While Mickey Spillane books and his name in general continue to resonate through the popular culture, explaining to anyone born after 1970 the enormous impact of this writer on hardboiled genre is a challenging task.
Recent generations know Spillane mostly from his eighteen-year run as a spokesman for Miller Lite Beer – in a trenchcoated persona spoofing both himself and his fiction – and various TV series featuring his main characte Mike Hammer in the ’80s and ’90s (see Mickey Spillane sample commercials here).
However, his legacy includes much more: He was perhaps the most popular mystery writer of the immediate postwar era, his reign extending into the 1970s despite sporadic output. Because he was a former comic book script writer and WW II fighter pilot, he was ware of the ways he could tap into the psyche of his fellow veterans, giving them action-packed, sex-drenched novels that reflected the kind of books he himself would have liked to read, had anyone else been writing them.
Although the shocking violence and steamy sexuality of the Hammer novels caught the attention of an adoring public and condemning critics, Spillane the writer (never “author,” a term he despised) is characterized by a rough-hewn surrealism and a thematic bent for vengeance.
Staring From Brooklyn
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Frank Morrison Spillane was born in 1918 to a Presbyterian mother and Irish Catholic father who supported the family with a job as a bartender. Because everyone called him Mickey from his childhood, the name got stuck with him. He graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1935 and held down a variety of jobs as a young man, including lifeguard and circus trampoline performer. He enrolled at a Kansas college at one point with a plan to study law, but dropped out and went on to serve as a fighter pilot instructor with the U.S. Air Force during World War II. When he returned to civilian life and the New York City area, he found steady work as a comic book writer.
Mickey Spillane Writing And Acting Career
Spillane’s first Mike Hammer story, I, the Jury , took him just two weeks to write and was published in 1947. Critics were merciless in their reviews of the violence-laden tale of a war veteran who learns that his old combat buddy has been slain and sets out to avenge the death. It was published in hardcover and sold a respectable number of copies, but the 25-cent Signet paperback went on to sell five million copies in five years.
Conversion and Break from Writing
Spillane went on to produce several more titles in the series, and at one point was the best-selling fiction writer in the United States. In 1952, however, he converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and did not write any more Hammer novels for the next nine years.
Although he had been christened by his mother as Presbyterian and his father as Catholic, he would always say that “neither took.” The faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses addressed what Spillane was lacking. Mickey was attracted to Jehovah’s Witnesses when one of them proved to him that Darwin’s theory of Evolution was incorrect.
After conversion, he persuaded both his mother, Catherine, and his wife Mary Ann to convert as well. Some theorize that Spillane simply wrote for the money. So when he had earned enough money, he took time off. And others suggested that criticism of his work had taken its toll and lead Spillane to a psychological writers’ block. But having said that, it’s important to note that membership as a Jehovah’s Witnesses requires complete and total devotion, and converts are usually required to give up successful careers upon joining.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Effect
Spillane’s reputation and style of writing is completely against the moral standards of the religion, and would have been considered highly unacceptable. Spillane admitted as much in a 1952 Life Magazine interview where he said, “There are more books on the way, but they won’t contain the things that bolster the excuses for the moral breakdown of this present generation. I’ve changed my work and course of action to be in harmony with Jehovah’s Kingdom.”
One of the requirements of being a Jehovah’s Witnesses is going door to door preaching the Bible. Spillane followed this requirement, going door to door until his death, along with attending meetings five times a week. While most celebrities find their professional careers incompatible with being a Witness, some manage to stay out of the limelight and are able to continue their careers quietly without censure from the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization. It appears Spillane was able to do that.
Mickey Start Writing Again!
Finally, in 1961 Mickey began writing again, with The Deep, which many considered one of his best Hammer novels. Although some criticized the novel as “nasty”, others felt that all the books he wrote subsequent to his religious conversion lacked the sadistic bite and sexual frankness of his previous work. Regardless, his popularity had still not abated, and his novels continued to make the best-seller lists.
In 1964, Spillane created a new series hero, Tiger Mann, in Day of the Guns, a globe-trotting secret agent. However, Spillane’s absence had taken its toll, and the fickle public was moving on, preferring Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Spillane was not able to attain the same level of popularity with this new character, and his books lost their shock power with the advent of new censorship laws in the 1960s. Mike Hammer continued to flourish as a character, however, with two television series and many movies.
In 1962, Mickey divorced his first wife Mary Ann. Three years later he remarried, this time to nightclub singer Sherri Malinou, who was more than twenty years younger. Malinou caught his eye when she modeled for the cover of one of his books. So he called the agency and asked them to send over the “blonde with the beautiful butt,” and he says, “they sent her over and I never sent her back.” In 1972 Malinou posed nude for the cover of his book The Erection Set, which Spillane dedicated to her.
