Spillane, Mickey 1918–
Spillane, Mickey 1918–
(Frank Morrison Spillane)
PERSONAL: Born March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, NY; son of John Joseph (a bartender) and Catherine Anne Spillane; married Mary Ann Pearce, 1945 (divorced); married Sherri Malinou, November, 1965 (divorced); married Jane Rodgers Johnson, October, 1983; children: (first marriage) Kathy, Mark, Mike, Carolyn; (third marriage; stepdaughters) Britt, Lisa. Education: Attended Kansas State College (now University). Religion: Jehovah Witness.
ADDRESSES: Home—Murrells Inlet, Myrtle Beach, SC. Office—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer of mystery and detective novels, short stories, books for children, comic books, and scripts for television and films. With producer Robert Fellows, formed an independent film company in Nashville, TN, called Spillane-Fellows Productions, which filmed features and television productions, 1969. Creator of television series Mike Hammer, 1984–87. Actor; has appeared in more than 110 commercials for Miller Lite Beer. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces; taught cadets and flew fighter missions during World War II; became captain.
AWARDS, HONORS: Junior Literary Guild Award, 1979, for The Day the Sea Rolled Back; Lifetime Achievement Award, 1983, and short story award, 1990, both from Private Eye Writers of America; Grand Master Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1995.
I, the Jury (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1947, reprinted, New American Library (New York, NY), 1973.
Vengeance Is Mine! (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1950.
My Gun Is Quick (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1950, reprinted, Signet (New York, NY), 1988.
The Big Kill (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1951, reprinted, New English Library (London, England), 1984.
One Lonely Night, Dutton (New York, NY), 1951.
The Long Wait, Dutton (New York, NY), 1951, reprinted, New American Library (New York, NY), 1972.
Kiss Me, Deadly (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1952.
The Deep, Dutton (New York, NY), 1961.
The Girl Hunters (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1962.
Me, Hood!, Corgi (London), 1963, New American Library (New York, NY), 1969.
Day of the Guns, Dutton, 1964, reprinted, New American Library (New York, NY), 1981.
The Snake, Dutton (New York, NY), 1964.
The Flier, Corgi, 1964.
Bloody Sunrise, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965.
The Death Dealers, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965, reprinted, New American Library, 1981.
Killer Mine, Corgi, 1965.
The Twisted Thing, Dutton (New York, NY), 1966, published as For Whom the Gods Would Destroy, New American Library (New York, NY), 1971.
The By-Pass Control, Dutton (New York, NY), 1967.
The Delta Factor, Dutton (New York, NY), 1967.
Body Lovers, New American Library (New York, NY), 1967.
Killer Mine, New American Library (New York, NY), 1968.
Survival: Zero, Dutton (New York, NY), 1970.
Tough Guys, New American Library (New York, NY), 1970.
The Erection Set, Dutton (New York, NY), 1972.
The Last Cop Out, New American Library (New York, NY), 1973.
Mickey Spillane: Five Complete Mike Hammer Novels (contains I, the Jury, Vengeance Is Mine!, My Gun Is Quick, The Big Kill, and Kiss Me, Deadly), Avenel Books (New York, NY), 1987.
The Hammer Strikes Again: Five Complete Mike Hammer Novels (contains One Lonely Night, The Snake, The Twisted Thing, The Body Lovers, and Survival: Zero), Avenel Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The Killing Man, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.
(Author of text) Mikey Spillane's Mike Danger (comic book series), Tekno Comics (Boca Raton, FL), 1995.
Black Alley, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
Together We Kill: The Uncollected Stories of Mickey Spillane, edited and with an introduction by Max Allan Collins, Five Star (Waterville, ME), 2001.
Something's Down There, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of Return of the Hood.
(With Robert Fellows and Roy Rowland) The Girl Hunters (screenplay; based on Spillane's novel of the same title and starring Spillane in role of Mike Hammer), Colorama Features, 1963.
Vintage Spillane: A New Omnibus (short stories), W.H. Allen (London, England), 1974.
The Day the Sea Rolled Back (children's book), Windmill Books (New York, NY), 1979.
The Ship That Never Was (children's book), Bantam (New York, NY), 1982.
Tomorrow I Die (short stories), Mysterious Press, 1984.
(Editor, with Max Allan Collins) Murder Is My Business, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with Max Allan Collins) A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories, New American Library (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of The Shrinking Island. Creator and writer of comic books, including Mike Danger. Author of several television and movie screenplays. Contributor of short stories to magazines.
