Born Frank Morrison Spillane, March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, NY; died of pancreatic cancer, July 17, 2006, in Murrells Inlet, SC. Author. Mickey Spillane created the most hard-bitten of all the hard-boiled detectives in American crime fiction, Mike Hammer. The 13 novels in the series that Spillane produced between 1947 and 1996 rarely won over critics, but sold millions of copies, were adapted for film and television, and gave him a devoted readership. According to his Times of London obituary, a writer for Life magazine once remarked that Spillane wrote books that "no one likes except the public."
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Frank Morrison Spillane was born in 1918 to a Presbyterian mother and Irish Catholic father who supported the family with a job as a bartender. Called Mickey from his childhood, he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1935 and held down a variety of jobs as a young man, including lifeguard and circus trampoline performer. He enrolled at a Kansas college at one point with a plan to study law, but dropped out and went on to serve as a fighter pilot instructor with the U.S. Air Force during World War II. When he returned to civilian life and the New York City area, he found steady work as a comicbook writer.
Spillane's first Mike Hammer story, I, the Jury, took him just two weeks to write and was published in 1947. Critics were merciless in their reviews of the violence-laden tale of a war veteran who learns that his old combat buddy has been slain and sets out to avenge the death. It was published in hardcover and sold a respectable number of copies, but the 25-cent Signet paperback went on to sell five million copies in five years.
Spillane went on to produce several more titles in the series, and at one point was the best-selling fiction writer in the United States. In 1952, however, he converted to the Jehovah's Witness faith, and did not write any more Hammer novels for the next nine years. He even spent his days proselytizing door to door, a common outreach tenet of the faith. In 1961, he began writing again with The Girl Hunters, and found that his anti-hero's popularity had not abated with readers. He even appeared in the 1963 film version of The Girl Hunters, making him the one of the rare authors ever to portray his own fictional detective in a film adaptation.
Three more Mike Hammer tales appeared that decade, but critics continued to savage Spillane's writing, faulting it for excessive violence, misogyny, and fairly obvious plot resolutions. His approach to his craft was a pragmatic one, however. "I don't give a hoot about reading reviews," he once said, according to Los Angeles Times journalist Dennis McLellan. "What I want to read is the royalty checks." Despite the bad reviews, Spillane's protagonist and his actions seemed to resonate with readers, and "the vengeance or vigilante theme running through many of the stories foreshadowed the kind of thrillers in which Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood were to star a generation later," noted the Times of London.
Spillane's personal life was almost as colorful as anything he might have written: In marked contrast to the gore and sex in his detective stories, he also produced children's books, such as The Day the Sea Rolled Back. He had four children with his first wife, Mary Ann Pearce, whom he married in 1945. After their divorce, he wed a singer and actress, Sherri Malinou, who was more than two decades his junior and rather infamously posed nude for the cover of his 1972 novel The Erection Set. They lived apart for most of their marriage, however, and were divorced in the 1980s in a well-publicized court battle over assets related to the second of the television adaptations of the Hammer stories. Spillane also appeared in more than 100 television ads for Miller Lite beer, costumed in a trench coat and fedora in a spoof of his character, which ran from 1973 to 1988.
With fans still clamoring for another Hammer story, Spillane wrote The Killing Man in 1989, the same year his South Carolina beach home was devastated by a hurricane. He rebuilt it himself, and continued to write, producing his last Hammer title, Black Alley, in 1996. He died at the home in Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina, on July 17, 2006, at the age of 88 from pancreatic cancer. Survivors include his third wife, Jane Rodgers Johnson, and his four children from the marriage to Pierce—sons Ward and Mike, and daughters Kathy and Caroline—as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "I have no fans," he once asserted in an interview, according to Richard Severo of the New York Times. "You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends."
Chicago Tribune, July 18, 2006, sec. 2, p. 9; CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/books/07/17/spillane.ap/index.html (August 11, 2006); Entertainment Weekly, July 28, 2006, p. 16; Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2006, p. A1, p. A16; New York Times, July 18, 2006, p. A23; People, July 31, 2006, p. 71; Times (London, England), July 19, 2006, p. 55; Washington Post, July 18, 2006, p. B6.