In the 1963 film version of the Girl Hunters, Spillane himself played the lead role of Hammer, one of the very few times in history where an author has portrayed his own literary character in a film. Girl Hunters also featured Lloyd Nolan and Bond girl Shirley Eaton.
Mickey Spillane took another break from writing novels between 1973 and 1989, although he did write two well-reviewed children’s books during that period. In 1979 he wrote The Day the Sea Rolled Back, which was awarded a Junior Literary Guild award, and in 1982 he wrote The Ship That Never Was.
Mickey Spillane Later In His Life
In 1974 Spillane appeared in the television series Columbo, playing the part of a writer who is murdered. He was well-known and recognizable as both a writer and actor, and he took advantage of that. Between 1973 and 1988 he appeared in a series of more than 100 Miller Lite beer commercials, wearing a trench coat and fedora in a parody of his own tough-guy image.
Mickey and Sherri lived apart for much of their marriage, and it finally ended in 1983 with a well-publicized divorce battle over the assets from the Mike Hammer television adaptations. Later that same year Spillane, married for the third time, to Jane Rogers Johnson, a former Miss South Carolina beauty queen and fitness instructor who was 28 years his junior. He took on the role of stepfather to Jane’s two daughters, Britt and Lisa, along with his own four children.
Hurricane Hugo destroyed his Murrells Inlet home in 1989, and Spillane was forced to rebuild from scratch. That same year The Killing Man was published, and Spillane continued writing, producing his final Mike Hammer title, Black Alley, in 1996. In spite of his success, he lived a simple and restful life in Myrtle Beach, fishing and sailing. He remained active as a Jehovah’s Witness, preaching from house to house and spreading copies of The Watchtower.
1990s and a Real Murder Case
In the mid-1990s, Spillane and his wife, Jane, became involved in a real-life murder case. An 18-year-old high school student, Johnnie Kenneth Register, was found guilty of raping and murdering his girlfriend, Crystal Faye Todd, in 1991. The Spillanes interviewed Register and came to the conclusion that he was incapable of having committed the murder, but was a victim of corruption in the legal system.
In 1998 Jane Spillane mounted her own candidacy in an attempt to challenge the prosecutor, alleging that the prosecutor was guilty of tampering with evidence and framing Register. The supreme courts eventually upheld the conviction, although the incumbent prosecutor did lose his re-election bid. The Spillanes finally accepted that the evidence against Register was indisputable, but maintain that the case was botched from the beginning and that others were involved in the girl’s murder.
Death and Legacy
Mickey continued to write well into his 80s. On July 17, 2006, Mickey Spillane died of pancreatic cancer at age 88, surrounded by his family at his home in Murrells Inlet. He is survived by his third wife, Jane, children Caroline, Kathy, Michael, and Ward, stepchildren Britt, Lisa and Mabry, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In the week before he died, Mickey told his wife “When I’m gone there’s going to be a treasure hunt around here. (so) Take everything you find and give it to Max – he’ll know what to do.” Subsequent to his death, his literary executor and friend Max Allan Collins began to complete and edit unpublished manuscripts, beginning with a new Mike Hammer novel released in 2008, The Goliath Bone.
After Spillane’s death, in July 2011, the section of highway past Murrells Inlet on the U.S. 17 Business was renamed the Mickey Spillane Waterfront 17 Highway. The proposal had been brought before the Georgetown County Council in 2006 about six weeks before Spillane died. He was thrilled and honored with the proposal, but the plan was rejected at the time by the South Carolina General Assembly. His widow, Jane, commented that in spite of the many honors Mickey had received for writing, this was perhaps the most meaningful because it came from the people of South Carolina.
Mickey Spillane Novels Including Mike Hammer Books
I, the Jury (1947; Mike Hammer)
My Gun Is Quick (1950; also Mike Hammer)
Vengeance Is Mine! (1950; also a Mike Hammer novel)
The Big Kill (1951, another story which also features Mike Hammer)
The Long Wait (1951)
One Lonely Night (1951; Mike Hammer)
Kiss Me, Deadly (1952; another story also featuring Mike Hammer)
The Deep (1961)
The Girl Hunters (1962; also Mike Hammer)
Day of the Guns (1964; Tiger Mann)
The Snake (1964; Mike Hammer)
Bloody Sunrise (1965; Tiger Mann)
The Death Dealers (1965; also Tiger Mann)
The By-Pass Control (1966; also Tiger Mann)
The Twisted Thing (1966; Mike Hammer)
The Body Lovers (1967; also Mike Hammer)
The Delta Factor (1967)
Survival Zero (1970; also Mike Hammer)
The Erection Set (1972)
The Last Cop Out (1973)
The Day The Sea Rolled Back (1979; young adult)
The Ship That Never Was (1982; also young adult)
The Killing Man (1989; Mike Hammer)
Black Alley (1996; also Mike Hammer)
Something Down There (2003)
Dead Street (2007)
Books completed by Max Allan Collins
The Goliath Bone (2008; Mike Hammer): A week before his death, Mickey Spillane entrusted his nearly finished manuscript and extensive notes to his frequent collaborator, Max Allan Collins, to complete.The result is a thriller as classic as Spillane’s own I, the Jury and as compelling as Collins’s Road to Perdition.
