Raymond Chandler reunited with wife, 50 years after death

The cremains of the pulp meister’s wife were brought to rest with his on Valentine’s Day.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Thanks to the efforts of a Malibu family therapist and her husband, famous noir author Raymond Chandler has been reunited with the love of his life half a century after his death.

Annie Thiel and husband Loren Latker managed to buck hide-bound county court precedent and have the cremains of Chandler’s wife, Cissy, removed from a neglected storage vault at a cemetery in San Diego and reinterred with her husband at another cemetery a scant 1.3 miles away. The reinterment took place in a festive ceremony in San Diego on the day of love, Valentine’s Day.

“Actually, I don’t have a romantic bone in my body,” Latker said at the graveside. “It was just the right thing to do.”

It all started a couple of years ago when Latker, a Chandler scholar and amateur historian of 20th century Los Angeles, learned about the literary couple’s final resting places. Since 1954, Cissy’s cremains had been placed in a Cypress View mausoleum with rusted hinges and cracked windows. Chandler ultimately was buried in Mount Hope nearby. Passionately devoted, and rarely apart in life, it just didn’t sit right with Latker to see the lovers resting in eternal slumber so close, yet so far.

Thiel, president of the nonprofit Malibu Global Awareness and a practicing therapist in Malibu for nearly 40 years, started organizing to change that.

Chandler, along with writers like Dashiell Hammett and Carroll John Daly, fairly invented the hard-boiled detective genre published in pulp periodicals such as Black Mask and Argosy in the 1920s. Throughout the ‘30s, the seamier side of Depression-era Los Angeles was immortalized in short stories such as “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” and novels like “The Big Sleep;” all but one of Chandler’s novels were successfully adapted to the big screen, with his signature hero variously played by Humphrey Bogart, Powers Boothe and Elliott Gould.

But Chandler didn’t start writing seriously until after he found Cissy. She was already married and 18 years his senior when they met in 1920. The relationship so scandalized his mother that Chandler was obliged to wait until her death before he could marry Cissy.

His novels achieved great critical and commercial success, and his writing, “The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips,” translated well to film. Author Ian Fleming said that Chandler penned “some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today.”

Chandler’s success allowed him and Cissy to move into tony digs in La Jolla, but Cissy fell into decline, during which Chandler wrote “The Long Goodbye.” After her death, Chandler used drink and a string of other women to keep his depression at bay. He finally succumbed himself in 1959. Because no will or burial instructions were found at the time, he was buried with little fanfare at Mount Hope. Perhaps a dozen people attended the funeral.

Latker started researching Chandler’s papers, which are divided between the Bodleian Library at Oxford and University of California. Thiel enlisted the pro bono help of attorneys Patrick DeCarolis and Aissa Wayne to petition San Diego Superior Court to transfer Cissy’s cremains.

Finally, on a sunny St. Valentine’s Day on Monday, Cissy and Raymond were reunited.

“I want to welcome all lovers today,” Thiel said at the graveside ceremony, with the Crown Island Jazz Band playing era-appropriate music in the background. “Without Cissy, Raymond was without his soul mate. Not anymore.”

Thiel’s remarks were followed by welcoming comments by Ann Lipscomb Hill, trustee of the San Diego Historical Society, which is officially recognizing Latker’s efforts, and a poetry reading by Judith Freeman, a Chandler biographer, who said Chandler wrote of Cissy, “Everything I’ve ever done was just a fire for her to warm her hands at.”

Rev. Randal Gardner, rector of the same La Jolla church that officiated at Chandler’s and Cissy’s original funerals 50-plus years ago, conducted the service.

Actor and Malibu resident Powers Boothe, in vintage fedora, spoke of the challenge of living up to Chandler’s prose with his portrayal of Chandler’s signature hero, Detective Philip Marlowe, in the ‘80s television series.

“I hadn’t read a lot of Chandler before I was offered the role,” Boothe said, describing the character he played as, “Down these mean streets comes a man who is not mean.

“But I quickly saw how rich this character was,” Boothe continued. “To stand by his grave now is more than a little overwhelming.”

Boothe cited some of Chandler’s best lines, like, “She was a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

In writing about his own career, Chandler said, “My books, if they had been any worse, I wouldn’t have been invited to Hollywood. If they had been any better, I wouldn’t have come.”

On Hollywood, he said, “Hollywood was the kind of town where they stick a knife in your back, then arrest you for carrying a concealed weapon.”

Latker said he was satisfied with the efforts to reunite Cissy and Raymond. “It’s a matter of honor.”

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