Spillane, Mickey 1918-2006
Spillane, Mickey 1918-2006
(Frank Morrison Spillane)
OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for SATA sketch: Born Frank Morrison, March 9, 1918, in New York, NY; died July 17, 2006, in Murrells Inlet, SC. Author. Spillane was a best-selling, award-winning writer best known for his "Mike Hammer" series of gritty crime novels. His interest in writing dated back to his teenage years, and as soon as he completed high school he was publishing short stories in pulp magazines and mainstream periodicals such as Collier's. He attended Fort Hays State University for three years, but left college before completing a degree. Instead, he moved to New York City and found a job writing for Funnies Inc., a company that published comic books such as Captain Marvel. Spillane proved himself the quickest and most talented writer on the staff. When the United States entered World War II he enlisted in the army, remaining stateside while serving as a flight instructor and rising to the rank of captain. After the war, he tried to return to comic-book writing, but the genre was now experiencing a decline. Looking for a way to earn money, Spillane decided to try his hand at novel writing. The result was I, the Jury (1947), the first "Mike Hammer" book. Originally published in hardback, the book did not gain much attention until it was released as a paperback; within a short time it sold four million copies while also drawing harsh criticism for its violence and sexual themes. Spillane made no apologies for the book's content. Instead, he saw his gruff, crime-fighting hero as a big seller and quickly set about producing more installments in the series. The character also appeared on a radio-show adaptation and in a comic strip Spillane wrote himself. A television series starring Darren McGavin was launched in the 1950s, and later, in the 1980s and 1990s, there would be two more "Mike Hammer" series featuring Stacy Keach. The Hammer character was also a star of such movies as 1955's Kiss Me, Deadly and 1963's The Girl Hunters. The author got into the act himself, often posing for his own book covers, and during the 1970s and 1980s he appeared in numerous Miller Lite beer commercials, spoofing his own tough-guy persona. In reality, Spillane was a softspoken, intelligent family man who was a Jehovah's Witness. He never troubled himself about the violent content of his books, despite the fact that he was attacked by journalists and the clergy, and was also the subject of U.S. Senate hearings, where he was accused of contributing to juvenile delinquency, among other charges. Spillane remained intent on producing good stories that the public would enjoy. Earning millions for his writings, he never flaunted his wealth, living modestly in his South Carolina home. In addition to his "Mike Hammer" books, he also wrote spy novels and children's books, earning a Junior Literary Guild award for his juvenile story The Day the Sea Rolled Back (1979). For his crime-writing achievements, Spillane was recognized in 1995 with a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, July 18, 2006, section 2, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2006, pp. A1, A16.
New York Times, July 18, 2006, p. A23; July 20, 2006, p. A2.
Times (London, England), July 19, 2006, p. 55.
Washington Post, July 18, 2006, p. B6.
SPILLANE, Mickey. (Frank Morrison Spillane). American, b. 1918. Genres: Mystery/Crime/Suspense, Young adult fiction, Novellas/Short stories. Career: Formerly a comic book writer and trampoline artist. Publications: I, the Jury, 1947; Vengeance Is Mine!, 1950; My Gun Is Quick, 1950; The Big Kill, 1951; One Lonely Night, 1951; The Long Wait, 1951; Kiss Me, Deadly, 1952; The Deep, 1961; The Girl Hunters, 1962; Me, Hood!, 1963; Day of the Guns, 1964; The Snake, 1964; Killer Mine, 1965; Bloody Sunrise, 1965; The Death Dealers, 1965; The Twisted Thing, 1966; The By-Pass Control, 1967; The Body Lovers, 1967; The Delta Factor, 1967; Survival: Zero, 1970; Tough Guys, 1970; The Erection Set, 1972; The Last Cop Out, 1973; The Day the Sea Rolled Back (juvenile), 1979; The Ship That Never Was (juvenile), 1982; Tomorrow I Die (short stories), 1984; The Killing Man, 1989; (ed. with M.A. Collins) Murder Is My Business, 1994; Black Alley, 1996. Address: c/o E.P. Dutton, 375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A.