the dingus & me
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
I’ve been asked, what is the significance of having The Maltese Falcon next to you and your book in your picture on the website? Are you trying to compare yourself to Dashiell Hammett, Sam Spade… or what’s that bird statue in your picture?, by those who have never seen the movie. Other’s have said, “What Maltese Falcon, where?”
First, though I intended to put ‘my Black Bird’ in the picture taken by Bill Crump* he also took a photo of me holding the Black Bird. An apparent homage to the black and white picture of Bogey and the Dingus (which I found on the internet after the photo shoot) and which was not a conscious intention. * BillCrumpPhotograph.com
Here’s the rest of the story…
One fall in the early 1980’s, an October to be specific, I was in San Francisco staying at the venerable Hilton San Francisco for the annual National Mortgage Banker’s convention. At the time, my wife was in the mortgage business⎯which meant I had time to myself while my wife attended various ‘sessions’ during the day. On the day of my walk-about it was not the fabled Mark Twain kind of day… the coldest winter I ever knew was the summer I spent in San Francisco. It was sunny as I started and clouded-up as it approached noon. I walked half-a-block east on O’Farrell Street, crossed Mason Street then at the end of the block turned right on Powell Street and turned left on Ellis Street. I found John’s Grill at number 63.
Why John’s Grill, simple⎯iconic advertising. The hotel room brochure on local restaurants had the name John’s Grill next to a picture of the famous black bird statue from The Maltese Falcon, one of my favorite movies. A movie, taken from a hard-boiled detective novel written by Dashiell Hammett of the same name, starring Humphrey Bogart. John’s Grill is featured in the book as one of Sam Spade’s haunts.
I walked in just after the lunch crowd had left, it was middle of the week, dark and almost empty. I can’t remember what I ordered, but I had a meal while reading the menu with the Grill’s history prominently displayed. Unnoticed on my arrival, on leaving I stumbled past a small alcove near the entrance in which was ensconced a wooden glass front bookcase containing the Maltese Falcon and other memorabilia from the book and movie. From seeing the photograph in the restaurant advertisement, to the menu and now I was standing face to face with the statue of my boyhood late-night movie dreams and remembering some of Bogart’s famous last words at the end of the movie. Holding the bird he was asked, “What is that?”, Bogart replied, “The stuff that dreams are made of.”
Almost 30 years later I heard the restaurant's bird was stolen.
Here is an excerpt from a 2007 article in sfgate.com: 2007-02-12 16:46:14 PST
"It's been nearly 80 years since Sam Spade wandered the streets of San in search of the Maltese Falcon. Now, the statue is missing again.
John Konstin, the owner of San Francisco's John's Grill on Ellis Street, said someone broke into a locked cabinet on the second floor of his establishment and took a signed reproduction of the Maltese Falcon -- one used for publicity stills for the movie -- along with several vintage and signed books by and about Maltese Falcon author Dashiell Hammett."
I was unaware, until today (9.18.19) that the treasured icon was 'replaced'.
NOV. 18, 2007 12 AM FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
"SAN FRANCISCO -- Nine months after someone stole a Maltese Falcon statue from a San Francisco landmark, the restaurant owner is touting a new bird made famous by Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel and Humphrey Bogart’s 1941 film noir classic.
John Konstin of John’s Grill said the 150-pound, 17-inch statue made of lead and bronze will be bolted down, locked in a case and eyed constantly by security cameras. The predator looks more fierce and realistic than the 50-pound plaster replica it replaces.
John’s Grill, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, is the haunt of Hammett’s most famous character, detective Sam Spade. In the 1920s, Hammett worked next door and was a frequent patron."
In the article captioned below the picture above the writer says: "An upstairs glass case houses a shrine to Humphrey Bogart's 1941 film noir classic, The Maltese Falcon. It's based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, in which private eye Sam Space orders chops, a baked potato and sliced tomatoes from John's—a combo still available to diners today."
I thought, given the Grill’s history with writer Dashiell, the movie and the movie photographs of ‘the players’ hanging on the restaurant’s walls, perhaps this was the real thing. What was even more innervating was that there was a small brochure, there for the taking, explaining how you could order a replica Maltese Falcon for your very own. I took one of the brochures.
Back in Dallas, I read and re-read that brochure dozens of times. The replica was reputed to be an exact copy of the bird used in the movie. Finally, I ordered one and waited for its arrival. When it arrived I was both gladdened and saddened. It was heavy, it had gravitas but something seemed wrong. In the days before the internet, I had to satisfy my curiosity by re-re-watching the VHS tape copy of the movie I had made from a late-night TV broadcast of the movie; it had not yet been put out for commercial sale. The replica statue was similar but…
Nearly twenty years go by, my replica laying, wrapped in newspaper and twine (like in the movie) in a box and packed away. More recently, I surfed the internet for The Maltese Falcon, book and movie. I found a company selling Maltese Falcon ‘original’ replicas on eBay! I researched the company and thought, good story, alright why not.
