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Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane Mickey Spillane[1†]

Mickey Spillane, born Frank Morrison Spillane on March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, was an American crime novelist famed for his detective character Mike Hammer. His career spanned from 1947 to 2006, making him a dominant figure in post-WWII pulp fiction. Despite selling around 225 million copies worldwide, Spillane faced harsh criticism for his writing style and was accused of promoting juvenile delinquency. He defended his work by highlighting his financial success, famously distinguishing himself as a writer who makes money rather than an author[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Frank Morrison Spillane, known as Mickey Spillane, was born on March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York[1†]. He was primarily raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and was the only child of his Irish bartender father, John Joseph Spillane, and his Scottish mother, Catherine Anne[1†].

During his late adolescence, his family returned to Brooklyn, where he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1936[1†]. An inveterate reader, Spillane boasted that by age eleven he had read all the works of Alexandre Dumas, père, and Herman Melville[1†][3†]. He started writing while in high school[1†][4†], and briefly attended Fort Hays State College in Kansas[1†][5†][3†]. However, he left college and worked a variety of jobs, including summers as a lifeguard at Breezy Point, Queens, and a period as a trampoline artist for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus[1†].

During World War II, Spillane enlisted in the Army Air Corps, becoming a fighter pilot and a flight instructor[1†]. He was first stationed at the air base in Greenwood, Mississippi, where he met and married his first wife, Mary Ann Pearce, in 1945[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Mickey Spillane began his writing career in high school and continued to develop his craft by writing for comic books[6†]. He wrote for major 1940s comic book characters, including Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman, and Captain America[6†][1†]. He also wrote two-page text stories which were syndicated to various comic book publishers, including Timely Comics[6†][1†].

Spillane’s first novel, “I, The Jury” (1947), introduced the world to his signature detective character, Mike Hammer[6†][7†]. This marked the beginning of a successful writing career that spanned several decades, from 1947 to 2006[6†][1†]. His novels, characterized by their hardboiled crime fiction and detective fiction genres, were international bestsellers, with more than 225 million copies sold globally[6†][1†].

His other notable works include “My Gun Is Quick” (1950), “The Big Kill” (1951), and “Kiss Me, Deadly” (1952), which was made into a highly successful movie in 1955[6†][7†]. After a decade-long hiatus, Spillane resumed his writing career with “The Deep” (1961) and returned to the Mike Hammer series with “The Girl Hunters” (1962). He also wrote the script for and played the role of Hammer in the novel’s film adaptation in 1963[6†][7†].

In addition to his novels, Spillane initiated a new book series with “Day of the Guns” (1964), which centered on the international agent Tiger Mann[6†][7†]. His later books in the Mike Hammer series include “The Killing Man” (1989) and “Black Alley” (1996)[6†][7†].

Despite the criticism he faced for the violence and sexual licentiousness in his novels, Spillane’s captivating narrative and his central characters brought him popular success[6†][7†]. He claimed to write solely for monetary gain and countered his critics by saying they were jealous of his success[6†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Mickey Spillane began his writing career in pulp magazines and comic books, but it was his novels that brought him fame[1†]. His first novel, “I, The Jury,” was published in 1947[1†][7†], introducing the world to his signature detective character, Mike Hammer[1†]. This was followed by a series of successful novels featuring the same character, including “My Gun Is Quick” (1950), “The Big Kill” (1951), and “Kiss Me, Deadly” (1952)[1†][6†]. “Kiss Me, Deadly” was later made into a highly successful movie in 1955[1†][7†].

In addition to his Mike Hammer series, Spillane wrote several standalone novels. Some of the notable ones include “The Long Wait” (1951), “The Deep” (1961), “The Delta Factor” (1968), “The Erection Set” (1972), “Last Cop Out” (1973), “The Day the Sea Rolled Back” (1979), “The Ship That Never Was” (1982), and “Something’s Down There” (2003)[1†].

Here is a list of some of his main works with their first year of publication:

Spillane’s works were characterized by their tight plots, sadistic revenge stories, and the hard-boiled nature of their protagonist, Mike Hammer[1†]. Despite the criticism he received from literary critics, Spillane’s books were international bestsellers[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Mickey Spillane was a phenomenon of popular culture, with his novels, particularly the Mike Hammer titles, having international sales of more than 225 million copies[8†]. Of the top ten best-selling fictional works published between 1920 and 1980, seven were Spillane’s[8†]. His novels were characterized by their blunt-force narration, the hero’s direct assault on his enemies, and sexual encounters that were, in their time, shocking for their brutishness and frequency[8†].

