James M. Cain

James Mallahan Cain (July 1, 1892 – October 27, 1977) was an American author and journalist. Cain vehemently opposed labeling, but he is usually associated with the hardboiled school of American crime fiction and is seen as one of the creators of the roman noir. Several of his crime novels inspired successful movies.

James M. Cain
James M. Cain in 1938
BornJames Mallahan Cain
(1892-07-01)July 1, 1892
Annapolis, Maryland, United States
DiedOctober 27, 1977(1977-10-27) (aged 85)
University Park, Maryland, United States
OccupationNovelist, journalist
Alma materWashington College
Spousemarried four times

Early life

Cain was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland. The son of an educator and a failed opera singer, he inherited a love of music from his mother, but his hopes of a career as a singer were thwarted when she told him that his voice was not good enough. The family moved to Chestertown, Maryland, in 1903. In 1910, Cain graduated from Washington College, where his father, James W. Cain, served as president.[1] By 1914, Cain had decided to become a writer. He began working as a journalist for the Baltimore American and then the Baltimore Sun.[2]

Cain was drafted into the United States Army and spent the final year of World War I in France writing for an army magazine.


Upon returning to the United States, Cain continued working as a journalist, writing editorials for the New York World and a play, a short story, and satirical pieces for American Mercury.[2] He briefly served as the managing editor of The New Yorker and later worked mainly on screenplays and novels.

His first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934. Two years later Double Indemnity was serialized in Liberty magazine.[2]

Cain made use of his love of music, particularly the opera, in at least three of his novels: Serenade, about an American opera singer who loses his voice and, after spending part of his life south of the border, re-enters the United States illegally with a Mexican prostitute; Mildred Pierce, in which, as part of the subplot, the surviving daughter of a successful businesswoman trains as an opera singer; and Career in C Major, a short semi-comic novel about the unhappy husband of an aspiring opera singer, who unexpectedly discovers that he has a better voice than she does. In his novel The Moth, music is important in the life of the main character. Cain's fourth wife, Florence Macbeth, was a retired opera singer.

Cain spent many years in Hollywood working on screenplays, but his name appears as a screenwriter in the credits of only two films: Stand Up and Fight (1939) and Gypsy Wildcat (1944), for which he is one of three credited screenwriters.[3] For Algiers (1938) Cain received a credit for "additional dialogue", and he had story credits for other films.

American Authors' Authority

In 1946, Cain wrote four articles for Screen Writer magazine in which he proposed the creation of an "American Authors' Authority" to hold writers' copyrights and represent writers in contract negotiations and court disputes. This idea was dubbed the "Cain plan" in the media. The plan was denounced as communist by some writers, who formed the American Writers Association to oppose it. James T. Farrell was the foremost of these opponents. The Saturday Review printed a debate between Cain and Farrell in November 1946. Farrell argued that the commercial Hollywood writers would control the market and keep out independents. "This idea is stamped in the crude conceptions of the artist which Mr. Cain holds, the notion that the artist is a kind of idiot who thinks that he is a God, but who has only the defects and none of the virtues of a God.” In his reply, Cain argued that his opponents understood the issue incorrectly as freedom versus control. It is fear of reprisals from publishers, Cain said, that is the real cause of opposition from well-to-do writers.[4]

Although Cain worked vigorously to promote the Authority, it did not gain widespread support, and the plan was abandoned.[5][6]

Personal life

Cain was married to Mary Clough in 1919. That marriage ended in divorce, and he soon married Elina Sjösted Tyszecka. Cain never had any children of his own, but he was close to Elina's two children from a previous marriage. In 1944, Cain married the film actress Aileen Pringle, but the marriage was a tempestuous union and dissolved in a bitter divorce two years later.[7] His fourth marriage, to Florence Macbeth, lasted until her death in 1966.

Cain continued writing up to his death, at the age of 85. He published many novels from the late 1940s onward, but none achieved the financial and popular success of his earlier books.


I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices, and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort.

Preface to Double Indemnity

Novels and novellas

(with the dates of the first book publication)

  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
  • Serenade (1937)
  • Mildred Pierce (1941)
  • Love's Lovely Counterfeit (1942)
  • Three of a Kind (1943) contained three novellas - Career in C Major; Double Indemnity (first published in Liberty magazine, 1936); The Embezzler (first published as Money and the Woman, in Liberty magazine, 1938)
  • Past All Dishonor (1946)
  • The Butterfly (1947)
  • The Moth (1948)
  • Sinful Woman (1948)
  • Jealous Woman (1950)
  • The Root of His Evil (1951), also published as Shameless
  • Galatea (1953)
  • Mignon (1962)
  • The Magician's Wife (1965)
  • Rainbow's End (1975)
  • The Institute (1976)
  • Cloud Nine (1984)
  • The Enchanted Isle (1985)
  • The Cocktail Waitress (edited by Charles Ardai, 2012)[8]

The Postman Always Rings Twice was published as an Armed Services Edition during WWII, as was Three of a Kind. (The Armed Services Edition of Three of a Kind was published under the title Double Indemnity.)

Short story collections

  • Our Government (1930)
  • Career in C Major and Other Fiction (1986)
  • The Baby in the Icebox (1981)


The following films were adapted from Cain's novels, screenplays and stories.



  1. See Cain, James M., "Tribute to a Hero," in The American Mercury, November 1933, at p. 280.
  2. Madden (2011), pp. xix–xx.
  3. Mallory, Mary; Hollywood Heritage (2011). Hollywoodland, p. 106. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-7478-3.
  4. Madden (2011), pp. 24–25.
  5. West, James L. W. (1990). American Authors and the Literary Marketplace Since 1900. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-8122-1330-0.
  6. Fine, Richard (1992). James M. Cain and the American Authors' Authority. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74024-7.
  7. Hoopes, Roy (1982). Cain. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0-03-049331-5.
  8. CNN, By Christian DuChateau. "Long-lost noir masterpiece finally found". CNN. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
  9. Madden (2011), p. 141


This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.