On this day in 1918, Frank Morrison Spillane was born. Later, he would be known both as the master of pulp fiction and as Mickey Spillane. Born in Brooklyn, Mickey’s stories of the tough private eye Mike Hammer took place in the hard, gritty, city and Spillane’s writing mirrored the landscape. Soaked in violence and sex, the many novels that Spillane wrote did well in hardcover, but it was the sale of 25 cent paperbacks, accessible to everyone, that enabled him to sell over 200 million books during his lifetime.
One of Spillane’s first jobs was as a comic book writer and he wrote stories for some of the best known characters at the time including; Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman and Captain America. In 1946, Spillane wanted to purchase some land in Upstate New York to build a house. To obtain the needed money, he decided to try his hand at writing a novel and in 19 days he wrote “I, the Jury” perhaps his most well known. It featured the gruff, hard drinking Mike Hammer whose violent encounters with bad guys and evil doers were only interrupted by the sexual encounters with the many beautiful women who always appeared in the stories. Sometimes, they were the same as in these final sentences from “I, the Jury”
Slowly, a sigh escaped her, making the hemispheres of her breasts quiver. She leaned forward to kiss me, her arms going out to encircle my neck.
The roar of the .45 shook the room. Charlotte staggered back a step. Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving witness to truth. Slowly, she looked down at the ugly swelling in her naked belly where the bullet went in.
“How c-could you?” she gasped.
I only had a moment before talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
“It was easy,” I said.
The critics were never kind to Spillane. The violence and sex, heavy revenge themes and a staccato writing style made him an easy target. In a passage from "The Big Kill," Hammer narrates: "I snapped the side of the rod across his jaw and laid the flesh open to the bone. I pounded his teeth back into his mouth with the end of the barrel . . . and I took my own damn time about kicking him in the face. He smashed into the door and lay there bubbling. So I kicked him again and he stopped bubbling."
Mystery specialist Anthony Boucher, writing in the New York Times, said the novel "may rank as the best Spillane -- which is the faintest praise this department has ever bestowed." Spillane’s reply was "I pay no attention to those jerks who think they're critics," he said. "I don't give a hoot about readin' reviews. What I want to read is the royalty checks."
After writing seven books featuring Mike Hammer, Spillane took a long break from writing. When he returned to the scene in the mid 60’s he found that the the times had changed and with a relaxation in the censorship laws and the accessibility of pornography much of the shock value of his writing style no longer made an impact.
There was, however, a TV series and some beer commercials featuring Spillane himself.
The Historical Inebriant: Miller Lite
“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.” Mickey Spillane