Spillane’s loose plotting, scant characterizations, and violent resolutions have a comic book’s color and directness, allowing readers to vicariously indulge in personally exacting justice without the niceties of due process[8†]. He popularized pulp fiction in a way it had not been popularized previously, in fact almost single-handedly driving the phenomenal growth of the paperback original and gaining an audience that included those who did not generally read books and those who read lots of books—they all read Mickey Spillane[8†].

However, Spillane’s works were not without controversy. Critics pointed out that his novels debase women, reducing them to sex objects, and frequently evil ones at that[8†][9†]. Spillane’s handling of sex, stripped of any tenderness, intimacy, or romance, was perceived by many to be pornographic[8†][9†]. The violence and gore hurled at the reader have been condemned as gratuitous and revolting[8†][9†]. His plots have been deemed shaky, his characterizations thin, his dialogue wooden[8†][9†]. In sum, by these criteria, comparisons with the classic writers in his field— Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or Ross Macdonald—simply fail[8†][9†].

Nevertheless, Spillane’s novels entertain with a frankness and a ferocity that only a literary killjoy could fail to appreciate[8†][9†]. They do so without lengthy setups, lyrical embroidery, or brainteasers. They play on basic human instincts and prejudices, the kind of soldier’s rage that results in atrocity in the real world but finds its deserving target unfailingly in the unstoppable force of Mike Hammer[8†][9†]. What Spillane’s novels lack in craftsmanship, they amply make up for in vitality[8†][9†].

Personal Life

Mickey Spillane, born Frank Morrison Spillane, had a personal life as colorful as his characters. He married Mary Ann Pearce in 1945, and together they had four children: Caroline, Kathy, Michael, and Ward[4†][10†]. After obtaining an advance from his first novel, he bought land in upstate New York and built a house[4†]. In the 1950s, Spillane purchased a home at Murrell’s Inlet on the Atlantic coast of South Carolina[4†].

Spillane’s marriage to Pearce ended, and he later married Sherri Malinou in November 1965[4†][10†]. This marriage also ended in divorce[4†][10†]. Spillane found love again and married Jane Rodgers Johnson in October 1983[4†][10†]. Through this marriage, he became a stepfather to Jane’s daughters, Britt and Lisa[4†][10†].

Despite the gore and sex in his detective stories, Spillane also produced children’s books, such as "The Day the Sea Rolled Back"[4†][11†]. His personal life was almost as colorful as anything he might have written[4†][11†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Mickey Spillane’s legacy in the world of crime fiction is undeniable. His books have sold more than 225 million copies internationally[1†], making him one of the most successful crime writers of all time. His signature character, Mike Hammer, has become a staple in the genre, influencing countless other characters and stories[1†].

Spillane’s writing style, characterized by its fast pace, hard-hitting action, and uncompromising portrayal of violence, has had a significant impact on the genre of crime fiction[1†][12†]. Despite the fact that his books were international bestsellers, as a writer Spillane was almost universally reviled by literary critics[1†][12†]. Yet, his influence on the genre is undeniable.

When Spillane passed away in 2006[1†], he left behind the manuscript of one last novel he’d just completed: "The Last Stand"[1†][13†]. He asked his friend and colleague, Max Allan Collins, to take responsibility for finding the right time and place to publish this final book[1†][13†]. The story doesn’t quite end there, however: Spillane left Collins enough material for five more novels[1†][14†].

Spillane’s work continues to be read and appreciated by fans of crime fiction around the world. His influence on the genre is still felt today, and his books continue to be a benchmark for hardboiled crime fiction[1†][12†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Mickey Spillane [website] - link
  2. IMDb - Mickey Spillane - Biography [website] - link
  3. eNotes - Mickey Spillane Biography [website] - link
  4. SunSigns - Mickey Spillane Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  5. CBS News - Mystery Writer Mickey Spillane Dies - CBS News [website] - link
  6. Book Series In Order - Mickey Spillane [website] - link
  7. Britannica - Mickey Spillane: American author [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Mickey Spillane Analysis [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Mickey Spillane Critical Essays [website] - link
  10. Encyclopedia.com - Spillane, Mickey 1918– [website] - link
  11. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Mickey Spillane Biography [website] - link
  12. Books Tell You Why - Blog - Mickey Spillane: Hardboiled Detectives and Salted Peanuts [website] - link
  13. Goodreads - Book: The Last Stand [website] - link
  14. The Guardian - Taking up Mickey Spillane's mantle [website] - link
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