Spillane, Mickey Spillane
He pulled no punches and his pen was as fast as his gun.
After all, it took almost three whole weeks for Mickey to type his first novel
I, THE JURY.
MIKE HAMMER, whose private eye name is never written without somebody tacking on the phrase: “hard-boiled detective,” sold books galore to the delight of publishers about to discover a new phenomenon.
But wait--there’s more to Mickey Spillane than his success as a writer.
Spillane was a member of a puritanical, doomsday religious cult! (Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
Mickey Spillane’s first novel, I, THE JURY, was also released in a new form, a new technology of the day called the “pocketbook” or paperback.
(Paperback books (small/cheap)---needed 3 elements to succeed:
Sensation, Sex, Simplicity.)
Mickey Spillane’s MIKE HAMMER was all that and more!
The hardback sold a respectable 4,000 copies.
The paperback version sold--not thousands--but millions.
More than 225 million copies of his books sold internationally.
Reading a hardback was for eggheads and respectable titles.
You could hide a paperback if somebody looked your way--get it?
A paperback was cheap, two-bits cheap, cheaper than a hardback. (Five bucks.)
Covers were garish, eye-catching, and lurid and married up perfectly with
Spillane’s antihero who could be a real blunt-force trauma of a man.
Who was this guy, Spillane?
A tough Irishman?
He’d joined the army right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served as a flight instructor. When he mustered out, he tried creating...a comic book hero named MIKE DANGER...but Danger didn’t fly, bounce bullets, or have X-ray vision.
Besides, kids only like their eggs hard-boiled.
Spillane the man was terse, quiet, and matter-of-fact.
Surprisingly, he was also a Jehovah’s Witness.
This public and private persona may seem odd at first glance--but, once one myself, I can tell you leading a double life is what it’s all about.
Brother Spillane’s gritty prose was a necessary counterbalance to the straitlaced, puritanical side of the door-knocking evangelistic cult.
This was his gulp of “fresh air.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses see life as black and white and the narrative driving their Universe is a simple story of Good VS Evil. JW’s are a male-dominated religion of men who are the “head” of the family and the Sisters need to know their place in the grand scheme of things. God is a Big Kahuna who’ll strike down men, women, children, animals--hell, don’t get in his way!
(A subconscious MIKE HAMMER?)
I, THE JURY reflects such a worldview.
At the end of this novel, MIKE HAMMER does something to a woman which shocked readers at the time. It also titillated them. They wanted more.
A career was born which lasted into the late 1990s.
Every time a new MIKE HAMMER novel was published, a cub reporter was dispatched to track Mickey down and corner him with silly questions--always the same ones. Mickey always looked bored and cynical. He had a crew cut like a naval recruit and he smoked like a chimney.
The very picture of a Christian evangelist!
He’d tell the cub reporter he only wrote: “for the money.”
"I don't give a hoot about reading reviews. What I want to read is the royalty checks."
His style? Self-parody.
“He took off like a herd of turtles.”
Or, “Her breasts were laughing things.”
His view of homosexuals and blacks was gratuitous and mean-spirited. Nuanced? What’s a “nuance?”
As one writer remarked, “...the virgin/whore complex Hammer had towards women and particularly in regards to his peculiar relationship with Velda, his long-suffering secretary, was nothing short of just plain twisted.”
Heck--that’s just a Jehovah’s Witness viewpoint!
A reviewer observed, “Hammer novels possess a fierce, driving energy and white-hot passion that cannot be denied; one that drags the reader along in its wake and keeps them turning pages.”
Mickey Spillane, the man?
"I'm actually a softie. Tough guys get killed too early... I've got a full head of hair and don't wear eyeglasses... And I've kept the smoke coming out of the chimney for a very long time."
Spillane broke down the barriers, where sex and violence were concerned, and this pissed people off. Also, he was perceived as right-wing. The vigilante approach Hammer used turned the stomachs of many liberals... (Spillane) is number three, after Hammett and Chandler (in a list of the 10 most important detective novelists of the 20th century).
