ColdCashIn the beginning is the struggle to find a title for your book and to name the characters.  It is said that Raymond Chandler chose the surname Marlow for his famous private detective after the Renaissance playwright and spy who was a contemporary of Shakespeare. Who knows what prompted Dashiell Hammett to name his character Sam Spade?  But it’s a doozie of a name, an unforgettable moniker for an unforgettable character.  You wouldn’t catch Hollywood changing Philip Marlow or Sam Spade to something catchier.  There isn’t anything catchier.

My own series character grew out of my admiration for the acting and persona of Robert Mitchum, whose unique brand of honesty, cynicism, humor and toughness appealed to several generations of movie-goers, me included.  I was looking around for a character-name that would fit into a retro-noir setting that was generally seedy, rough-edged and glaringly oblique.  It wasn’t, in retrospect, hard to see that Mitch Roberts was just as good a name as Robert Mitchum, a name that would hold up if I was lucky enough to get the series published.

Six or seven years into the series, somewhere in the early 1990s, I decided to send a copy of one of my books to Robert Mitchum himself.  Needless to say I didn’t know Robert Mitchum’s address in California, so I wrote a note addressed to Mr. Mitchum and sent it, along with a book, to Mitchum in care of the Screen Actor’s Guild in Los Angeles and promptly forgot about the whole thing.  To me, the exercise was like putting a message in a bottle and tossing the bottle into the ocean.

A few months later I received in the post a beautifully embossed envelope that had no specific return address in its upper left-hand corner, though it did have the impressively scripted name “Robert Mitchum” in that place, printed handsomely indeed.  I carefully slit open the envelope.  In type the letter said:  “Mr. Mitchum wishes me to thank you for your kind gift of a book.  He will read it with pleasure, I’m sure.”  It was signed, Dorothy Mitchum, the great actor’s wife.

The pleasure of that letter prompted me to send a book to Lizabeth Scott, a tremendously talented actress whose work I admired in many film-noirs.  At the time I’d never seen one of her pictures in color and I wondered what color were her eyes.  She wrote me a beautiful letter back in her own handwriting—again, beautifully embossed envelope and classy stationary with her name in heavy script at the top.  “Blue, blue eyes have I!! What a poet you are!”  She signed her own letter.