James M Cain

Novelist, Screenwriter, Reporter
Though he disavowed any association with the hardboiled or noir style of writing, author James M. Cain was one of its leading architects. His best novels, which included The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred ... Read more »
Born: 06/30/1892 in Annapolis, Maryland, USA


Writer (13)

Mildred Pierce 2010 - 2011 (TV Show)

Source Material

Girl in the Cadillac 1994 (Movie)

("The Enchanted Isle") (Source Material (from novel))

Butterfly 1981 (Movie)

("The Butterfly") (Source Material (from novel))

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981 (Movie)

("The Postman Always Rings Twice") (Source Material (from novel))

Double Indemnity 1973 - 1974 (TV Show)

Source Material (from novel)

Serenade 1956 (Movie)

(Source Material (from novel))

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946 (Movie)

("The Postman Always Rings Twice") (Source Material (from novel))

Mildred Pierce 1945 (Movie)

(Source Material (from novel))

Double Indemnity 1944 (Movie)

("Double Indemnity") (Source Material (from novel))

When Tomorrow Comes 1938 (Movie)

(From Story)

Everybody Does It (Movie)


Gypsy Wildcat (Movie)


Slightly Scarlet (Movie)

(Book Author)


Though he disavowed any association with the hardboiled or noir style of writing, author James M. Cain was one of its leading architects. His best novels, which included The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity, helped to establish the tenets of the style in both novel and film form through stories of outsiders and misfits whose interactions with each other, spurred largely through sex or greed, ultimately lead to their destruction. Cain's lean prose, which was fraught with lust and violence, became a favorite source for Hollywood noir, and some of the best films of the genre were based on his work, including the 1946 version of "Postman," Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" (1944), and 1945's "Mildred Pierce" with Joan Crawford. Cain continued to publish well into the 1970s, though his subsequent novels lacked the blood and fire of his best titles, which kept him in print for decades after their release, and ensured his place among the great thriller writers of the 20th century.

Born James Mallahan Cain in Annapolis, MD on July 1, 1892, he was the son of James W. Cain, a distinguished educator and president of Washington College, and opera singer Rose Cain, who passed her love of classical music to her son. She did not, however, lend any support to her son's own singing ambitions, and so after earning his bachelor's degree from his father's college at the age of 18, he worked in a variety of jobs, including meat packer, clerk and prep school teacher. In 1917, Cain was drafted into the Army and spent the last year of World War I in France, editing Lorraine Cross, the 79th Division's newspaper.

Upon his return to the United States, Cain worked as a police reporter for the Baltimore American, then covered the woes of the West Virginia coal industry for the Baltimore Sun. He soon worked his way up to the esteemed New York World, where he penned a column on American policy that was later compiled in his first book, Our Government (1930). In 1928, his friend and mentor, H.L. Mencken, published his short story, "Pastorale," in his prestigious magazine, American Mercury, and praised him as "the most competent writer the country ever produced." When the New York World closed its doors in 1931, Cain worked briefly at The New Yorker, but disliked the magazine's editor and found, Harold Ross. He accepted a six-month deal to write for Paramount Studios, but remained in Southern California for 15 years, penning scripts but rarely receiving onscreen credit, save for three films, including the romantic thriller "Algiers" (1938), which made stars out of exotic imports Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr, as well as sparking the oft-misquoted line "Come with me to ze Casbah." In his spare time, Cain penned more short stories, which saw print in such top magazines as Esquire and Ladies' Home Journal. One of these, "The Baby in the Ice-Box" (1933), was the first of his works to be adapted into a feature as 1934's "She Made Her Bed," starring Richard Arlen and Robert Armstrong.

Cain published his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, in 1934. A briskly written thriller about a dangerous romance between a drifter and a femme fatale, the novel was praised for its stark, unsentimental language and pacing, but also condemned in conservative circles for its violence and elements of sadomasochistic sex. Postman would go on to become one of the key works in the canon of hardboiled mystery fiction, though Cain would go on record that he was attempting to capture the language of the average man on the street rather than adhere to any style or genre. The book was also adapted into a Broadway play in 1936 and later into film five times; first in France as "Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turning)" (1939), and then in Italy as "Ossessione (Obsession)" (1942) for director Luchino Visconti. The best-known versions were undoubtedly Tay Garnett's 1946 American adaptation with John Garfield and Lana Turner as the doomed lovers.

The late 1930s and most of the 1940s were the high points of Cain's literary career. During this period, he wrote some of his most indelible works, including Serenade (1937), about an American singer attempting to return to the United States with a Mexican prostitute; Mildred Pierce (1941), about a working-class mother whose attempts to elevate her family's social position are outdone by her scheming daughter; and 1943's Double Indemnity, which hinged on a plan hatched by an insurance agent and his married lover to cash in on her husband's insurance policy. All three were made into features. "Serenade" received a half-hearted adaptation by Anthony Mann with opera singer Mario Lanza in the lead, but "Double Indemnity" (1944), with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as the duplicitous lovers and Edward G. Robinson as a cagey investigator, was considered a classic of film noir. Michael Curtiz's take on "Mildred Pierce" (1945) earned Joan Crawford an overdue Best Actress Oscar as the long-suffering heroine and Ann Blyth received an Academy nod as her monstrous offspring.

