(Frank Morrison Spillane)
"Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar."
"Anyone who doesn't recognize Spillane's importance is an idiot."
Max Allan Collins
Frank Morrison Spillane was a Brooklyn kid, born on March 9, 1918, the only child of Catherine Anne and John Joseph Spillane, an Irish-American bartender who nicknamed him "Mickey."
He passed away July 17, 2006 at his home in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, leaving behind a wife, a couple of ex-wives, four children, possibly as many as 200 million copies of his books in print and plenty of satisfied customers.
The most popular of those books, of course, feature Spillane's hard-boiled gumshoe/avenger Mike Hammer, the New York eye whose every case turned into a personal vendetta that -- following a suitable number of trysts with beautiful and generally willing babes and raw scenes of brutality -- inevitably ended with Hammer serving up his own kind of justice, usually out of the smoking barrel of a .45.
The critics may have sneered at Spillane's sex-and-violence-filled romps (and admittedly, sometimes it was difficult to tell where the sex ended and the violence began), and he may have been denounced in churches and at US Senate hearings, but the public ate up his books.
Spillane became, easily, the best selling private eye writer of his time and Hammer became a multi-media juggernaut, appearing on radio and in films, a daily newspaper comic strip and not one but two popular television series, as well as, of course, thirteen best-selling novels, stretching from I, the Jury in 1947 and wrapping up with Black Alley in 1996.
Spillane became something of a media star himself himself, playing the part of Hammer in the 1963 film version of The Girl Hunters and appearing as a spokesman for Miller Lite beer TV ad for almost two decades.
Spillane wrote about other memorable tough-guy characters, including super-spy Tiger Mann in a spate of novels written in the mid-1960s, Dogeron Kelly in The Erection Set (1972) and Mako Hooker, a semi-retired spy in Spillane's last novel, Something's Down There, published in 2003, when the author was 85.
But it was Hammer, and Spillane's take-no-prisoner's blend of blood and lust and vengeance that captured the imagination of Cold War audiences and influenced countless imitators.
His success also had a major impact on publishing. Although I, the Jury sold a respectable 10,000 or so copies in hardcover, it was the then-unheard sale of over two million copies of the paperback edition that got the industry's attention. Seemingly overnight, the previously neglected paperback was everywhere, appearing in spinner racks from coast to coast, as publishers rushed to tap into the public's hunger for inexpensive literary thrills, even launching entire paperbacklines such as the legendary Fawcett Gold Medal that published original novels, not reprints.
* * * * *
Spillane grew up in Brooklyn and Elizabeth, New Jersey and graduated from high school in Brooklyn right at the height of the Depression. A natural storyteller, he managed to sell a story or two to various magazines, but mostly he worked odd jobs (including a stint as a lifeguard) before enrolling at Fort Hays State College in Kansas, where he played football and swam competively.
He never graduated, though, and by 1940, he was working part-time in a New York department store during the Christmas rush. There he met another Brooklyn-born youth who introduced Spillane to his brother, Ray Gill, an editor in need of someone to churn out short pieces for his Timely Comics line (including prose in their comics allowed publishers to qualify for cheaper postal rates). Spillane proved up to the task, but left to join the U.S. Army Air Force in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
He served his time as a flight instructor in Mississippi, where he met his first wife, Mary Ann Pearce. After the war, the couple returned to Brooklyn, with dreams of buying a house and some land. Spillane hooked up with the Gill brothers again, this time in a new comic-book freelancing venture. He came up with the idea for new comic, based around a tough, hard-boiled private eye called Mike Danger.
"I wanted to get away from the flying heroes, and I had the prototype cop," Spillane explained.
Unfortunately,Danger failed to sell. Spillane then tried to sell it as a comic strip. According to Mike Benton in his The Illustrated History of Crime Comics, "In 1947, Spillane wrote a "Mike Danger"comic strip for the newspapers. Drawn by Mike Roy and offered by Jerry Iger's syndicate, the comic strip appeared briefly in New York area newspapers and disappeared. Spillane decided to leave the world of comics to become a mystery writer."
He retooled Danger, re-named him Mike Hammer and supposedly cranked out I, the Jury in three weeks. With the help of Ray Gill, he sold it to E. P. Dutton & Co, whose editors weren't apparently all that impressed with Spillane's writing, but nonetheless thought there might be a market for it. So they gave it a shot.
The rest is history. Always a fast -- if not particularly prolific -- writer, he cranked out six more novels, all bestsellers, in the next five years, including My Gun is Quick, One Lonely Night and Vengeance is Mine.
Despite his staggering success, though, in his private life Spillane lived simply. He became a Jehovah's Witness in the early 1950s and moved his family (by then he and Mary Ann had four kids) to Murrells Inlet, a quiet beach community in South Carolina, where he continued to pound away on a manual typewriter.
Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce. In 1964, he married an actress, Sherri Malinou, who posed nude on the cover of The Erection Set, but that marriage also ended. In 1983, Spillane married Jane Rodgers Johnson.
