James Mallahan Cain, son of James William and Rose Mallahan Cain, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, on July 1, 1892. He was the eldest of five children, including his three sisters—Rosalie, Virginia, and Genevieve—and his brother, Edward. His youthful aspirations, neither of which he completely surrendered during his entire life, were music and playwriting. He abandoned his plans to sing professionally but retained a critical appreciation of music that is evident in works such as Serenade (1937), Career in C Major (originally “Two Can Sing,” 1938), and Mildred Pierce (1941). His exceptionally good ear for dialogue failed to ensure his success as a playwright. Between 1926 and 1955, his five attempts to write for the stage all resulted in failure of one kind or another; yet the effective dialogue and swiftly paced plots that did not function for him in drama became the core of his best-selling and most critically praised fiction.
In 1910, Cain graduated from Washington College (in Chesterton, Maryland), of which his father was president and to which, after unsuccessful forays into the world of professional singing, he returned as a teacher of English and mathematics from 1914 through 1917.
During the following decade, Cain worked as a newspaperman for The Baltimore Sun. After military service in France, where he worked on the newspaper of his World War I infantry company, he returned to The Baltimore Sun as a columnist and feature writer. He published articles in The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, and, as a protégé of H. L. Mencken, American Mercury. Mencken recommended him to...
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