Monday, August 13, 2012

Who Owns Chandler's Literary Rights?

A question I often receive via email--generally from someone looking to reprint one of Chandler's works--is who owns the rights to Raymond Chandler's literary works.

For many years the Chandler estate was represented by Ed Victor, Ltd., a London literary agency (which, as it happens, represents John Banville/Benjamin Black, who just announced he's writing a new Philip Marlowe novel, to be released in 2013). In 1989, Victor sold the rights to all of Chandler's fiction to a private trust, which in turn sold them in 2005 to Chorion, a media and "brand management" company that also owned the rights to Agatha Christie's and George Simenon's works in addition to a slew of children's book characters like Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, and Noddy.

Chorion, to be more detailed, actually purchased 75% of a new corporation called Raymond Chandler Ltd., with the remaining quarter owned by the Chandler estate. At the time of the purchase, Chorion promised that the market was ripe for a receiving new versions of Chandler's stories, in particular hinting that new motion picture and television productions were in the works. The last time a film version of one of Chandler's novels was released was in 1978, with the Robert Mitchum version of The Big Sleep.

Nothing much came forth, though. In 2006 the firm, then publicly-traded, was taken private by a private equity firm, but it was heavily loaded with debt and in 2011 its chairman, Lord Waheed Alli, was forced to resign and creditors appointed DC Advisory Partners to begin dismantling the business. Earlier this year, Chorion started selling off many of its literary properties, including unloading the Agatha Christie estate to Acorn Media Group, to service their debts. Chandler's estate is among the last of its intellectual property assets remaining.

It may be only a matter of time before the Chandler rights are sold as well, but the recent announcement of Banville/Black's planned Philip Marlowe--which, apparently, was commissioned by the Chandler estate--shows at least a little sign of activity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Keeping Philip Marlowe Alive

John Banville as Benjamin Black
(Barry McCall/McMillan)
The big Raymond Chandler news this week has been that the Booker-prize winning British novelist John Banville, who writes mysteries under the pen name Benjamin Black, is working on a new novel starring Philip Marlowe. The book, which has been authorized by the Chandler estate, will be published by Henry Holt in 2013.

Robert B. Parker was the first author to take a crack at Chandler's famous detective character, first completing Chandler's four-chapter fragment Poodle Springs and then creating a full Marlowe novel from scratch, Perchance to Dream: Sequel to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. In the 1980s, Byron Preiss put together Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, an  anthology of short stories starring Philip Marlowe, each of which was written by a range of authors including Sara Paretsky and Robert Crais.

The news of Banville's effort has generated a lot of press, most of which has been informative and neutral in tone. Malcolm Jones of the Daily Beast, however, has declared the novel "a terrible idea".

"Resurrected fictional characters are the living dead of literature, " Jones argues. "Everything about them is always at least a little off, like a copy of a copy of a copy." Marlowe, he continues, has proven particularly difficult  for anyone--from Bogart to Robert B. Parker--to recreate, and he raises some very good points about how Chandler's Los Angeles was a very personal creation based on decades of experience.

The proof will be in Banville/Black's final manuscript, but if nothing else it shows Philip Marlowe's staying power. Three quarters of  a century in, he's still engaging readers and writers alike.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Mysterious Something in the Light Hits British Bookstores

Many years in the making, Tom Williams's biography Raymond Chandler: A Mysterious Something in the Light was just released in the U.K. No U.S. version yet, though you can order it from a few booksellers here stateside. Curiously, while it is available in a Kindle edition, you can't download it in the US! So, I'm still waiting on my copy.

Reviews of biographies tend to talk more about the subject's life than the biography itself, and that seems even more pronounced with reviews of a Chandler biography, since he had such a compelling and unusual life story. But, here are the few snippets from the reviews that address Williams' work itself:
"Tom Williams does not trouble us with any startlingly new conclusions but his treatment is unfussy and shows how Chandler’s 'troubled childhood, his complicated family relationships, his profound awkwardness about sex and women and his battle with alcohol all variously frustrated, coloured and fuelled his writing'". — Christopher Silvester,
"Williams does not flinch from describing his subject’s faults but he lets his enthusiasm for the books shine through. He has unearthed little new material and his prose is pedestrian, but he knows the value of letting Chandler speak for himself. The nuggets from Chandler’s letters are wonderful."—Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph.
"The fascinating new biography, Raymond Chandler: A Mysterious Something In The Light by Tom Williams, which draws on many of his previously unpublished letters"--David Leaf, The Daily Mail