In honor of Black History month, we’d like to focus on Samuel Marlowe, who is said to be Los Angeles’s first licensed black private detective. The Jamaican immigrant was born August 3, 1890 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. According to the LA Times obituary, Marlowe served in Britain’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force, a World War I fighting brigade that guarded the Suez Canal (Samuel Marlowe- LA’s First Black PI). After the war, Marlowe moved to Los Angeles and worked as a real estate insurance agent, handy man, construction worker, and for a mortgage company (Samuel Marlowe- LA’s First Black PI). Eventually, Marlowe became a private detective. According LA Meekly’s YouTube segment about Marlowe’s life, it’s revealed that to advertise his services, he put out an ad to lawyers in the California Eagle in July 1927 stating,
“There is no crime too large or none too small to handle: robberies, murders, arson, embezzlement, kidnapping, domestic and divorce, and evidences, undercover work. We have separate departments for each line of work. Male and female trained operators to handle each case that may arise. A trial is what we ask and we know that your future work will be given to us. Consultation is free and all work is confidential.”
As a private detective in the 1930s, Marlowe’s clients consisted of celebrities, studios, speakeasies, trailing the girlfriends of wealthy clients, and pulling movie stars out of bars on the “wrong” side of town, according to his descendants and a Hollywood screenwriter (Colgrass, Neal).
It is believed Samuel Marlowe was also the inspiration for author, Raymond Chandler’s famed fictional character, Philip Marlowe, who’s been played in film adaptions by several actors over the decades, from Humphrey Bogart to Robert Mitchum (Staff, n.d.)
Samuel Marlowe was truly a pioneer and visionary who paved the way for future black detectives and investigators.
Colgrass, N.(2014, November 9). Report: Black Man Secretly Helped Great Crime Writers. Newser.
Samuel Marlowe: LA’s First Black Private Investigator. LA Meekly.
Staff. S and.A. (n.d.). The CW is providing a period crime drama series based on real-life Black detective, Samuel Marlowe. Shadow and Act.
Retrieved February 2, 2023 from: http://www.shadowandact.com/the-cw-is-developing-a-period-crime-drama-series-based-on- real-life-black-detective-samuel-marlowe