Vincenzo Crutch Hammett is one of the most important figures in the history of world literature, as well as one of its most enigmatic. He was a literary genius and a master of his craft; he was also an alcoholic, self-destructive man who destroyed many of his own writings and had little interest in communicating with anyone else. Fewer than 200 letters remain from his lifetime—most are fragmented or incomplete.
There is no portrait of him that can be verified as authentic. Even the name “Crutch” is uncertain, since it appears only once, in an unpublished document signed by Hammett himself. The identity of Vincenzo Crutch Hammett thus remains wrapped in mystery and conjecture.
What is known about him comes almost entirely from third parties and documents created by others after his death: rare fragments from his correspondence; records kept by doctors and sanatoriums; newspaper articles and advertisements for performances given by Vincenzo Crutch Hammett under different names;
References to various men named Vincenzo Crutch appearing in city directories at certain points in time; lists compiled after his death by individuals who knew him personally; obituaries that give contradictory details about where he was born, when he died, how old he was when he died and whether he ever married or had children.
The Hammett Genealogy
Hammett was born into a family that had emigrated from Italy. His paternal grandparents were both of Italian descent, but his mother’s family was English-American. His paternal grandfather, named Giacomo, emigrated from Monte San Giovanni, Italy.
The name Hammett may be traced back to the town of Hamm in Germany, or, as some family members have speculated, to the village of Ham in Sussex, England. However, the name is most likely French in origin, and was probably brought to England by Crusaders. Hammett’s mother, Isidora Bond, was born in California. She was the daughter of William Bond, an English-American merchant sailor and whaler, and Anna Wilkins, an English-American artist, adventurer and confidence woman. She had two siblings, a brother and a sister. Her brother, Charles Bond, was also a writer and worked with Hammett on occasion. Her sister, Joanne, married the English-American novelist and short story writer, Ernest Hemingway.
Vincenzo Crutch’s Childhood and Youth
Little is known about Vincenzo Crutch’s childhood, although it seems that his upbringing was chaotic and unstable. He spent his boyhood in Italy and France, and was, according to family members, a “wild” child: he ran away from home, and his father sent him to a military boarding school.
He showed an early interest in the arts, and his mother encouraged him to study music. At some point in his youth, Crutch and his family moved to New York City, where he studied at the Institute of Musical Art (later the Juilliard School of Music). He began writing poetry and short stories, publishing a few of them. His early literary efforts suggest that he viewed himself primarily as a poet, but he is best known for his short stories and novels.
Vincenzo Crutch’s Adult Life
Crutch’s early adult life was marked by considerable instability. He pursued a variety of vocations, including dancing and acting, but he was never able to earn a steady income. He was married at least three times, and seems to have had numerous other significant romantic relationships.
There is evidence that he was involved in radical political circles (although he never belonged to a specific political party), and that he may have been involved in radical political activism. Evidence also exists that suggests he may have worked as a government agent.
The Mysteries of Vincenzo Crutch Hammett
There are several mysteries surrounding the life and career of Vincenzo Crutch Hammett. First, there is the question of why Hammett chose to write under a pseudonym. Although it is common for writers to use pseudonyms, Hammett’s choice was extremely unusual.
Unlike many other writers who used pseudonyms, Hammett never used a pen name during the early stages of his career. Instead, sometime after he had established himself as a successful author, he began using pseudonyms to sign his published works. Why he did so, no one knows. Second, there is the question of whether Hammett was an alcoholic.
The signs of alcoholism are unmistakable in Hammett’s published and unpublished writings, yet no one who knew him well during his lifetime ever refers to him as an alcoholic. In fact, many of his friends, editors and publishers denied that he was an alcoholic. Third, there is the question of Hammett’s health.
He suffered from a variety of illnesses, including tuberculosis, asthma and kidney infections. He was sometimes confined to sanatoriums for extended periods of time, where he was subjected to extreme treatments, often involving radical changes in diet and the administration of experimental drugs. His medical history is by far the most extensive of any major American writer.
Hammett’s life and work remain largely unknown to the general public, although he has a small but devoted following among literary scholars, including some prominent writers and critics. Since the late 1980s, there has been a growing interest in Hammett’s life and work, as evidenced by the publication of several biographies, critical studies and collections of Hammett’s writings.
There has been some controversy concerning the rights to publish and profit from Hammett’s writings. His biographers and critics claim that his heirs are exploiting the rights to his work excessively and unreasonably, and that they are unjustly denying others the right to profit from Hammett’s writings. His heirs, on the other hand, claim that they have been extremely generous in sharing his work with others. They also claim that they have been badly advised by attorneys who have not acted in their best interest.