ADAPTATIONS: I, the Jury was adapted to film in 1953 by United Artists; a remake of I, the Jury was filmed in 1981 by Twentieth Century-Fox; The Long Wait was filmed in 1954, Kiss Me, Deadly in 1955, and My Gun Is Quick in 1957, all by United Artists; The Delta Factor was filmed in 1970 by Colorama Features. Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, a television series based on Spillane's mystery novels and his character Mike Hammer, was produced by Revue Productions, distributed by MCA-TV, and premiered in 1958; another television series based on Spillane's writings, Mike Hammer, starring Stacy Keach, was produced and broadcast from 1984 to 1987. "That Hammer Guy" was produced on radio, 1953. Abridged recordings of The Big Kill and My Gun Is Quick, each read by Stacy Keach, were released as audio-cassettes by Simon & Schuster Audio-works (New York, NY), 1990.
SIDELIGHTS: Mickey Spillane, who was born Frank Morrison Spillane, started his writing career in the early 1940s scripting comic books for Funnies, Inc. Spillane made the switch from comic books to novels in 1946 when, needing $1,000 to buy a parcel of land, he decided the easiest and quickest way to earn the money was to write a novel. Three weeks later, he sent the finished manuscript of I, the Jury to Dutton. Although the editorial committee questioned its good taste and literary merit, they felt the book would sell. I, the Jury did indeed sell—well over eight million copies have been sold to date. In addition to buying the property, Spillane was able to construct a house on the site as well. This book would be the start of a long and prolific career during which, as Julie Baumgold pointed out in Esquire, Spillane "sold two hundred million books and became the most widely read and fifth most translated writer in the world." All those books have made Spillane famous, wealthy, and a personality in his own right.
Spillane has no illusions about what he has accomplished through his books. As he explained to Baumgold, "I'm not an author, I'm a writer…. I can write a book in a few weeks, never rewrite, never read galleys. Bad reviews don't matter."
I, the Jury did sell, because it pleased the public, not because it won critical acclaim. Critics generally blasted the book's dark and seamy subject matter. These re-sponses reflected the time in which the book was published, 1947, and the belief that the world depicted in the book was only a small, dirty fringe on mainstream America, a fringe that Spillane was exploiting for its shock effect. Yet, as Frederic D. Schwarz, writing in American Heritage, noted, I, the Jury may represent one of the first signs of recognition of "the darker side of postwar America." Schwarz paired the July, 1947, publication of Spillane's first novel with an event that occurred on July 4 of that year. Hundreds of motorcyclists and their followers overwhelmed the town of Hollister, California, trashing it in a weekend of biker wild-ness. As Schwarz pointed out, "The incident formed the basis for a 1954 movie, The Wild One," starring Marlon Brando. Both the bikers' rampage and I, the Jury, according to Schwarz, "reflect a violent nature of the era." Spillane, who, Baumgold observed, lives under the motto "A Wild Man Proper," has always dismissed the charges of sensationalizing. As Schwarz quoted him, "I don't really go for sex and violence unless it's necessary."
Not only did I, the Jury introduce Spillane to the book-buying public, but it also gave birth to the character, Mike Hammer, a 6-foot, 190-pound, rough and tough private investigator. Spillane's next several novels recorded the action-packed adventures of Hammer as he drank, fought, and killed his way through solving mystery after mystery. While Hammer is not featured in all of Spillane's mysteries, he is undoubtedly the most popular of Spillane's leading men.
"Spillane is like eating takeout fried chicken: so much fun to consume, but you can feel those lowlife grease-induced zits rising before you've finished the first drumstick," noted Sally Eckhoff in the Voice Literary Supplement. "My Gun Is Quick is just the book to have with you on a Hamptons weekend or a stint at an exclusive art colony where everybody else is reading Huysmans. Guaranteed they leave you alone. But don't try to slide into Me, Hood! unless you want to permanently transform yourself into a snarling closet crimebuster. Any more of those seamed stockings, pawnshops, and stereotypical Irish gumshoes, and you'll be screaming for a Bergman movie to break your trance." In his 1951 review of The Big Kill, New York Times writer Anthony Boucher commented: "As rife with sexuality and sadism as any of his novels, based on a complete misunderstanding of law and on the wildest coincidence in detective fiction, it still can boast the absence of the hypocritical 'crusading' sentiments of Mike Hammer. For that reason, and for some slight ingenuity in its denouement, it may rank as the best Spillane—which is the faintest praise this department has ever bestowed."
In 1952 Spillane began a nine-year break from writing mystery novels. Some people have attributed this hiatus to his religious conversion to the sect of Jehovah's Witnesses, while others feel that Spillane earned enough money from his writings and by selling the film rights to several of his books to live comfortably, enjoying life in his new beach home on Murrells Inlet, located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Although he stopped writing mysteries, Spillane wrote short stories for magazines and scripts for television and films. He also appeared on a number of television programs, often performing in parodies of his tough detective characters.
