marriage certificate. So he really thought that he was marrying a woman maybe a decade older, not almost 20 years older. And the result was that, you know, she -- as she began to age, they became very reclusive. They became a very solitary couple. They had no children, they had few friends, and the other thing is is that they moved almost over two-dozen times in and around Los Angeles. They left this very pair pathetic life, very self enclosed plaintiff. And Cissy really became ray's anchor. She kept him solid and grounded and really enabled him to become the writer that he did. He was almost 51 when he published his first novel in 1939, and by that time, Cissy was almost 70.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: [CHECK AUDIO] taking place at mount hope cemetery today. They reunite sissy's ashes, Cissy Chandler's ashes will be placed in Raymond Chandler's grave, uniting them both in death, the way they had hoped to be. And I want to talk a little bit more about that peripatetic lifestyle that you talked about. Because that's the essence of your book the long embrace. You traced and tracked do you understand all the places that Raymond and Cissy Chandler lived when they were in Los Angeles and elsewhere, and was one of the reasons they moved so much because they were poor. ?
FREEMAN: Well, it's true. They didn't have much money. But I think there were a couple of other factors. One is that Chandler was born in America by a fatherless American, his mother was English, but the father left Chandler and his mother when Chandler was seven. He was taken back to England. And he was constantly move bide his mother. Heave went to a very good private school in London. Then he ended up coming back to America when he was 24. Moved to Los Angeles in 1912. At that point he simply had no anchor, and no grounding. His mother came to live with him, and they begin moving constantly. I think Chandler never had a solid sense of home as a child. But I also think he had moved to a place, especially after the [CHECK AUDIO] and Chandler loved cars. Automobiles made it possible to be so peripatetic and mobile, you could put all your stuff in a car and go to big bear for the summer where it was cool, and rent a cabin. Then you could go to Palm Springs in the winter where it was warm am he lived all over the map. He lived from the mountains to the desert. He lived in Brent wood and Santa Monica, and silver lake, and Arcadia. He lived everywhere. And I came to believe that's one of the reasons that he wrote so well about Los Angeles, why he got it as almost no other writer has. Because he literally knew it from every aspect. But I think Cissy gave him his sense of hope, not where he lived.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the places, of course, they both lived at the end of their lives was in La Jolla. And that's the reason that they are both buried here.
FREEMAN: That's right. They always loved La Jolla. They thought it was so charming. And when they finally made enough money after ray had worked in Hollywood a while, and he got sick of LA. He'd had it with LA, and in 1946, they moved to La Jolla, and they bought a house there. And it overlooked at ocean on Camina de la Costa, and they spent their last eight years of sissy's life there, she died in 1984 -- I mean 1954 at the age of 84, and Chandler at the time was 66. And when she died, he really became quite distraught. He lived only five more years. And before he died, he burned all her letters. And when that happened he kind of erased her. There's not much record of Cissy Chandler.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do we know about her.
FREEMAN: We know that she came from Ohio and that she moved to Harlem in the 1990s. We know that she was extraordinarily beautiful, and that she posed nude for [CHECK AUDIO] we know that she was married twice before she met Raymond Chandler. We know that she was much more worldly and experienced. Of the we know that at the age of 53, she was said to have the figure of a 30-year-old. Which is probably why she could deceive Chandler into thinking she was ten years younger. She had studied the piano, and she was married to a man named [CHECK AUDIO] wooed her away from her husband. And at that time, he was living with his mother, he had to wait until his mother died before he could marry Cissy. And two books after his mother died, he married her. She was very beautiful and high spirited and witty.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you say that their relationship was very romantic. What do you mean by that? Because we've known for many years, Raymond Chandler did have a drinking problem. And we don't necessarily see that, I don't know, perhaps in general as something that goes along with a really romantic, deep relationship with another human being.
FREEMAN: Well, you know, Chandler did drink on and off during his life. And there were great periods when he was sober, and Cissy was a great help with that. His ro -- he had a very romantic nature, Raymond Chandler of course he was to his core a romantic, and I think his great character, Philip Marlow, [CHECK AUDIO] described as such by so many different people who understand, he is the white knight. Chandler was the white knight. He said that he wooed his wife every single day of their marriage. He would stay up the night and write poetry to her, he brought her flowers, he was -- it was a very genteel relationship. They had tea every afternoon together, they had their ritual. They were so bonded to each other. And he said that he had an almost perfect marriage for 30 years.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Judith, I wonder, did Cissy appear as any of the characters in any of his books?
FREEMAN: You can see her slightly in farewell my lovely. There's a character named Anne who has red hair and pale skin and has a kind of warmth about her that to me suggests Cissy. In a few other short story, I'll be waiting, you see a character like Cissy. So yes, she appears slightly. But Chandler wrote very hard boiled fiction. And in truth, he said that Cissy never really cared very much for what he wrote. Never felt that he'd written a book worthy of dedicating to her.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Which do you think is his best book?
FREEMAN: I'm very fond of the long goodbye.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: His last finished book.
FREEMAN: Well, he did publish one book after that, but it's not considered to be amongst the better books. And I think I'm fond of the long goodbye because Marlow takes on such human qualities, he becomes in a way almost tragically human. And Chandler said that he wrote that book as his wife lay dying. And he thought it was his best book. I think it's one that's just infused with the emotional that he felt, realizing that he was going to lose this woman who was then his anchor, who he said was the beat of his heart for 30 years. He was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound. He said everything that he had done was just a fire for her to warm her hands at. That's how romantic he was.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow, Judith, I wonder if you could in the last minute that we have, tell us exactly what's gonna take place at mount hope today.
FREEMAN: Well, I think it's gonna be a wonderful day, there's gonna be a ceremony, a grave site ceremony, I'm gonna be leading from the long embrace. There's going to be another actor there who's going to be reading probably from Chandler. There will be a New Orleans style brass band. There's going to be a minister there who from -- I think it's saint James episcopal church in La Jolla, who conducted the original service for Cissy and ray. Not the same minister, but the same church. I think it's going to be a very festive and wonderful event. I regard James Elroy interviewed on the program, and he was talking about the holy conjunction of men and women, and I think this is going to be one of those lovely events that's just perfect for Valentine's. So at 1:00 PM, people are gonna be gathering grave side to see the ashes will be brought down by Annie and Lauren who really put this together, in vintage cars, with a New Orleans style brass band. And I think it'll just be festive and wonderful and moving to see these people reunited and buried in the same plot under a new head stone in a new grave [CHECK AUDIO].
FREEMAN: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Judith freeman is the author of the long embrace, Raymond Chandler and the woman he loved. And as we heard, Cissy Chandler's ashes will be escorted to the mausoleum [CHECK AUDIO] under a new grave marker that's happening today. The ceremony starts at 1230 at mount hope cemetery right here San Diego. And if you would like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, the issues women in the military face when they are coming home. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.