Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I mentioned Mickey Spillane in passing, and thought I'd expand on that a bit.

In 1952, Life Magazine said about Spillane: "No major book reviewer, anywhere, ever said a kind word about Mickey Spillane."

The images above are of his second wife, Sherri, who posed for the covers. They apparently met during a photo shoot for one of his books, and it is perhaps too easy to speculate on the attraction -- he was in his forties, she in her twenties.

That marriage ended in a nasty divorce and ugly lawsuit, and Sherri became a theatrical agent.

Readers loved Spillane. Literary critics blew fuses when his name came up. He was the Harold Robbins/Danelle Steel of his day, and he, like Liberace, cried all the way to the bank.

Spillane wrote about a number of anti-heroes, and his heydays were in the late forties and early fifties. The guy who spent the most time on the page was Mike Hammer, a New York City private eye who would just as soon shoot you as look at you, and, as you lay dying, kick your teeth in just because he felt like it. Said as much in one of the books.

Hammer carried a .45, and regularly smashed in heads and punched tickets with it. (Apparently somebody did a partial body-count -- in a half-dozen novels, fifty-eight people who ate lead from Hammer's rod ...)

Hammer was a product of the the post-war world, and as politically incorrect as they came. He was in love with Velda, his secretary, but he didn't want to spoil that, so they didn't sleep together (until both of them were way long in the tooth.) Meanwhile, if he had a chance to partake of any good-looking broad in reach, he did, sometimes two or three different ones in the same novel. Then he would have a steamy kiss -- no more -- with Velda and go home to bed alone.

Spillane wrote thirteen novels featuring Hammer. The first three are the best, the last three, unreadable. There were movies, at least two TV series: Darren McGavin starred in one, Stacy Keach in one; and Spillane himself played the role in a 1962 movie, The Girl Hunters.
I, The Jury

My Gun is Quick


Vengeance is Mine!


One Lonely Night


The Big Kill


Kiss Me, Deadly


The Girl Hunters


The Snake


The Twisted Thing


The Body Lovers


Survival ... Zero!


The Killing Man

Black Alley

Past 1966's The Twisted Thing, Mike Hammer was, in a word, pathetic. He was a man who didn't belong in the world, and like a champion fighter who stays on too long past his prime, sad. He should have gone down, gun blazing.

Spillane did other novels, tried to write about spies and secret agents, but he was best with street guys. My favorite Spillane novel was The Deep, 1961, in which an ex-gang member comes home and starts to shoot up everybody who pisses him off, and a lot of mugs do that.

Spillane claimed to not be a tough guy, but the pictures showed a buzz-cut, cigarette-smoking man, often in a T-shirt or rolled-up sleeves, with muscles, and at various times, he was shot out of a cannon, bounced on a trampoline, did stock car racing, was a pilot, a fencer, and scuba dived for sunken treasure. During the war, he was a flight instructor.

I've always found it amusing that Spillane was one of Ayn Rand's favorite authors. His black-and-white way of looking at the world went well with her unworkable philosophy of objectivism, though I'm sure that at least some of the people who went and found Spillane's book on her recommendation must have had some jaw-dropping moments ...

King of the pulp writers when he was at his peak, Spillane, and nobody on the page was rougher, tougher, harder-drinking, faster-to-get-laid than Mike Hammer.


B. Smith said...

I've read I, The Jury and a couple of other Mike Hammer novels. Is there any of his non-Hammer novels that you'd recommend?

Steve Perry said...

Outside of The Deep, nothing else comes to mind.
The later stuff seemed out-of-step to me, he gave his ops names like Tiger Mann, Dogeron Kelly, and Mako Hooker. Clearly, he was out of his element once he moved away from the New York streets, and his other heroes always seemed -- with the exception of Deep -- paler imitations of Mike Hammer.

Mark Jones said...

I remember reading Rand's "The Romantic Manifesto" and the comparison of Spillane to Tom Wolfe (I think it was). And, yeah, given the choice of those two writing samples--I'd choose Spillane too.