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Tracking Chandler's every move

LITERARY LANDSCAPE

Why was the writer so restless, moving from one L.A. residence to another? It's something of a mystery.

December 23, 2004|Judith Freeman | Special to The Times

The last place they rented in L.A. was a graceful one-story stucco house at 6520 Drexel Ave., near Fairfax Avenue, that looks very much like it must have when the Chandlers lived there (the neighborhood seems to have gone uphill). Cissy, then 74, suffered from a chronic lung condition and spent much of the day sedated. Ray, at 58, was working at Paramount Studios on a script for producer and director John Houseman, who used to take Sunday drives up the coast with them and once offered this description of the couple: "In Hollywood, where the selection of wives was frequently confused with casting, Cissy was something of a phenomenon. Ray's life had been hard. He looked 10 years older than his age. His wife looked 20 years older than he did and dressed 30 years younger."

For many years, Cissy had longed to buy a place in La Jolla. Finally, in 1946, having grown tired of both the film industry and Los Angeles ("It is no longer the part of me it once was," Chandler wrote), the couple bought a place on Camino de la Costa, just south of the charming village, ending 30 years of a peripatetic lifestyle. The house was new, a one-story ranch built around a courtyard with a sweeping view of the ocean and the curving coastline.

The house where they spent their last years has changed, but not as noticeably as its neighbors. It's about to be completely remodeled, but the developer has agreed to retain parts of Chandler's study.

To keep writing, Chandler may have needed what his biographer Frank McShane called "the romance of the ineffable." We may not know what motivated all of the moves, but I do think they affected his work -- books that have stood the test of time, even if places where he and Cissy once lived have not. All that moving around fed his imagination and gave him more vistas to write about, more stories to tell.

After tracking down all the residences I could, I returned to the apartment on Greenwood Place where I had seen Chandler's name on the mailbox . I found that the slip of paper had so faded that the name was no longer legible, confirming my suspicion that it had not survived five decades but had been put there more recently. Even this trace of his life was erased, leaving part of the mystery of Raymond Chandler intact.

Judith Freeman's most recent novel is "Red Water."

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