Anyone who doesn't recognize Spillane's importance is an idiot.
James Bond and Dirty Harry all rolled into one.
Spillane’s writing tips?
1. Something’s got to happen.
2. Don’t take your reader where he wants to go. Tease them. Go against expectations.
3. Keep your sequels short and to the point. Forget inner dialogue and motivation. Move it along.
4. Let your Detective discover clues and identities he doesn’t share with the reader. It keeps them glued to the page.
5. Sex and violence, in their varying degrees, are really the only two colors on the writer’s palette.
6. Only write when you’re broke. Spillane only wrote when he needed money and spent the rest of his time deep-sea fishing
As a Jehovah’s Witness, Spillane went door to door. He didn’t kick them in and force Bible study at the point of a gun. Nope, he was mild-mannered and polite. As publicity for or against the Watchtower Organization--the truth is this. He was a “man’s man” and that’s what JW men like to think about themselves. Married and divorced 3 times, Spillane remained a golden boy to Watchtower leaders
When he died of cancer, a memorial service was held July 29 at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall near Spillane's Murrells Inlet home, about 80 miles northeast of Charleston.
Spillane had helped build that Kingdom Hall with his own two hands.
I knew a JW Brother named Kurt Rossit.
He told me in the course of conversation that he knew Brother Spillane when he lived near Myrtle Beach, SC.
“When Brother Spillane was assigned a talk (sermon) in the Ministry School, he’d show up in a Hawaiian shirt. You couldn’t make him wear a necktie! How he got away with it--I don’t exactly know. His attendance was spotty. Spillane tooled around in bright white tennis shoes, wearing his military-style crew-cut which gave the gossipers a fit. He went his own way and was considered cool by the men in high places.”
Another time, Kurt told me a story I wanted to believe whether it was true or not.
“Spillane liked to hang out at the bars. He’d invariably get into a religious argument. One time he reached into his back pocket and counted out a thousand dollars in cash and bet everybody in the bar they couldn’t find one scripture in the Bible to support the Trinity.”
The Brothers in Spillane’s congregation loved to go water skiing with him or fishing. He was like the cool dad they wish they’d had. They could be themselves around him, cuss, talk dirty about women and sex and not feel like he’d rat them out.
There has always been gossip among JW’s that Spillane “kept getting Disfellowshipped” for his trashy and prurient books. I have NEVER been able to verify this. Witnesses are among the biggest gossipers on earth, from my experience. If you know or think you know some juicy tidbit, you repeat it as though it were sworn testimony. As far as I know, Brother Mickey Spillane got off scot-free. If you know different (and can prove it) I’d love to see your evidence :)
Personally, I never met Brother Spillane.
I met plenty of shady JW’s in my time--but not the creator of MIKE HAMMER.
More’s the pity--I think I’d have liked him!
I’m a writer, not an author.
“I’ll tell you, there were a couple of reasons why I knew it was going to be good. At the end of the War, I saw—and I forget where, I think it was an army place—a brand new paperback original. It was a novel that had just come out. When I looked at that thing, I said this is the newest trend in publishing, and this is going to be the biggest thing going. So when I wrote I, the Jury, I didn’t write it for hardback. I wrote it for the paperback reprint. Now the funny part was that I, the Jury was turned down by three or four publishing houses who thought, “Oh, you can’t put books like this out on the market,” and who as good as shot themselves to death later. There was nothing bad about I, the Jury. It wasn’t dirty. It was a little raunchy in places, but not bad.”
Max Allan Collins:
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is an obvious descendant, just as in Spillane’s day James Bond and Fleming was his. You see Mickey’s fingerprints all over everybody who followed him and Mike Hammer, from Peter Gunn and Billy Jack to Mack Bolan and Jack Bauer. Shaft was a black Mike Hammer, even initially advertised that way. Fleming was sold as the British Spillane. Any tough hero with emotion who breaks the rules can point back to Mickey and Mike.