* * * * *
Spillane never took himself too seriously, at least publicly, spurning the moniker of "author,'' insisting he wrote simply for the money, and cheerfully admitting he represented "the chewing gum of American literature."
Certainly, Spillane was no great stylist -- his prose was, at best, blunt, direct and workmanlike, just like Hammer. But at its worst it was occasionally so overboiled as to approach parody.
As in "her breasts were laughing things"? And I'm still trying to figure out what "he took off like a herd of turtles," from I, the Jury, actually means.
He was also something of a rarity in publishing -- he was unapologetically conservative, an "unconditional believer in good and evil" who seemed to delight in rattling cages in his fiction, slamming Communists and liberals and anyone else he took exception to. He wasn't above dishing out often crude (even for the era) caricatures of independent women, homosexuals and various racial and ethnic groups (in the early novels, for example, the depiction of blacks -- almost all of whom are domestics or criminals -- still manages to make one cringe -- mostly because it seems simply so gratuitous and mean-spirited). And the virgin/whore complex Hammer had towards women and particularly in regards to his peculiar relationship with Velda, his long-suffering secretary, was nothing short of just plain twisted.
And yet, for all his ham-handed excess and unapologetic worldview that even then must have raised a few eyebrows, the best of Spillane's books, and particularly the Hammer novels, possess a fierce, driving energy and white-hot passion that cannot be denied; one that drags the reader along in its wake and keeps them turning pages.
You step into Hammer's world at your own risk, but by the end of the book, you'll know you've read something, damn it.
"I don't give a hoot about reading reviews. What I want to read is the royalty checks."
"I'm actually a softie. Tough guys get killed too early... I've got a full head of hair and don't wear eye glasses... And I've kept the smoke coming out of the chimney for a very long time."
(Mickey Spillane, 2004)
"Spillane broke down the barriers, where sex and violence were concerned, and this pissed people off. Also, he was perceived as right-wing. The vigilante approach Hammer used turned the stomachs of many liberals... (Spillane) is number three, after Hammett and Chandler (in a list of the 10 most important detective novelists of the 20th century). Anyone who doesn't recognize Spillane's importance is an idiot. There are paperback originals because Gold Medal Books was created to fill the public's demand for Spillane-type fare. Disliking Spillane's writing is one thing -- ignoring history is another. "
(Max Allan Collins, The January Magazine Interview)
"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."
(Sally Eckhoff , The Village Voice)
I, the Jury (1947; Mike Hammer) ...Buy this book
My Gun Is Quick (1950; Mike Hammer) ...Buy this book
Vengeance Is Mine! (1950; Mike Hammer) ...Buy this book
The Big Kill (1951, Mike Hammer)...Buy this book
The Long Wait (1951)
One Lonely Night (1951; Mike Hammer)...Buy this book
Kiss Me, Deadly (1952; Mike Hammer)...Buy this book
The Deep (1961)
The Girl Hunters (1962; Mike Hammer)
Day of the Guns (1964; Tiger Mann)
The Snake (1964; Mike Hammer)
Bloody Sunrise (1965; Tiger Mann)
The Death Dealers (1965; Tiger Mann)
The By-Pass Control 1966; Tiger Mann)
The Twisted Thing (1966; Mike Hammer)
The Body Lovers (1967; Mike Hammer)
The Delta Factor (1967)....Buy this book
Survival Zero (1970; Mike Hammer)
The Erection Set (1972)
The Last Cop Out (1973)
The Day The Sea Rolled Back (1979; young adult)
The Ship That Never Was (1982; young adult)
The Killing Man (1989; Mike Hammer)
Black Alley (1996; Mike Hammer)...Buy this book
Something Down There (2003).. Buy this book
Dead Street (2007) ., Buy this book
Completed by Max Allan Collins
The Goliath Bone (2008; Mike Hammer)... Buy this book....Kindle it!
The Big Bang (2010; Mike Hammer)... Buy this book....Kindle it!
Kiss Her Goodbye (2011; Mike Hammer).. Buy this book
The Consummata (2012)...Buy this book. .Kindle it!
