Actor Humphrey Bogart immortalized author Raymond Chandler’s character Phillip Marlowe in the 1946 film, The Big Sleep. Now, there’s chatter that Chandler might have been inspired to create the tough private eye based on the life of Samuel Marlowe, a Black detective who reportedly worked in Los Angeles in the ’30’s.
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.
According to historian and former studio executive Louise Ransil, the real-life Marlowe corresponded with Chandler and author Dashiell Hammett, who created the fictional private detective Sam Spade. Coincidentally, Bogart also played Spade in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon.
Not much information exists about the real-life Marlowe, but what has been reported is that he was a Jamaican immigrant born in 1890 and a World War I veteran. An obituary in The Los Angeles Times writes that he served in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force for Britain which helped to guard the Suez Canal. When the war ended, he moved to Los Angeles and reportedly became the city’s first private detective.
A blog, The Daily Mirror, countered Ransil’s claims that Marlowe ever existed and engaged in quite a lengthy debate with her in the comments section of an entry disputing the Black detective’s tales in a story by Los Angeles Times writer Daniel Miller. But Ransil claims to have discovered and seen the corresponding letters between Chandler, Hammett, and Marlowe.
The CW network announced last year that it was looking to develop a series around Marlowe, igniting renewed interest in the story.