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
More than 225 million copies of his books have
sold internationally. In 1980, Spillane was responsible for seven
of the top 15 all-time bestselling fiction titles in America.
York, and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Spillane was the only child of his Irish-American
bartender father, John Joseph Spillane, and his
mother, Catherine Anne. Spillane attended Erasmus Hall
High School, graduating in 1935. He started writing
while in high school, briefly attended Fort Hays State College in
Kansas and worked a variety of jobs, including summers as a
lifeguard at Breezy Point,
Queens, and a period as a trampoline artist for the Barnum
and Bailey circus.
During World War II Spillane enlisted in the Army Air Corps
becoming a fighter pilot
and a flight instructor. In 1951, Spillane became a Jehovah's Witness
Mickey and Mary Ann Spillane had four children (Caroline, Kathy,
Michael, Ward), and their marriage ended in 1962. In November 1965,
he married his second wife, nightclub singer Sherri Malinou.
marriage ended in divorce (and a lawsuit) in
1983, Spillane shared his waterfront house in Murrells Inlet,
South Carolina, with his third wife, Jane Rogers Johnson, whom he
married in October 1983.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo
ravaged his Murrells Inlet
house to such a degree it had to be almost entirely reconstructed.
A TV interview showed Spillane standing in the ruins of his house.
He received an Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master
in 1995. Spillane's novels went out of print, but in
2001, the New American Library began reissuing them.
Spillane died July 17 2006
at his home in Murrells Inlet, of pancreatic carcinoma
. After his death,
his friend and literary executor, Max Alan Collins, began the task
of editing and completing Spillane's unpublished typescripts,
beginning with a Mike Hammer Novel, "The Goliath Bone"
Spillane started as a writer for comic books. While working as a
salesman in Gimbel's basement in 1940, he met tie salesman Joe Gill
, who later found a lifetime career in
scripting for Charlton Comics
told Spillane to meet his brother, Ray Gill, who wrote for Funnies, Inc.
, an outfit that packaged comic
books for different publishers. Spillane soon began writing an
eight-page story every day. He concocted adventures for major 1940s
comic book characters, including Captain Marvel
. He also wrote
two-page text stories in the mid-1940s for Timely Marvel, which
appeared under his name. Many years later, they were collected as
"Primal Spillane" (Gryphon Books, 2003).
joined the United States
Army Air Corps on December 8,
1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the mid-1940s he was stationed as a flight
instructor in Greenwood, Mississippi, where he met and married Mary Ann
Pearce in 1945. The couple wanted to buy a country house in
the Newburgh, New
York, 60 miles north of New York City, so Spillane
decided to boost his bank account by writing a novel.
Spillane's first Mike Hammer novel
I, the Jury
days he wrote I, the Jury
the suggestion of Ray Gill, he sent it to E. P. Dutton
With the combined total of the 1947 hardcover and the Signet
paperback (December 1948), I, the Jury
sold six and a half
million copies in the United States alone. I, the Jury
introduced Spillane's most famous character, hard-boiled detective
. Although tame by current
standards, his novels featured more sex than competing titles, and
the violence was more overt than the usual detective story. An
early version of Spillane's Mike Hammer character, called Mike
Danger, was submitted in a script for a detective-themed comic
book. " 'Mike Hammer originally started out to be a comic book. I
was gonna have a Mike Danger comic book,' Hammer [sic] said in a
1984 interview." Two Mike Danger comic-book stories (1954,
published without Spillane's knowledge) as well as one featuring
Mike Lancer (1942) were published with other material in "Byline:
Mickey Spillane," ed Max Allan Collins and Lynn F. Myers, Jr.
(Crippen & Landru publishers, 2004).
Spillane portrayed himself as a detective in Ring of Fear
(1954), and rewrote the film without credit for John Wayne's and
Robert Fellows Wayne-Fellows Productions
film was directed by screenwriter James Edward Grant
. Several Hammer novels
were made into movies, including Kiss
(1955). In The
Girl Hunters (1963) filmed in England, Spillane
appeared as Hammer, one of the few occasions in film history in
which an author of a popular literary hero has portrayed his own
Spillane was scheduled to film The Snake
as a follow up but the film was
never made. In the TV series Columbo
Spillane played a writer
who is murdered. During the 1980s, he appeared in Miller Lite
In 1969 Spillane formed a production company with Robert Fellows
who had produced The Girl Hunters
to produce many of his
books, but Fellows soon died and only The Delta Factor
In the 1990s, Spillane licensed one of his characters to Tekno Comix
for use in a science fiction
adventure series, Mike Danger
. The character is very
similar to Hammer. In his introduction to the series, Spillane
stated that he had conceived of the character decades earlier but
never used him.
When literary critics had a negative reaction to Spillane's
writing, citing the high content of sex and violence, Spillane
answered with a few terse comments: "Those big-shot writers could
never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than
... If the public likes you, you're
publicly praised Spillane's work
at a time when critics were almost uniformly hostile. She
considered him an underrated if uneven stylist and found congenial
morality of the Hammer stories. She later publicly repudiated what
she regarded as the amorality
Spillane's Tiger Mann stories. German painter
Markus Lüpertz claimed that
Spillane's writing influenced his own work, saying that Spillane
ranks as one of the major poets of the 20th Century.
- "I'm actually a softie. Tough guys get killed too early... I've
got a full head of hair and don't wear eyeglasses."
- "I'm the most translated writer in the world, behind Lenin, Tolstoy, Gorki and Jules
Verne. And they're all dead..."
- "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers
are your friends."
- "My work may be garbage but it's good garbage."
- "Now what happened with Ernest
Hemingway was that he wrote this nasty piece about me...
So I was
on a show in Chicago, a live TV show. It was a big theatre and
there was a stage audience, and the guy who was interviewing me
said, "Did you read that piece that Hemingway wrote about you?" And
I said, "Hemingway who?" It brought the house down, but he hated my
guts after that."
- "Inspiration is an empty bank account."
- Boyer, David. "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: FLATBUSH; Grads Hail Erasmus
as It Enters a Fourth Century", The New York
11, 2001. Accessed
- p.87 Rippetoe, Rita Elizabeth Booze and the Private Eye:
Alcohol in the Hard Boiled Novel 2004 McFarland
- NPR Interview
- CBS News obituary