James M. Cain

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Premiering this weekend is a new TV adaptation of “Mildred Pierce,” one of James M. Cain’s Depression-era, tough-guy novels. As WNYC’s Sara Fishko tells us, those books provided 1940s Hollywood with plenty of material for its dark dramas. Here is the next Fishko Files...



James M. Cain had a rich, full life and career. We could barely cram a fraction of it into Fishko Files. For some choice items about Cain, read the list below.




Cain Facts

  • Before he became a novelist, Cain was a soldier, journalist, record store clerk, singer, gas company worker, and mine worker.
  • Opera played a large role in Cain’s life. Cain’s mother was an opera singer, as were two of Cain’s wives. His novel Serenade focused on a down-on-his luck opera singer. The daughter in the book Mildred Pierce was a very gifted opera singer.
  • The hard-boiled Cain had many high-level admirers and colleagues, including H.L. Mencken at The American Mercury, Walter Lippmann, whom he worked with at The New York World, Edmund Wilson, and later author Tom Wolfe, who said that “momentum was something [Cain] had a patent on.”
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) was Cain’s first novel. The New York Times reviewer said Cain “made Ernest Hemingway look like a lexicographer.”
  • Postman sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer almost immediately after it was published– for $25,000. That’s equivalent to $300,000 today. The film didn’t reach movie theaters, however, until 1946.
  • Cain retired to a modest home near Annapolis, Maryland -- the same town where he grew up. He lived alone, and when friends tried to contact him he told them to call. He printed on his stationary “Station to station does it—there’s nobody here but me.”

Some devoted Cain appreciators have written about the author repeatedly: Roy Hoopes, William Marling and our guest in this edition of Fishko Files, David Madden.

David Madden has written two books on Cain and his technique. James M. Cain (a biography, published in 1970), and Cain’s Craft (published 1985). Madden’s third book on Cain, James M. Cain: Hard-Boiled Mythmaker, will be published in July.


Film Noir Aficionado Eddie Muller wrote about Cain in his book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. Muller is the founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation. The 13th Annual Los Angeles Film Noir Festival takes place from April 1st through April 20th. Visit their website for more details.


Mildred Pierce Events This Weekend…

-Mildred Pierce, a mini-series directed by Todd Haynes, premieres on HBO this Sunday, March 27th. For more information, visit HBO’s website.

-Turner Classic Movies is showing the original Mildred Pierce (1945) on Saturday, March 26th – as part of their series “The Essentials.”


WNYC Production Credits...

Mix Engineers: Wayne Shulmister & Rob Weisberg

Assistant Producer: Laura Mayer

Managing Editor, WNYC News: Karen Frillmann

Cain excerpts read by Rex Doane