In the midst of a Manhattan snowstorm, Hammer halts the violent robbery of a pair of college sweethearts who have stumbled onto a remarkable archaeological find in the Valley of Elah: the perfectly preserved femur of what may have been the biblical giant Goliath. Hammer postpones his marriage to his faithful girl Friday, Velda, to fight a foe deadlier than the mobsters and KGB agents of his past — Islamic terrorists and Israeli extremists bent upon recovering the relic for their own agendas.
The Big Bang (2010; Mike Hammer)
Kiss Her Goodbye (2011; Mike Hammer)
The Consummata (2012)
Lady, Go Die! (2012; Mike Hammer)
Complex 90 (2013; also a Mike Hammer story)
King of the Weeds (2014; Mike Hammer)
Kill Me, Darling (2015; also features Mike Hammer)
Murder Never Knocks (2016; Mike Hammer): A failed attempt on his life by a contract killer gets Mike Hammer riled up. But it also lands him an unlikely job: security detail for a Hollywood producer having a party to honor his beautiful fiancée, a rising Broadway star. But it’s no walk in the park, as Hammer finds violence following him and his beautiful P.I. partner Velda into the swankiest of crime scenes.
So in the middle of all this, Hammer is trying to figure out who put the hitman on him. Is there a connection with the death of a newsstand operator who took a bullet meant for him? A shadowy figure looking for the kill of his life?
The Will to Kill (2017; also Mike Hammer): Taking a midnight stroll along the Hudson River, Mike Hammer gets more than he bargained for: a partial corpse on an ice floe. The body is that of a butler who spent the last years of his life working for a millionaire—also now deceased—and his notoriously privileged children.
Were both master and servant murdered? Captain Pat Chambers thinks so. But to prove it Hammer must travel to upstate New York to investigate the dead man’s family, all of whom have a motive for murder, and one of whom who has a taste for it.
“Fresh Meat for a Raider” (Winter 1941, Sub-Mariner Comics #4)
“Clams Make the Man” (1942, Joker #2)
“The Sea of Grassy Death” (February 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #28)
“The Ship In the Desert” (March 1942, also Marvel Mystery Comics #29)
“Jinx Heap” (March 1942, Blue Bolt, Vol. 2, #10)
“Lumps of Death” (April 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #30)
“Killer’s Return” (May 1942, also Marvel Mystery Comics #31)
“Terror in the Grass” (May 1942, Blue BoIt Vol. 2, #12)
“Creature of the Deep” (May 1942, Target Comics, #27)
“Trouble – Come and Get It” (Spring 1942, 4 Most Comics #2)
“Tight Spot” (Spring 1942, Sub-Mariner Comics #5)
“Devil Cat” (Spring 1942, Human Torch #7)
“A Case of Poison Ivy” (June 1942, Blue Bolt, Vol. 3 #1)
“Last Ride” (June 1942, Marvel I Mystery Comics #32)
“Jap Trap” (July 1942, also Marvel Mystery Comics #33)
“The Curse of Tut Ken Amen” (August 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #34)
“‘Woodsman’s Test” (Summer 1942, 4 Most Comics #3)
“The Woim Toins” (Summer 1942, All Winners Comics #5)
“The Sea Serpent” (Summer 1942, Sub-Mariner Comics #6)
“Flight Over Tokyo” (Summer 1942, Human Torch #8)
“A Shot in the Dark” (August 1942, also Blue Bolt, Vol. #3, #3)
“Undersea Champion” (August 1942, Target Comics #30)
“Satan Himself!” (September 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #35)
“Man in the Moon” (Fall 1942, All Winners #6)
“Woe Is Me!” (October 1942, Marvel Mystery Comics #36)
“Scram, Bugs!” (November 1942, also Marvel Mystery Comics #37)
“Spook Ship” (November 1942, Target Comics #33)
“Sky Busters” (December 1942, also Target Comics #34)
“The Veiled Woman” (November/December 1952, Fantastic; sci-fi; ghost-written by Howard Browne from an outline by Mickey Spillane)
“Together We Kill” (January 1953, Cavalier)
“Everybody’s Watching Me” (January-April 1953, Manhunt; serialized in four issues; 2001, Pulp Masters)
“The Girl Behind the Hedge” (October 1953, Manhunt; aka “The Lady Says Die!”)
