James M. Cain

James M. Cain

James M. Cain
Born James Mallahan Cain
(1892-07-01)July 1, 1892
Annapolis, Maryland, United States
Died October 27, 1977(1977-10-27) (aged 85)
University Park, Maryland, United States
Occupation Novelist, journalist
Nationality American
Genre Crime

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


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • American Authors' Authority 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Bibliography 5
    • Novels and novellas 5.1
    • Short story collections 5.2
  • Films 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Cain was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland. The son of a prominent educator and an opera singer, he had inherited a love for music from his mother, but his hopes of starting a career as a singer himself 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. By 1914 Cain had decided to become a writer. He began working as a journalist for the Baltimore American and then the Baltimore Sun.[1]

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, he continued working as a journalist, writing editorials for the New York World and a play, a short story, and satirical pieces for American Mercury.[1] He briefly served as the managing editor of The New Yorker, but later worked mainly on screenplays and novels.

Cain's first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934. Two years later the serialized Double Indemnity was published in Liberty magazine.[1]

Cain made use of his love of music and of the opera in particular in at least three of his novels: Serenade (about an American opera singer who loses his voice and who, after spending part of his life south of the border, re-enters the 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 the novel The Moth, music is important in the life of the main character. In addition, Cain's fourth wife Florence Macbeth was a retired opera singer.

Although Cain spent many years in Hollywood working on screenplays, his name appears as a screenwriter only in the credits of two films: Stand Up and Fight (1939) and Gypsy Wildcat (1944), for which he is one of three credited screenwriters.[2] For Algiers (1938) Cain received an "additional dialogue" credit, and he got 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 the 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 foremost of these writers and the Saturday Review carried 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.[3]

Although Cain worked vigorously to promote the Authority, it did not gain widespread support and the idea died.[4][5]

Personal life

Cain was married to Mary Clough in 1919. The marriage ended in divorce and he promptly married Elina Sjösted Tyszecka. Although Cain never had any children of his own, he was close to Elina's two children from a prior marriage. In 1944 Cain married film actress Aileen Pringle, but the marriage was a tempestuous union and dissolved in a bitter divorce two years later.[6] Cain married for the fourth time to Florence Macbeth. Their marriage lasted until her death in 1966.

Cain continued writing up to his death at the age of 85. However, the many novels he published from the late 1940s onward never rivaled his earlier financial and popular successes.


I make no conscious effort to be tough, or 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)
  • Double Indemnity (1943) (first published in Liberty Magazine, 1936)
  • The Embezzler (1944) (first published as Money and the Woman, 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)[7]

Short story collections

  • Our Government (1930)
  • Career in C Major and Other Stories (1943)
  • The Baby in the Icebox (1981)


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



  1. ^ a b c Madden (2011), pp. xix–xx
  2. ^ Mallory, Mary & Hollywood Heritage, Inc. (2011). Hollywoodland, p. 106. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-7478-3.
  3. ^ Madden (2011), pp. 24–25
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/25/living/books-the-cocktail-waitress/index.html
  8. ^ a b Madden (2011), p. 141


  • Madden, David & Mecholsky, Kristopher (2011). James M. Cain: Hard-Boiled Mythmaker, Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-8118-7

External links