Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Birthday: "Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn't. Of course, most of mine sold for 25 cents."



Frank Morrison Spillane (1918-2006)
Author, actor

His own father, an Irish-born Brooklyn bartender, called Mickey Spillane’s books “crud." Spillane aimed a little higher, calling them “the chewing gum of American literature.”

His Washington Post obit summed up the Spillane Style:
In one typical passage from "The Big Kill," Hammer narrates: "I snapped the side of the rod across his jaw and laid the flesh open to the bone. I pounded his teeth back into his mouth with the end of the barrel . . . and I took my own damn time about kicking him in the face. He smashed into the door and lay there bubbling. So I kicked him again and he stopped bubbling." 
Mystery specialist Anthony Boucher, writing in the New York Times, said that novel "may rank as the best Spillane -- which is the faintest praise this department has ever bestowed."
For its part, when he died The Times commented,
Mr. Spillane took issue with those who complained that his books had too much sex. How could there be sex, he asked, when so many women were shot? He noted the conspicuous role women played among his victims: Mary (abandoned), Anne L. (drowned in a bathtub), Lola (fatally stabbed), Ethel (whipped before she was shot), Marsha (shot) and Ellen (like Mary, given the heave-ho). 
And then there was Velda, Mike Hammer’s blond, beautiful and patient companion in several novels. Hammer made no advances toward her and all she got for her trouble was being shot, assaulted, strung up naked and whipped. 
In “I, the Jury,” Hammer became so angry at a female psychiatrist that he shot her in her “stark naked” stomach. (“Stark naked” was a phrase that Mr. Spillane rather liked.) As she died, she asked, “Mike, how could you?” To which Hammer replied, “It was easy.”
After working as a lifeguard, a Ringling Brothers trampoline artist, and a dollar necktie salesman at Gimbel’s in New York, Spillane became a writer through a chance meeting with a comic book company employee. Where it took most writers a week to turn out a “book,” Spillane could do it in a day, and he made a decent living cranking out adventures for Batman, Superman, Captain America and Captain Marvel.

Drafted in 1941, he became an Army Air Force training pilot, serving stateside through the war and much to his chagrin. He got married after the war, and when the couple decided it would be nice to have a place in the country, he churned out I, The Jury, a comic book.

For once, he didn’t find a buyer. So he rewrote it as a book, and sold it. Between the paperback and hardback editions, I, The Jury sold 6.5 million copies in 1947-48. He built a cinder block house in Newburgh, New York, and there cranked out five more novels featuring Mike Hammer, an alcoholic private detective with a taste for vigilantism and an antipathy to money launderers and Communists.



The body count in Spillane’s first six books was a staggering 58, and the format- use-’em-and-lose’em dames, and quick justice when the law was too slow- made him a rich man. Then, in 1951, he became a Jehovah’s Witness with both feet and didn’t publish another book until 1962. He took his faith seriously, and his barrel-chested physique and ever-present grimace doubtless got him fewer rejections than most doing their door to door work.

Ayn Rand admired both Spillane's style and Hammer's amorality, and the two conducted a flirtatious correspondence for decades.

Spillane was so famous, so fast, that he played himself in a 1954 John Wayne film, Ring of Fear. When the script proved problematic to the Duke, Spillane rewrote it for free. For his pains, Wayne had a Jaguar roadster delivered to him in a large red bow.

The first of three Mike Hammer TV series came in the late Fifties; in the 1963 film of his book, The Girl Hunters, Spillane played Mike Hammer, in a role no one could tell him wasn’t what the writer intended.

On a publisher’s dare, he wrote a kids book and won a book award for it. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, he was a regular in over one hundred Bud Lite beer ads. Stacy Keach made a good living from Mike Hammer in two more series programs before century’s end. Spillane retired to Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, which he’d visited in the war, and was such a booster he came to regret the rapid growth of the once-rural coastline.

He was nothing if not practical about his work, telling interviewers,
I'm a commercial writer, not an author. Margaret Mitchell was an author. She wrote one book. 
Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book. 
I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.
He came across like the Donald Trump of crime fiction, declaring,
I knew a couple of things... during the war years they came out with reprints of all the Dumas novels, Moby Dick, for the servicemen, and I saw this and believe me I'm a very sharp merchandiser, and I say this is the new marketplace for writing: original paperback books. 
I was the first one probably in writing to use a nickname, Mickey, and it stuck. 
I'm 82 years old, wherever I go everybody knows me, but here's why... I'm a merchandiser, I'm not just a writer, I stay in every avenue you can think of. 
I don't care what the editor likes or dislikes, I care what the people like. 
I was one of the first guys writing comic books, I wrote Captain America, with guys like Stan Lee, who became famous later on with Marvel Comics. Stan could write on three typewriters at once! I wrote the Human Torch, Submariner. I worked my way down. I started off at the high level, in the slick magazines, but they didn't use my name, they used house names. Anyway, then I went downhill to the pulps, then downhill further to the comics. I went downhill class-wise, but I went uphill, money-wise! I was making more money in the comics. I wrote the original Mike Hammer as a comic, Mike Danger.
Death finally took down Hammer’s creator at the age of 88. Like a good pulp writer, he left a batch of manuscripts behind. One is scheduled to be published this year.


#LiteraryBirthdays #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte #MickeySpillane #MikeHammer











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