Author Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888, and to this day remains one of the greats in the world of crime fiction thanks to his creation of Philip Marlowe, the hardboiled detective who stars in many of his stories: The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), The Lady in the Lake (1943), The Little Sister (1949), The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback (1958). Had you approached Chandler’s desk at any point during the writing process of these books, chances are you would have spotted Taki, his Persian cat, keeping him company. In March of 1945 Chandler wrote to the associate editor of The Atlantic Monthly, Charles Morton, to introduce him.
(This letter appears in Letters of Note: Cats, a compulsive collection of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and powerful letters with cats at their heart. In the accompanying audiobook, this letter is read by Ferdinand Kingsley. Photo: Raymond Chandler and his cat, Taki, by John Engstead.)
Paramount Pictures Inc.
5451 Marathon Street
Hollywood 38, Calif.
March 19, 1945
A man named Inkstead took some pictures of me for Harper’s Bazaar a while ago (I never quite found out why) and one of me holding my secretary in my lap came out very well indeed. When I get the dozen I have ordered I’ll send you one. The secretary, I should perhaps add, is a black Persian cat, 14 years old, and I call her that because she has been around me ever since I began to write, usually sitting on the paper I wanted to use or the copy I wanted to revise, sometimes leaning up against the typewriter and sometimes just quietly gazing out of the window from a corner of the desk, as much as to say, “The stuff you’re doing’s a waste of my time, bud.” Her name is Taki (it was originally Take, but we got tired of explaining that this was a Japanese word meaning bamboo and should be pronounced in two syllables), and she has a memory like no elephant ever even tried to have. She is usually politely remote, but once in a while will get an argumentative spell and talk back for ten minutes at a time. I wish I knew what she is trying to say then, but I suspect it all adds up to a very sarcastic version of “You can do better.” I’ve been a cat lover all my life (have nothing against dogs except that they need such a lot of entertaining) and have never quite been able to understand them. Taki is a completely poised animal and always knows who likes cats, never goes near anybody that doesn’t, always walks straight up to anyone, however lately arrived and completely unknown to her, who really does. She doesn’t spend a great deal of time with them, however, just takes a moderate amount of petting and strolls off. She has another curious trick (which may or may not be rare) of never killing anything. She brings em back alive and lets you take them away from her. She has brought into the house at various times such things as a dove, a blue parakeet, and a large butterfly. The butterfly and the parakeet were entirely unharmed and carried on just as though nothing had happened. The dove gave her a little trouble, apparently not wanting to be carried around, and had a small spot of blood on its breast. But we took it to a bird man and it was all right very soon. Just a bit humiliated. Mice bore her, but she catches them if they insist and then I have to kill them. She has a sort of tired interest in gophers, and will watch a gopher hole with some attention, but gophers bite and after all who the hell wants a gopher anyway? So she just pretends she might catch one, if she felt like it.
She goes with us wherever we go journeying, remembers all the places she has been to before and is usually quite at home anywhere. One or two places have got her–I don’t know why. She just wouldn’t settle down in them. After a while we know enough to take the hint. Chances are there was an axe murder there once and we’re much better somewhere else. The guy might come back. Sometimes she looks at me with a rather peculiar expression (she is the only cat I know who will look you straight straight in the eye) and I have a suspicion that she is keeping a diary, because the expression seems to be saying: “Brother, you think you’re pretty good most of the time, don’t you? I wonder how you’d feel if I decided to publish some of the stuff I’ve been putting down at odd moments.” At certain times she has a trick of holding one paw up loosely and looking at it in a speculative manner. My wife thinks she is suggesting we get her a wrist watch; she doesn’t need it for any practical reason–she can tell the time better than I can–but after all you gotta have some jewelry.
I don’t know why I’m writing all this. It must be I couldn’t think of anything else, or–this is where it gets creepy–am I really writing it at all? Could it be that–no, it must be me. Say it’s me. I’m scared.