Though Hollywood appeared to love Cain's work, he was less than enthusiastic about the industry's treatment of writers. In 1946, he wrote a series of articles for Screen World magazine that advocated the establishment of the American Authors' Authority, which would protect copyrights and represent writers in contract negotiations and court disputes. The idea, dubbed the "Cain Plan," was denounced as a Communist notion by several fellow writers, including Clare Boothe Luce, Ayn Rand and John Dos Passos, who formed the American Writers Association in response. Cain and Studs Lonigan author James T. Farrell later engaged in a debate, which was reprinted in The Saturday Review, but the American Authors' Authority was soon a dead issue. Cain was also a target of fellow hardboiled novelist Dashiell Hammett, who despised his penchant for graphic material, which he described as the "offal of literature."

Cain's work and personal life began to falter in the late 1940s and 1950s. Three marriages, including a combative union with silent film actress Aileen Pringle, had taken a serious toll on his finances, and a personal vendetta against Cain by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst made it difficult for him to find work as a journalist. His novels during this period, which include the Southern potboiler Butterfly (1947) and his personal favorite, The Moth (1948), did not receive the same degree of acclaim or sales as his best-known work. After marrying his fourth wife, opera singer Florence Macbeth Whitwell, Cain left California for Maryland, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Hollywood continued to mine his oeuvre for features, but like his novels, the results - including 1956's "Slightly Scarlet," an adaptation of Love's Lovely Counterfeit (1942) with John Payne and Arlene Dahl - were only modestly successful.

Cain released novels sporadically throughout the 1950s and 1960s; his reputation as a crime writer had diminished, though in France he was still regarded as a major author, and was credited as an influence on Albert Camus' The Outsider. In 1970, he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writer of America, which sparked something of a revival in his works. Cain turned out two more forgettable novels in the 1970s, Rainbow's End in 1975 and The Institute in 1976, before succumbing to a fatal heart attack on Oct. 27, 1977 at the age of 85.

Posthumous collections and novels continued to see print into the late 1980s, as did adaptations of his work. The most notable of these was a 1981 version of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" by Bob Rafelson, with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in the leads. Rafelson's version played up the carnal aspect of their characters' relationship, which generated mixed reviews by critics and fans alike. A 1982 opera and stage play based on the novel soon followed. In 1982, Pia Zadora starred in a tawdry, softcore take on "Butterfly" by exploitation director Matt Cimber, who was able to lure Stacy Keach and Orson Welles into the embarrassment. A posthumous novel, The Enchanted Isle (1985), which received a critical drubbing upon its release, was adapted into the 1995 independent drama "The Girl in the Cadillac," which was similarly ignored by audiences. In 1998, Hungarian director Gyorgy Feher directed "Szenvedely (Passion)," an adaptation of Postman set in Eastern Europe. In 2010, director Todd Haynes directed a five-part miniseries based on "Mildred Pierce" for HBO, with Kate Winslet as Mildred and Evan Rachel Wood as her venomous daughter, Veda.


James Cain

born 1860 graduated Yale 1884 superintendent of St. John's Prep school died 1938

Rose Cain

died 1958

Edward Cain

killed in action in WWI

Genevieve Cain

died 1958

Rosalie Cain

died c. 1977

Virginia Cain

died 1958

Mary Clough

married January 17, 1920 divorced 1927 born 1891 died 1951

Kate Cummings

mother of actor Constance Cummings together c. 1941-43

Florence Macbeth

married 1947 until her death in 1966 born 1891 suffered nervous breakdown when first husband died in 1942

Aileen Pringle

married July 1944 divorced 1947 born 1895, died 1989

Elina Tyszecka

married July 2, 1927 divorced 1943 Finnish had two children from first marriage

Leo Tyszecka

mother Elina Tyszecka

Henrietta Tyszecka

mother Elina Tyszecka


Washington College

Chestertown , Maryland 1910
Chestertown, Maryland



First hit adaptation, "Double Indemnity."


First credit as screenwriter, "Stand Up and Fight"


First screen credit, when his novel "Baby in the Icebox" was adapted for the screen as "She Made Her Bed."


Left newspaper work to begin writing novels


First short story, "Pastorale," published in AMERICAN MERCURY magazine


Held first writing job for Baltimore American


Enlisted in Army, served in France


Edited "Pegasus," his college yearbook

Bonus Trivia


From 1925 through his death, Cain wrote many short pieces (both fiction and non-fiction) for such magazines and newspapers as American Mercury, Liberty, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post and The Washington Post.