Spillane reappeared on the publishing scene in 1961 with his murder mystery The Deep, and in the following year Mike Hammer returned to fight crime in The Girl Hunter. The public was ecstatic—buying copies of the novel as soon as they were placed on the shelf, and reviewers seemed to soften their criticism somewhat at Hammer's return. Many of Spillane's later books also were somewhat praised by critics. For example, a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement remarked: "Nasty as much of it is, [The Deep] has a genuine narrative grip; and there is a certain sociological conscience at work in the presentation of the street which has bred so much crime and an unusual perception in the portrait of an old Irish patrol officer." And Newgate Callendar commented in the New York Times Book Review that "editorials were written condemning [Spillane's novels], and preachers took to the pulpit. But things have changed, and one reads Spillane's … The Erection Set with almost a feeling of sentimental deja vu. The sex, sadism and assorted violence remain. Basically, what the Spillane books are about is the all-conquering hero myth. We all like to escape into a fantasy world to identify with the figure who is all-knowing, all-powerful, infinitely virile, sending off auras of threat in solar pulsations."
Spillane followed The Erection Set with The Last Cop Out, and then came another hiatus in his publication of crime novels. During this time, Spillane's publisher dared him to write a children's book. A number of editors at the company felt he could never change his style of writing in order to appeal or be acceptable to a much younger, more impressionable audience. Not one to back down from a challenge, Spillane produced The Day the Sea Rolled Back in 1979 and, three years later, The Ship That Never Was. In general, reviewers have praised the books for their suspense and clean-cut high adventure.
In 1989 Spillane published his first Mike Hammer novel since 1970. In this return of Mike Hammer, The Killing Man, the detective returns to his office to find his secre-tary (and the unrecognized love of his life), Velda, unconscious on the floor and a dead man at his desk. True to form, Hammer sets out to bring the perpetrator to his own special brand of justice. Mickey Friedman, writing in the New York Times Book Review, maintained that "the book is a limp performance; the author makes no attempt to revitalize ingredients that are shopworn by now, and the book seems more like a ritual than a novel."
The year 1996 saw the publication of Spillane's thirteenth Mike Hammer novel, Black Alley. Hammer has just emerged from a coma, having been shot and put at the brink of death by gangsters. As with his first novel, I, the Jury, this book begins with the death of one of Hammer's military buddies. He sets off in search of his friend's murderer and billions in dirty mob money. The plot is familiar, but as a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "Spillane's hard-boiled hero has softened with time; he finally tells Velda how he really feels about her—but, on doctor's orders, he refrains from consummation." Forbes magazine's Steve Forbes found much to reward the reader in Black Alley. He observed, "The action never lets up as the tough, street-smart Hammer grapples with intense physical pain, revenue-hungry federal agents, cold-blooded gangsters, a recovering-alcoholic physician and a determined get-him-to-the-alter secretary."
Spillane's short fiction is showcased in Together We Kill: The Uncollected Stories of Mickey Spillane. Included in the collection are "The Night I Died," the only 1950s Mike Hammer story; "Together We Kill," a love story set in World War II; and "The Veiled Woman," a rare science fiction tale. The novella "Hot Cat" makes its first U.S. appearance in this volume. Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, noted that collections such as this one often consist of "curiosities and rejects," but Together We Kill is not one of them. "Spillane's superviolent, no-frills approach to the genre is out of fashion today, but he remains a solid storyteller," Lukowsky remarked.
Spillane lends his first-hand knowledge of hard-boiled detective stories to A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories, edited with noted mystery writer Max Allan Collins. Described by Dick Adler in the Chicago Tribune as "a terrific collection of thirty-two hard-boiled crime stories," the book contains tales by genre luminaries such as John D. MacDonald, Evan Hunter, Lawrence Block, Sarah Paretsky, and Ross Macdonald. Also included is a tale by coeditor Collins and a Spillane story, "Tomorrow I Die," a "mordant novelette with a surprise ending," wrote Dick Lochte in the Los Angeles Times.
A new Spillane novel appeared in 2003. In Something's Down There, retired government spook Mako Hooker lives a leisurely retired life on Peolle Island in the Caribbean, fishing and boating with his fishing partner, Billy Bright. When a mysterious underwater creature begins attacking fishing boats, and functional World War II-era mines begin surfacing in the local troubled waters, Hooker finds himself reactivated by the government and charged with investigating the problems. Complicating matters is ex-mobster Anthony Pell, intent on gathering video evidence of the sea monster, and government agent Chana, a virulently hated old enemy of Hooker. A Kirkus Reviews critic declared that the book "ends with an unforgivably muffled finale that will leave an awful lot of readers wondering just what was down there." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, called the book an "entertaining island adventure" and "classic Spillane."