I am now the owner of a second “Dingus” (what Sam Spade called the statue). Accompanying my bird is a sealed certificate: The Original Maltese Falcon, History and Certificate of Authenticity. Two paragraphs from the Certificate follow:
Your Falcon, produced by Studio 303 of Hollywood™ was created from mold taken from an original 1941 casting that came into our possession in 1963. Slated for the trash bin the original treasure was snatched from near oblivion by Ken Patterson. Our Falcon was recognized as authentic by the producers of the Warner Brothers Documentary THE MALTESE FALCON: ONE MAGNIFICENT BIRD and chosen to star in the production as the Famous Black Bird. [Author’s Note: Release date for the Maltese Falcon was 18 October 1941 according to IMDB.]
The Original Falcon was one of several items salvaged by Mr. Patterson when the set from the old Westinghouse Steve Allen Show was being dismantled following the show’s run. Your “Dingus” was created using the slip cast method then hand finished with a sealer and 3 different types of black paint. Each year a new mold is created and a Limited Edition of Original Maltese Falcons is struck.
As evidenced by our Gold Seal of Authenticity, you are herewith officially registered as the original owner of this Falcon, available exclusively from The Haunted Studios™. Your Studio 303 casting is an exact copy of the studio original, with all defects as well as details intact. Close examination shows that the “Dingus” is truly hand crafted and completely delightful. The Haunted Studios™ Gold Seal is your proof of authenticity.
Thus authenticated, I should have been satisfied. I watched the aforementioned documentary and saw my “Dingus” up on the screen. But being a detective, I kept having comparative analysis problems… Doing as extensive a visual comparison as I was capable of doing, I concluded, in spite of the claims of the “Dingus” makers, their replica is far from an exact copy of the bird used in the movie The Maltese Falcon. It is close. Now, in their defense several stories abound that several designs were created for the movie prop and it may be that The Haunted Studios™… Studio 303 casting is an exact copy of the studio original as one of those ‘several’ prop designs, but is not the one in the movie. The “Dingus” in the movie is more smooth with more rounded shapes as if handled for centuries. The Studio 303 casting is more ‘cut’ and its edges well defined among other inconsistencies.
Recently, I had begun reading former LA Homicide Detective Steve Hodel’s book, Black Dahlia Avenger, in which he casts his father, LA physician Dr. George Hodel Jr. as the murderer of Elizabeth (Betty) Short, aka: The Black Dahlia. Not only did Steve Hodel live in the famous iconic, Lloyd Wright built, ‘Sowden House’, his father entertained Hollywood celebrities and friends there, among them actor Walter Huston and his son John Huston and one Fred Sexton an artist and sculptor. Fred Sexton is reputed, in the book, to be the man John Huston called on to create ‘the black bird’ for his then upcoming film, The Maltese Falcon. The question raised is, does the Studio 303 casting have any resemblance to the original Sexton sculpture. I have no answer. I went in search of Fred Sexton and instead found Adam Savage.
The web search led me to view a web cast of Adam Savage (a TED Video, see: http://www.ted.com/talks/adam_savage_s_obsessions.html) a noted model builder and ‘Myth Buster’ who talks about his obsession to obtain ‘the black bird’. And, like I had, he obtained one, or as he refers to it: “the crappy one I ordered on eBay”. He then proceeds to find photographs of originals as well as using stop-frame stills from the movie to accurately sculpt his own. The results are amazing and his appears far superior to the statue offered by The Haunted Studios™… Studio 303 casting, which appears to be better than either of my other two Dingus’. I will make do with what I have… ’til I get the Studio 303 casting or a better version becomes available. I will let you know. (Turns out the new version was [in my opinion] even a poorer quuality than before. I didn’t keep it.)
Regardless, I have a ‘representative’ icon of ‘the black bird’ from the movie version of The Maltese Falcon. Perhaps E. A. Poe was one of the fathers of the American mystery story, however Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon story (to my mind) is quintessentially the definitive precursor of American detective fiction. As a writer of mystery/detective fiction, my Maltese Falcon sits over my shoulder on a shelf as a write, a constant reminder of my genre’s roots.
In the triptych below are (left to right) a black and white photo of the current The Haunted Studios™… Studio 303 casting; an original lead version, sold at Auction in 1994 and authenticated by Christies’; and the resin Maltese Falcon found at a flea market in 1999 (by Avi [Ara] Chekmayan, a New Jersey editor) which took five years to authenticate to the auctioneer’s specifications.