Unpublished Raymond Chandler Comic Operetta Discovered

Posted on December 5, 2014

When you think of Raymond Chandler, you think of crime fiction. The creator of the detective Philip Marlowe, Chandler's novels and screenplays are considered classics in the genre. Which is why a recent discovery of a musical comedy he wrote is such a shocker.

Yes, that's right. The writer of hardboiled crime fiction actually wrote the libretto for a Gilbert and Sullivan-like operetta called The Princess and the Pedlar. The music was written by Julian Pascal, the man who was then married to Chandler's future wife. The operetta was registered with the U.S. copyright office on August 29, 1917.

The work was never published or produced. It was found by author Kim Cooper who was doing research on Mr. Pascal. She found the work listed in an index, and requested the Library of Congress to track it down and let her see a copy. It took a while, but she got the copy of the score. The discovery overturns the accepted biography of Chandler, which states that he became a crime novelist after being fired from his lucrative job at an oil company. It appears that he co-wrote the operetta when he was only 19 years old, long before he took a job at the oil company from which he was fired for alcoholism and multiple affairs.

The operetta tells the story of romance between Princess Porphyria, whose parents are the King and Queen of Arcadia, and a "Strolling Pedlar" named Beautiful Jim. There is magic and spells and evil doers who sing gleefully about the delights of being evil. Cooper says it's extremely clever and funny. But none of us are likely to see a production of it any time soon. Cooper and her husband Richard Schuave wrote to the Chandler estate requesting permission to stage the musical comedy. They got turned down, in no uncertain terms.

In fact, it sounds as if the estate was horrified by the discovery. They received a letter back from the estate's literary agent Ed Victor, who said he discussed the proposal with Graham C. Greene (nephew of the late novelist Graham Greene who is an executor of the estate). They decided to deny permission. Victor wrote "I'm afraid we have decided not to give you permission to workshop the opera or publish it in any way. It is a very early work, and not representative of Chandler's oeuvre. Yes, it is of course a curiosity, but we feel no more than that." He noted they would rather not it be promoted. And that is that. At least for now.

Cooper and Schuave have written about their find on their website. They also have posted small snippets of the libretto, as well as an online petition asking the Chandler estate to reconsider and allow the operetta to be produced.