Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Writers Born Today - Mickey Spillane

It's the birthday of Frank Morrison Spillane, born March 9, 1918 in Brooklyn. His father, an Irish bartender, gave him the nickname "Mickey". He developed a knack for story helped him avoid beatings by older kids in his tough neighborhood. By the end of high school, he had sold his first story to a pulp magazine. After some college he got a job writing comics. World War II interrupted his literary pursuits and with scant success in the comic trade, Spillane turned to writing novels using Mike Danger, a P.I. hero he created for the comics. He renamed the character Mike Hammer, and churned out the first novel with this hero in just three weeks. The publisher, E.P. Dutton, didn't think much of the writing, but bought it anyway, in part as a favor to Spillane's agent. It would change the publishing industry.

I, The Jury sold a respectable 10,000 copies in hardcover, but when released in paperback, sales exploded, literally. Over a million copies were sold, and Spillane churned out half a dozen more novels in the next few years featuring his hard hitting and often brutal hero. Spillane's timing was perfect. Paperbacks were cheap and fed the public's postwar demand for action and adventure filled stories.

Literary gems they were not. A new Mike Hammer novel brought enormous sales, but also scathing reviews from book critics. Anthony Boucher in the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of I, The Jury ,"so vicious a glorification of force, cruelty and extra-legal methods that the novel might be made required reading in a Gestapo training school."  The Saturday Review of Literature was more succinct. "Lurid action, lurid characters, lurid writing, lurid plot, lurid finish. Verdict: Lurid"

But Spillane didn't let the bad reviews bother him. "I don't give a hoot about readin' reviews. What I want to read is the royalty checks," he said. And the checks poured in, not just from print, but from television, radio and movie rights. One of the most successful screen adaptations was the movie Kiss Me Deadly, which starred Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer. In real life, Spillane bore little resemblance to his hard as nails hero. He was a Jehovah's witness, and neither drank nor smoked.

Spillane created other protaganists, including spies Tiger Mann and Mako Hooker. He even wrote a few children's books and won a Junior Literary Guild award for one of them, The Day The Sea Rolled Back.

By the time he returned to writing Mike Hammer novels in the 60s, his literary reputation was improving. In 1995, the Mystery Writers of America gave him the Grand Master, the highest award in the mystery field in recognition of his lifetime achievements as a writer.

To date, his novels have sold over 200 million copies.

"Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar."

                                                                                 - Mickey Spillane

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