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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Mickey Spillane

I, the Jury

I, the Jury

People seem to either love or hate Mickey Spillane. I fall on the love side of things myself. Yes, his books were violent, his characters often extremely misogynistic, and his politics were often hard core right wing. Yet the man could tell a tale.

His wiki (as is often the case) has a simple intro:

Frank Morrison Spillane (March 9, 1918 – July 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.[1] In 1980, Spillane was responsible for seven of the top 15 all-time best-selling fiction titles in the U.S.

I have no idea which Spillane book was my first read. I do know it was not I, The Jury which was the first and probably best known Spillane work. As I look at things though, I realize The Last Cop Out may have been the first one I read where I realized Spillane was the author.

I, The Jury, was the introduction of the character Mike Hammer as well as Hammer’s secretary and eventual love, Velda and his best friend, Capt. Pat Chambers of NYPD Homicide. Spillane published six Mike Hammer novels from 1947 to 1952, took a ten year break before publishing five more between ’62 and ’70 with two final Spillane written in ’89 and ’97. Max Allan Collins has completed another six Hammer novels since Spillane’s death in 2006.

Mike Hammer is one of the iconic characters of the post World War II era. Besides the novels, there was a radio series in the early ’50s and multiple TV series. I have a vague memory of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer which starred Darren McGavin although most people today probably associate Stacy Keach with the role due to his having starred in an ’84/’85 version of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer as well as The New Mike Hammer in ’86/’87 and yet again in Mike Hammer Private Eye in ’97/’98.

Some folks may best remember Spillane for the Miller Lite commercials he did (here, here, and here (at least)) but he actually played Mike Hammer in one movie from 1963. Other movie Hammers have included Biff Elliott in I, The Jury in 1953, Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly, and Robert Bray in My Gun Is Quick.

Spillane wrote a number of other books over the years besides the Hammer novels. He had a second major character for many books named Tiger Mann, first introduced in Day of the Guns published in 1964. One of the surprises in reading about Spillane, he authored a couple of award winning Juvenile books, The Day the Sea Rolled Back and The Ship That Never Was. I guess it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise though since Spillane actually started as a comic book writer (and Mike Hammer began as a comic book character called Mike Danger.

There are currently three volumes of The Mike Hammer Collection that I am aware of (Vol I, Vol II, and Vol III). I have the first two in paperback and the third on the Kindle. They do give a nice way to introduce people to Spillane and Hammer. There are also a number of large, trade paperbacks covering noir and pulp fiction genres that include Spillane short stories.

I think the most surprising things I discovered about Spillane for this (from his Goodreads bio):

In his private life, he neither smoked nor drank and was a house-to-house missionary for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The other factoid that surprised me (also from the Goodread bio):

He also carried on a long epistolary flirtation with Ayn Rand, an admirer of his writing.

Which his wiki described as:

In the 1960s, Spillane became a friend of the novelist Ayn Rand. Despite their apparent differences, Rand admired Spillane’s literary style, and Spillane became, as he described it, a “fan” of Rand’s work.[6]

Nothing more to be said at this point.

Photo from Brendan Riley licensed under Creative Commons

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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL