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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 9 March 1918Brooklyn, New York, USA
Date of Death 17 July 2006Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, USA  (pancreatic cancer)
Birth NameFrank Morrison Spillane

Mini Bio (1)

Mickey Spillane, the king of the pulp novelists in the post-WW II period, sold an estimated 200 million copies globally. He was born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn, NY. Young Frank's mother was a Protestant who bestowed on him his middle name "Morrison", but his Irish Catholic father, barkeep John Joseph Spillane, allegedly had his son baptized with the middle name "Michael", a traditional name for Irishmen (so common, in fact, that the nickname derived from it, "Mick", served as a derogatory term for Irishmen in both the US and England). "Women liked the name Mickey", Spillane said, explaining why he chose the moniker that eventually became one of the world's best-selling novelists. In 1980 seven of the top 15 all-time bestselling fiction books published in the U.S. had been written by Spillane.

Despite the fact that his books were international bestsellers, as a writer Spillane was almost universally reviled by literary critics. He and his novels were attacked not only for their alleged illiteracy but were denounced by the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Commission as promoting juvenile delinquency. Explaining the extraordinary appeal of his novels, Spaillane simply said, "People like them." He countered his critics by saying they were jealous of his success. "I'm a writer, not an author," was Spillane's mantra all through his literary life. "The difference is a writer makes money." As late as 1999 Spillane told an audience at London's National Film Theatre, "Authors write, writers get paid." When he was asked about his literary influences, Spillane replied, "Dollars".

Spillane was brought up in the grimy industrial town of Elizabeth, NJ, in what he described as a "very tough" neighborhood. His mother provided him with balance inside the confines of the home, where he became a voracious reader, devouring all of the works of Alexandre Dumas père and Herman Melville by the time he was 11 years old. While still a high school student, he "went professional" at the age of 14, writing for the Elizabeth Daily Journal. In 1935 he began submitting his work to magazines before aiming lower and learning his craft by writing for comic books, including such popular titles as "Batman", "Captain Marvel", "Captain America" and "Superman". "[It was] a great training ground for writers," Spillane explained. "You couldn't beat it."

After high school Spillane went to Kansas State College on a football scholarship before dropping out. He joined the Army Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbor, but never left the US, spending the war years flying fighter planes and teaching air cadets how to fly. Still a civil pilot after the war, Spillane claimed he had put in 11,000 hours in the air by 1999. In 1945 he married Mary Ann Pearce, the first of his three wives. The couple had two sons and two daughters.

After leaving the military, he briefly worked in the Barnum and Bailey Circus as a trampoline artist and adept knife-thrower. Subsequently he worked for the FBI as an undercover operative to crack a narcotics ring (the subject of the novel "Kiss Me, Deadly", not the atomic bomb plot of the movie). He claimed in interviews that he had been shot twice and had been knifed once. Eventually he went back to writing.

Influenced by Carroll John Daly, the pulp writer who created the seminal private eye Race Williams, Spillane made the P.I. genre his own. His work was in the vein of the "hard-boiled" Black Mask school of pulp fiction of the 1930s. As a pulp writer, Spillane's mantra was "violence will outsell sex every time." By combining them he created a formula for success that begat a book publishing phenomenon.

Spillane's innovation was to inject gory violence into P.I. stories for a generation of 16 million men who had just been through the most violent war in history. After the war, the popularity of slick magazines was eroding due to the booming market in paperbacks, pulp fiction that sold for 25 cents a copy. These new mass-market novels featured lurid covers that would attract a customer at what became the ubiquitous steel-wire racks filled with paperbacks that sprouted up at bus stations, lunch counters, shops and newsstands all over the world.

Spillane's style was perfect for the new post-war fiction market. He attributed his success to Roscoe Fawcett of Fawcett Gold Medal Books, who envisioned a market for original novels instead of the reprints of classic works that dominated the paperback market during World War II. Gold Medal started to market novels written directly for paperback, and by injecting gore into the PI genre, both Fawcett and Spillane won a gold medal for their staggering sales.

Second wife Sherri Malinou was a model who Spillane noticed when she was featured on the cover of one of his books.

Raymond Chandler said of Spillane, "Pulp writing at its worst was never as bad as this stuff." Spillane's books always featured a great hook in the opening pages, as he believed that "the first page sells the book". His narratives are first-person spoken monologues, directly addressed to the reader. Hammer is less a detective in the guise of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op or Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe than he is a vigilante, always ready to partake in a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Spillane published his first Mike Hammer pulp, the infamous "I, the Jury', in 1947. Written in nine days, the book introduces Hammer as a tough-talking, hard-drinking bruiser.

Other Hammer books with the same formula of murderous mugs and even more dangerous, double-crossing malevolent dames followed: "Vengeance in Mine" (1950), "My Gun is Quick" (1950), "The Big Kill" (1951), and "Kiss Me, Deadly" (1952). Hammer was not only a two-fisted he-man, but each of those mailed fists typically clutched a large-caliber automatic. No dainty .32 Colts--the pistol of choice for the sophisticated detectives of the '20s and '30s--for Mike Hammer. His hirsute ham-fist sported a .45 ACP, the service pistol of the GI generation.

Mike Hammer was a true bellwether of the times, for rather than just go after criminals or garden-variety gangsters like self-respecting operatives of the '30s, he went after "Reds" and "Commies", the nation's bogeymen, and women who were stealing atomic secrets, adulterating Hollywood films with Red propaganda. In the potboiler "One Lonely Night" (1951), hammer wields a "Chicago typewriter" - a submachine gun - to tap out one-way tickets to heaven for 40 Commie heavies and fellow-travelers.

Though he eschewed politics in real life, he regarded himself as a patriot and was admired by prominent right-wingers for his anti-Communist stand. Ayn Rand extolled Spillane to her disciples of logical positivism, while movie cowboy John Wayne gave him a Jaguar XK140 roadster in 1956, a car he still had a half-century later (and in top working order). While Cold War critics often tried to make a link between Spillane and notorious Red-baiter Sen. Joseph McCarthy, when asked in 1999 if he approved of what McCarthy had done, Spillane replied, "McCarthy was a nit-head. He didn't know what was going on. He was a slob."

Spillane stopped writing for nearly a decade after converting to the Jehoavah's Witnesses in 1952. At this point he didn't need to write, as the royalties from the millions of copies of his books earned him a substantial income. In 1961 he returned to writing with "The Deep", arguably the best of the Mike Hammer novels. With the "Day of the Guns" in 1964 Spillane created a new series featuring secret agent Tiger Mann, a globetrotting spy who was America's answer to James Bond. Like Hammer, Mann was anti-Communist in the extreme and wiped out Reds with relish during the Cold War years of the 1960s. However, during Spillane's absence during the 50s, Ian Fleming (whom Spillane dismissed as "a gourmet") and other writers had stolen his thunder: the Tiger Mann series and Spillane's other non-series novels did not enjoy the vast sales of the '50s. The second part of Spillane's formula - sex - had lost its steam in the 1960s, after the collapse of censorship led to a proliferation of raw pornography and the availability of much more graphic, though serious, novels for the more thoughtful reader.

The Hammer novels did well in the visual media: there were two television series and multiple movies. The only distinguished film made from Spillane's works was Robert Aldrich's late noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955), now a cult classic. Spillane hated the film, which transmogrified the narcotics dealer plot of the novel into the theft of an atomic bomb (a true Cold War plot), which he found ludicrous.

Spillane took another hiatus from writing novels between 1973 and 1989, although he did write at two well-reviewed children's books, "The Day the Sea Rolled Back" (1979) and "The Ship That Never Was" (1982). He wrote the novels from the point of view of a child, he said, which explained their success. Though no longer a best-selling author, Spillane retained his fame during the 1970s due to his appearances in Miller Lite beer TV commercials. Although not a teetotaler, Spillane did not drink much, preferring an occasional beer over hard liquor, and he never smoked. He revived the Hammer franchise with "The Killing Man" in 1989, but Spillane, now in his 70s, was not a big seller. His last novel, "Black Alley" (1996), was published in 1996.

In retirement Spillane reportedly suffered a stroke. He lived, until his death, in Myrtle Beach, SC, with third wife Jane Rodgers Johnson, whom he married in 1983. He was an active Jehovah's Witness into his 80s, going from house to house to spread his faith and distribute copies of the "The Watchtower." He died on July 17, 2006, in Myrtle Beach from cancer. He was 88 years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (3)

Jane Rogers Johnson (October 1983 - 17 July 2006) (his death)
Sherri Spillane (6 November 1964 - 7 April 1983) (divorced)
Mary Ann Pearce (1945 - 1962) (divorced) (4 children)

Trivia (11)

Reportedly, Spillane needed quick cash to buy some land for a house in 1946, so he wrote detective novel "I, The Jury" in less than a month. Although he was a professional writer for magazines, "I, The Jury" was his first novel. It sold over three million copies and made Spillane a celebrity due to his frank combination of sex and violence. He went on to write several more novels with his main character from "I, The Jury", hard living detective Mike Hammer. Several actors have played Hammer over the years in the movies and on television. Spillane even portrayed Hammer himself in The Girl Hunters (1963) and parodied his own image in some funny Miller Lite beer commercials in the 1970s.
Grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and attended Fort Hays College in Kansas, where he was a standout swimmer before beginning his career writing for magazines.
Became a Jehovah's Witness in 1951.
Also worked as a circus performer, allowing himself to be shot out of a cannon in the 1950s.
The house where he lived for 35 years was destroyed by the winds of Hurricane Hugo (1989).
Biography/bibliography in: "Contemporary Authors". New Revision Series, Vol. 125, pp. 361-366. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2004.
He referred to his books as "the chewing gum of American literature". He said he wrote when he needed money.
According to the press materials for "Dead Street" (his final crime novel), Spillane had worked on the book for more than 5 years before its publication. However, according to Spillane's friend and writing partner Max Allan Collins, Spillane may have worked on "Dead Street" on and off for as long as 20 years. Spillane also had hoped that "Dead Street" would be adapted as a film, and felt the main character (Jack Stang, a retired cop) would make a good role for an aging actor. Spillane had hoped that Stang would be played by Charles Bronson, and that his love interest would be played by Lee Meredith (which is a good indicator of how long Spillane had worked on the book).
Named the main character in his last crime novel, "Dead Street" (2007), after his close friend Jack Stang. The two had been friends since the 1940s, and appeared in the film Ring of Fear (1954) together. Spillane had even hoped that Stang would play Mike Hammer in a film, and financed a screen test for Stang in the 1950s.
Stopped publishing Mike Hammer novels twice in his writing career. The first break with Hammer began in 1952, following the publication of "Kiss Me, Deadly" (and coincides with Spillane's conversion to Jehovah's Witness), and ended with the publication of "The Girl Hunters" in 1962. Spillane again stopped publishing Mike Hammer novels in 1970 after the publication of "Survival...Zero!" He did not release another Mike Hammer novel until 1989's "The Killing Man.".
On a dare from his publisher, Spillane wrote a children's novel called "The Day the Sea Rolled Back" (about two boys who find a shipwreck loaded with treasure). The book went on to win a Junior Literary Guild award. Following this success, Spillane wrote a second children's novel called "The Ship That Never Was".

Personal Quotes (6)

I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.
I'm the most translated writer in the world, behind [V.I. Lenin], [Leo Tolstoy], [Maxim Gorky] and Jules Verne. And they're all dead . . .
I used to write fast - now my rear end gets tired. I'm not full of vinegar anymore.
I'm a writer, not an author. A writer makes money.
[Sen. Joseph McCarthy] was a nit-head. He didn't know what was going on. He was a slob.
I never drank. A beer maybe, sometimes. Never liked hanging around bars. I don't smoke, either.

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