Paul Cain(1902 – 1966) arrived at Black Mask in 1932, when the magazine neared its zenith. He was born George Carol Sims in Des Moines, Iowa in 1902, but he wrote as “Paul Cain” and scripted movies as “Peter Ruric.” He grew up on the grim side of Chicago and claimed to have “traveled extensively in Central and South America, the West Indies, Europe, Northern Africa and the Near East, been a bosun’s mate on tramps, a … Dada painter [and] a professional gambler.” 1 Almost no objective biographical information existed about the twenty-nine years of his life before he submitted his first of 17 hard-boiled stories to “Cap” Shaw in 1932 until recently. Boris Dralyuk has summarized the new findings on a nice page here.
“Fast One” featured the quick-shooting gambler Gerry Kells, a tough guy paradigm. Three more Kells stories formed the basis of the novel Fast One, a landmark hard-boiled novel. Cain “picks up his literary scalpel and [cuts] away conjunctions as if they were bad merchandise,” wrote novelist Irvin Faust. “He digs into the page with a hard sentence: simple, declarative, exact.” “Cap” Shaw called him “an aesthete in taste and ambition. Allied with his aesthetic moods is a grim sense of realism in its hardest texture.” Cain himself wrote that he liked “Mercedes motor cars, peanut butter… Scotch whiskey, some of the paintings of [de] Chirico, gardenias, vegetables and sour cream, [and Greta] Garbo.” 2
When Shaw was fired from Black Mask in 1936, Cain left too. He had published only seventeen stories in four years, plus his novel. He went on, however, to have a successful career as scriptwriter Peter Ruric, writing Gambling Ship (Paramount, 1933), The Black Cat for Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (Universal, 1934), and many other successful movies. In 1943 he worked for M.G.M. and in 1944 for R.K.O., where he teamed with director Robert Wise and producer Val Lewton on Mademoiselle Fifi. Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic James Agee liked Cain’s “well-edged script” for the latter, which “signifies that there is one group of men working in Hollywood who have neither lost nor taken care to conceal the purity of their hope and intention.” 3
Sickness kept Cain out of print for a while, then he returned to write food features for Gourmet in the 1950s and to script television shows in the 1960s. He died in 1966 in Los Angeles at age sixty-four. He published no novels besides Fast One, but Raymond Chandler termed that novel the “high point in the ultra hard-boiled manner.” Its final scene, he said, was “as murderous and at the same time poignant as anything in that manner that has ever been written.” 4 Much of Cain’s work has recently been collected and reissued.