Lady, Go Die! (2012; Mike Hammer).. Buy this book
Complex 90 (2013; Mike Hammer)
King of the Weeds (2014; Mike Hammer)
"Fresh Meat for a Raider" (Winter 1941, Sub-Mariner Comics #4; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Clams Make the Man" (1942, Joker #2; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"The Sea of Grassy Death" (February 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #28; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"The Ship In the Desert" (March 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #29; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Jinx Heap" (March 1942, Blue Bolt, Vol. 2, #10; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Lumps of Death" (April 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #30; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Killer's Return" (May 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #31; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Terror in the Grass" (May 1942, Blue BoIt Vol. 2, #12; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Creature of the Deep" (May 1942, Target Comics, #27; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Trouble - Come and Get It" (Spring 1942, 4 Most Comics #2; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Tight Spot" (Spring 1942, Sub-Mariner Comics #5; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Devil Cat" (Spring 1942, Human Torch #7; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"A Case of Poison Ivy" (June 1942, Blue Bolt, Vol. 3 #1; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Last Ride" (June 1942, Marvel I Mystery Comics #32; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Jap Trap" (July 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #33; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"The Curse of Tut Ken Amen" (August 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #34; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"'Woodsman's Test" (Summer 1942, 4 Most Comics #3; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"The Woim Toins" (Summer 1942, All Winners Comics #5; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"The Sea Serpent" (Summer 1942, Sub-Mariner Comics #6; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Flight Over Tokyo" (Summer 1942, Human Torch #8; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"A Shot in the Dark" (August 1942, Blue Bolt, Vol. #3, #3; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Undersea Champion" (August 1942, Target Comics #30; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Satan Himself!" (September 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #35; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Man in the Moon" (Fall 1942, All Winners #6; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Woe Is Me!" (October 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #36; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Scram, Bugs!" (November 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #37; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Spook Ship" (November 1942, Target Comics #33; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"Sky Busters" (December 1942, Target Comics #34; also 2004, Primal Spillane)
"The Veiled Woman" (November/December1952, Fantastic; sci-fi; ghost-written by Howard Browne, from an outline by Spillane)
"Together We Kill" (January 1953, Cavalier; also 2001, Together We Kill)
"Everybody's Watching Me" (January-April 1953, Manhunt; serialized in four issues; 2001, Pulp Masters)
"The Girl Behind the Hedge" (October 1953, Manhunt; AKA "The Lady Says Die!")
"The Night I Died" (1953; Mike Hammer; originally an unproduced radio play, tidied up and presented as a short story by Max Allan Collins in 1998's Private Eyes, edited by Spillane and Collins)
"The Pickpocket" (December 1954, Manhunt; 1984, Tomorrow I Die)
"Tonight My Love" (1954, released as 33 1/3 and 45 rpm records Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer Story)
"The Screen Test of Mike Hammer" (July 1955, Male)
"Tomorrow I Die, (February 1956, Cavalier)
"Stand Up and Die!" (June 1958, Cavalier; 1984)
"Me, Hood!" July 1959, Cavalier)
"I'll Die Tomorrow" (March 1960, Cavalier)
"The Seven Year Kill" (July 1960, Cavalier)
"Kick It or Kill" (July 1961, Cavalier; AKA "The Girl Hunters")
"The Affair with the Dragon Lady" (March 1962, Cavalier)
"Hot Cat" (April 1964, Saga)
"The Bastard Bannerman" (June 1964, Saga)
"The Flier (1964, The Flier; AKA "Hot Cat")
"Return of the Hood" (1964, Return of the Hood; 1969, Me, Hood!)
"The Seven Year Kill" (1964, The Flier)
"The Big Bang" (January 1965, Saga; AKA "Return of the Hood)
"Death of the Too-Cute Prostitute" October 1965, Man's Magazine; AKA "Man Alone")
"The Gold Fever Tapes" (1973, Stag Annual #15; 1984, Tomorrow I Die)
"The Dread Chinatown Man" (August 1975, True)
"Toys for the Man-Child" (August 1975, True)
"Sex Is My Vengeance" (1984, Tomorrow I Die)
"Trouble... Come and Get It" (1984, Tomorrow I Die).
"The Killing Man" (December 1989, Playboy; Mike Hammer)
"There's a Killer Loose!" (August 2008 EQMM; co-written by Max Allan Collins)
Me, Hood! (1963)
Return of the Hood
Killer Mine (1968)
The Flier (1964)
The Tough Guys (1969)
Tomorrow I Die (1984)
Together We Kill: The Uncollected Stories of Mickey Spillane (2001)
Collection of "lost" stories, edited by Lynn Myers and Max Allan Collins.
The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 1 (2001)...Buy this book
Handsome paperback omnibus collection of first three Mike Hammer novels, with a new introduction by Max Allan Collins..
The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 2 (2001)...Buy this book
Second trade paperback omnibus collects "One Lonely Night," "The Big Kill" and "Kiss Me, Deadly", plus an introduction by Lawrence Block..
Primal Spillane (2004).. Order this book from Gryphon
Another collection of pulp stories, featuring hard-boiled, crime, WWII, suspense, thrillers, monster stories & even a couple of SF stories. Edited by Lynn Myers and Max Allan Collins..
Byline: Mickey Spillane! (2004)...Buy this book
Edited by Max Allan Collins and Lynn Myers. Final collection of Spillane odds and sods, including work from non-fiction articles about race cars and scuba diving from mens' magazines and a Mike Hammer comedy/fantasy short story circa the late 1950's entitled "The Duke Alexander." Also included is a script for "Tonight, My Love!" from the LP Spillane did in 1954. From Crippen & Landru.
The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 3 (2010)...Buy this book
Third big collection rounds up "The Girl Hunters," "The Snake" and "The Twisted Thing."