Who was Doghouse Riley?

A couple of pop culture references from the 1930s indicate there was a character named Doghouse Riley-- perhaps in a song, or a radio show, or a comic strip. Do any octagenarians on this list know who this was?

The references I know are these:

(i) In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939), the general’s naughty younger daughter asks Philip Marlowe his name. He replies ‘I’m Doghouse Riley-- the man who grew too tall.’

(ii) In the ‘Little Lindbergh’ trial of 1935, the defendant Bruno Richard Hauptmann was represented by a lawyer named Edward Reilly. He was known for his incompetence, and for that reason had the unfortunate nickname ‘Death House Reilly’, presumably a play on ‘Doghouse’. (Parenthetically, Mr Reilly turned out to have neurosyphilis, diagnosed shortly after Hauptmann’s conviction.)

These examples suggests the character of Doghouse Riley would have been familiar to a lot of people. Who was he?

Note that I’m not referencing the many recent uses of this name, probably inspired by the Chandler novel and Bogart’s portrayal. There’s a band named Doghouse Riley, and a recently-died political blogger, and I think a few people on Facebook using the name. I’m wondering who Doghouse Riley was in 1935.

I thought I might turn something up under a different spelling. I Googled “Doghouse Reilly” and found an analysis of The Big Sleep, which includes this:

This may also be of interest.

Heh. Sometimes I still wish I had that name.


I also found a snippet which suggested that the name might have come from some of Chandler’s earlier short stories which were combined to make The Big Sleep.

Google Books

My hazy memory of my history of American Pop Music suggests a swing/jazz/blues connection.

This is unlikely. The Death House was the part of the prison that contained the prisoners to be executed. It’s more usually referred to these days as “death row” but that was almost never used in 1935.

In fact, since the short stories that make up The Big Sleep were published in 1935 and 1936 it’s possible, maybe even probable, that it was Chandler who was making the pun on something in the news that contemporary readers would understand.

My rule of thumb on older stories is to always assume that the writers were working real life into their stories, not that they were inventing things for the first time. This is almost always true for the supposed inventions in science fiction but it is usually true in mystery as well since those writers were always scanning murder stories for tidbits they could adapt and new ways of killing people.

When I read Chandler and Hammett recently I spent time researching some of the stuff (like the French Shave mentioned here ) that I didn’t know. Doghouse Riley was one I gave up on, finding only speculation, no definitive answer.

Hmm, ‘Dog House Reilly’. I’m going to start a list of "Things I’ve heard about in the 20’s and 30’s that no one knows what they mean anymore. So far, the only other item on the list is “box back coat”.

Easily found by Googling. The coat goes back to at least the 1880s.

No hits in the Chicago Tribune archives.

Like 'En Cuba.’

I really like the idea that Doghouse Reilly was a pun on Death House Reilly. Reilly was very much in the news in 1935. There had been a long New Yorker profile of it early in the year, although that nickname isn’t mentioned. And a site about him says:

Chandler would have loved a character like that. And his readers would know of him, too.

I think this is a major find on Picaro’s part.

Well, I read it in the lyrics of this song and another one that Phil Harris used to sing:

Now, when I die, bury me in my straight-leg britches,
Put on a box-back coat and a stetson hat,
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain,
So you can let all the boys know I died standing pat.

Anyway, now that I was thinking about it, I started rooting around and it seems to be an indicator of a gambler or a pimp, or someone who was a flashy dresser, but not in a nice way.

No, actually a common coat variety from the period.

Thanks everyone. I suspect this one will be lost to the ages. Would that there had been an internet in 1930.

Yep. Imagine an era of candlestick smartphones. “Hello, Operator? I need Google7-2934.”

But why was Marlowe “the man who grew too tall”? The Death House Reilly theory doesn’t address that, at least not in any obvious way.

That wasn’t in the book either. IIRC, in the book Marlowe said “My name is Doghouse Reilly. I’m a prizefighter”

So maybe it was a riff off of popular boxing ring monikers of the time?

Marlowe calls himself “Doghouse Reilly, the man that grew too tall,” the second time that he and Carmen meet. It’s probably just because she remarked that he was tall the first time they met.

The Big Sleep is on now, and the line was delivered a little bit ago.