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Mickey Spillane

[spi-leyn]

Frank Morrison Spillane (March 9 1918July 17 2006), better known as Mickey Spillane, was an American author of crime novels, many featuring his signature detective character, Mike Hammer. More than 225 million copies of his books have sold internationally. By 1980, Spillane was responsible for seven of the top 15 all-time bestselling fiction titles in America.

Early life

Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Spillane was the only child of his Irish-American bartender father, John Joseph Spillane, and his Scottish mother, Catherine Anne. Spillane attended Erasmus Hall High School. He started writing while in high school, briefly attended Fort Hays State College in Kansas and worked a variety of jobs, including summers as a lifeguard and a period as a trampoline artist for the Barnum and Bailey circus.

Writing career

Comic books

Spillane started as a writer for comic books. While working as a salesman in Gimbel's basement in 1940, he met tie salesman Joe Gill, who later found a lifetime career in scripting for Charlton Comics. Gill told Spillane to meet his brother, Ray Gill, who wrote for Funnies, Inc., an outfit that packaged comic books for different publishers. Spillane soon began writing an eight-page story every day. He concocted adventures for major 1940s comic book characters, including Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. He also wrote two-page text stories in the mid-1940s for Timely Marvel, which appeared under his name.

Mike Hammer

Spillane joined the United States Army Air Corps on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the mid-1940s he was stationed as a flight instructor in Greenwood, Mississippi, where he met and married Mary Ann Pearce in 1945. The couple wanted to buy a country house in the Newburgh, New York, 60 miles north of New York City, so Spillane decided to boost his bank account by writing a novel. In 19 days he wrote I, the Jury. At the suggestion of Ray Gill, he sent it to E. P. Dutton.

With the combined total of the 1947 hardcover and the Signet paperback (December 1948), I, the Jury sold six and a half million copies in the United States alone. I, the Jury introduced Spillane's most famous character, hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer. Although tame by current standards, his novels featured more sex than competing titles, and the violence was more overt than the usual detective story. An early version of Spillane's Mike Hammer character, called Mike Danger, was submitted in a script for a detective-themed comic book. " 'Mike Hammer originally started out to be a comic book. I was gonna have a Mike Danger comic book,' Hammer [sic] said in a 1984 interview.

Films

Spillane portrayed himself as a detective in Ring of Fear (1954), and rewrote the film without credit for John Wayne's Batjac Productions. The film was directed by screenwriter James Edward Grant. Several Hammer novels were made into movies, including Kiss Me Deadly (1955). In The Girl Hunters (1963) filmed in England, Spillane appeared as Hammer, one of the few occasions in film history in which an author of a popular literary hero has portrayed his own character. In the TV series Columbo Spillane played a writer who is murdered. During the 1980s, he appeared in Miller Lite beer commercials.

In the 1990s, Spillane gave one of his characters to Tekno Comix for use in a science fiction adventure series, Mike Danger. The character is very similar to Hammer. In his introduction to the series, Spillane stated that he had conceived of the character decades earlier but never used him.

Personal life

In 1951, Spillane became a Jehovah's Witness. Mickey and Mary Ann Spillane had four children (Caroline, Kathy, Michael, Ward), and their marriage ended in 1962. In November 1965, he married his second wife, nightclub singer Sherri Malinou, who had posed for the cover of The Erection Set (1972), a novel dedicated to her. After that marriage ended in divorce (and a lawsuit) in 1983, Spillane shared his waterfront house in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina with his third wife, Jane Rodgers Johnson, whom he married in October 1983.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo ravaged his Murrells Inlet house to such a degree it had to be almost entirely reconstructed. A TV interview showed Spillane standing in the ruins of his house.

He received an Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award in 1995. Spillane's novels went out of print, but in 2001, the New American Library began reissuing them.

He died July 17 2006 at his home in Murrells Inlet, of pancreatic carcinoma.

Critical reactions

When literary critics had a negative reaction to Spillane's writing, citing the high content of sex and violence, Spillane answered with a few terse comments: "Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar... If the public likes you, you're good."

Russian-American author Ayn Rand publicly praised Spillane's work at a time when critics were almost uniformly hostile. She considered him an underrated if uneven stylist and found congenial the black-and-white morality of the Hammer stories. She later publicly repudiated what she regarded as the amorality of Spillane's Tiger Mann stories.

German painter Markus Lüpertz claimed that Spillane's writing influenced his own work, saying that Spillane ranks as one of the major poets of the 20th Century.

Spillane quotes

  • "I'm actually a softie. Tough guys get killed too early... I've got a full head of hair and don't wear eyeglasses."
  • "I'm the most translated writer in the world, behind Lenin, Tolstoy, Gorki and Jules Verne. And they're all dead..."
  • "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends."
  • "My work may be garbage but it's good garbage."
  • "Now what happened with Ernest Hemingway was that he wrote this nasty piece about me... So I was on a show in Chicago, a live TV show. It was a big theatre and there was a stage audience, and the guy who was interviewing me said, "Did you read that piece that Hemingway wrote about you?" And I said, "Hemingway who?" It brought the house down, but he hated my guts after that."
  • "Inspiration is an empty bank account."

See also

References

External links

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