Neither a heavy drinker or smoker, Spillane doesn't manifest the stereotypical characteristics of his detective hero—he "even hates the city he sets the Hammer books in, New York," reported Peter Lennon in a profile of Spillane in the Manchester Guardian. Spillane even prefers mild oaths to dedicated swearing. "The final shock was that he has got religion in a big way. He is an active Jehovah's Witness who does house-to-house visits," Lennon wrote.
Spillane's work has often been savaged as being simplistic and lacking in literary merit. At the height of his career in the 1950s and 1960s, "Spillane was considered the lowest of lowbrows," wrote Terry Teachout in National Review, "though he had some unlikely admirers, among them Kingsley Amis, who thought [Spillane] was a better writer than Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, and Ayn Rand, who said he was her favorite novelist since Victor Hugo." There are hints, however, that Rand was interested in more than Spillane's writing. Her letters to Spillane, reprinted in Letters of Ayn Rand, suggest that at the very least, she was an unlikely ally who may have had romance in mind, observed John Meroney in the Washington Post. "When asked whether Ayn Rand had a crush on him, Spillane just smiles," Meroney wrote. "'I really liked her,' he says, noting that much of their camaraderie came from an 'us against them' view of the critics. 'They hate us, don't they?,' Spillane would say to her."
Critics notwithstanding, Spillane's audience has been very loyal to his Mike Hammer character and his other mystery novels. This loyalty and Spillane's ability to give his readers what they want accounts for hundreds of millions of books sold. It also accounts for the fact that seven of his books are still listed among the top fifteen all-time fiction best sellers published in the last fifty years. In 1984 Spillane shared these thoughts with the Washington Post: "I'm sixty-six…. If you're a singer, you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes. They can't kill me. I still got potential." Or as Baumgold commented in Esquire, "Mickey Spillane still has a few good surprise endings left."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Collins, Max Allan, and James L. Traylor, One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Popular Press (Bowling Green, OH), 1984.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit), Volume 3, 1975, Volume 13, 1980.
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit), 1996.
Van Dover, J. Kenneth, Murder in the Millions: Erle Stanley Gardner, Mickey Spillane, and Ian Fleming, Ungar (New York, NY), 1984.
American Heritage, July-August, 1997, Frederic D Schwarz, "Sex, Violence, and Motorcycles," p. 98.
Book, July-August, 2002, Allison Block, "Comfortable As an Old Gumshoe," p. 23.
Booklist, January 1, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of Together We Kill: The Uncollected Stories of Mickey Spillane, p. 820.
Chicago Sun-Times, Hillel Italie, "Mickey Spillane: Still Alive—and Writing," p. 7.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 2002, Dick Adler, "Crimes, Questions, and Sleuths Old and New," p. 2.
Esquire, August, 1995, Julie Baumgold, "A Wild Man Proper," p. 132.
Forbes, December 16, 1996, Steve Forbes, review of Black Alley, p. 26.
Guardian (Manchester, England), July 23, 1999, Peter Lennon, profile of Mickey Spillane, p. 2.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories, p. 147; October 1, 2003, review of Something's Down There, p. 1198.
Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2002, Dick Lochte, "Mysteries: Guilt, Vengeance Come into Play for a Thrilling Read," p. E2.
National Review, October 1, 2001, Terry Teachout, "A Guy's Guy," pp. 50-52.
New York Times, November 11, 1951, Anthony Boucher, review of The Big Kill.
New York Times Book Review, February 27, 1972, Newgate Callendar, review of The Erection Set; October 15, 1989, Mickey Friedman, review of The Killing Man, p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, September 2, 1996, review of Black Alley, p. 11; October 6, 2003, review of Something's Down There, pp. 56-57.
Times Literary Supplement, November 10, 1961, review of The Deep; September 19, 1980.
Voice Literary Supplement, July, 1988, Sally Eckhoff, "Mysterious Pleasures: Sleaze Please," p. S13.
Washington Post, October 24, 1984 (interview); August 22, 2001, John Meroney, "Man of Mysteries: It'd Been Years since Spillane Pulled a Job. Could We Find Him? Yeah, It Was Easy," p. C1.
Pegasos Web site, http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (November 14, 2003), profile of Mickey Spillane.
Unofficial Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer Web site, http://www.interlog.com/∼roco/hammer.html/ (November 14, 2003).