“The Night I Died” (1953; also a Mike Hammer tale; originally an unproduced radio play, tidied up and presented as a short story by Max Allan Collins in 1998’s Private Eyes, edited by Spillane and Collins)
“The Pickpocket” (December 1954, Manhunt; 1984, Tomorrow I Die)
“Tonight My Love” (1954, also a Mike Hammer Story)
“The Screen Test of Mike Hammer” (July 1955, Male)
“Tomorrow I Die, (February 1956, Cavalier)
“Stand Up and Die!” (June 1958, also Cavalier)
“Me, Hood!” (July 1959, also Cavalier)
Short Stories after 1960
“I’ll Die Tomorrow” (March 1960, Cavalier)
“The Seven Year Kill” (July 1960, Cavalier)
“Kick It or Kill” (July 1961, Cavalier; aka “The Girl Hunters”)
“The Affair with the Dragon Lady” (March 1962, Cavalier)
“Hot Cat” (April 1964, Saga)
“The Bastard Bannerman” (June 1964, Saga)
“The Flier (1964, The Flier; aka “Hot Cat”)
“Return of the Hood” (1964, Return of the Hood; 1969, Me, Hood!)
“The Seven Year Kill” (1964, The Flier)
“The Big Bang” (January 1965, Saga; aka “Return of the Hood)
“Death of the Too-Cute Prostitute” October 1965, Man’s Magazine; aka “Man Alone”)
“The Gold Fever Tapes” (1973, Stag Annual #15; 1984, Tomorrow I Die)
“The Dread Chinatown Man” (August 1975, True)
“Toys for the Man-Child” (August 1975, True)
“Sex Is My Vengeance” (1984, Tomorrow I Die)
“Trouble… Come and Get It” (1984, Tomorrow I Die)
“The Killing Man” (December 1989, Playboy; Mike Hammer)
“There’s a Killer Loose!” (August 2008 EQMM; co-written by Max Allan Collins)
“Grave Matter” (2010, Crimes By Moonlight; also co-written by Max Allan Collins; Mike Hammer)
“So Long, Chief” (February-May 2013, The Strand Magazine; also co-written by Max Allan Collins; Mike Hammer).
“Fallout” (November 2014-February 2015, The Strand Magazine; co-written by Max Allan Collins; Mike Hammer)
Mickey Spillane Collections
Me, Hood! (1963)
Return of the Hood (1964)
Killer Mine (1968)
The Flier (1964)
The Tough Guys (1969)
Tomorrow I Die (1984)
Together We Kill: The Uncollected Stories of Mickey Spillane (2001): This collection which is very hard to find is edited by Lynn Myers and Max Allan Collins.
The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 1 (2001; Mike Hammer): A triple-shot anthology featuring the first three Mike Hammer novels. The introduction of the book is by Max Allan Collins.
The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 2 (2001; Mike Hammer): This second trade paperback installment also collects three stories which include “One Lonely Night,” “The Big Kill” and “Kiss Me, Deadly”, plus an introduction by Lawrence Block.
Primal Spillane (2004): This is also another great collection of pulp stories, featuring hard-boiled, crime, WWII, suspense, thrillers, monster stories & even a couple of SF stories. Edited by Lynn Myers and Max Allan Collins..
Byline: Mickey Spillane! (2004): Also edited by Max Allan Collins and Lynn Myers. Final collection of Spillane odds and sods, including work from non-fiction articles about race cars and scuba diving from mens’ magazines and a Mike Hammer comedy/fantasy short story circa the late 1950’s entitled “The Duke Alexander.” Also included is a script for “Tonight, My Love!” from the LP Spillane did in 1954.
The Mike Hammer Collection Volume 3 (2010; Mike Hammer): Third big collection rounds up “The Girl Hunters,” “The Snake” and “The Twisted Thing.”
A Long Time Dead (2016; with Max Allan Collins; Mike Hammer): The first-ever collection of Hammer stories.
Mickey Spillane Movies
I, The Jury (1953, United Artists): Directed by Harry Essex and starring Biff Elliot as Mike Hammer.
Kiss Me, Deadly (1954, United Artists). In this atomic adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel, directed by Robert Aldrich who also made What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Dirty Dozen, the good manners of the 1950s are blown to smithereens. Ralph Meeker (Paths of Glory, The Dirty Dozen) also stars as Mike Hammer, whose decision one dark, lonely night to pick up a hitchhiking woman sends him down some terrifying byways.
Brazen and bleak, Kiss Me Deadly is a film noir masterpiece as well as an essential piece of cold war paranoia, and it features as nervy an ending as has ever been seen in American cinema.
The Long Wait (1954, United Artists)
My Gun Is Quick (1957, United Artists). Also a Mike Hammer story which was directed by George A. White and Phil Victor, and Robert Bray plays the main role.
The Girl Hunters (1963, Colorama). Like the book, the screenplay is also by Mickey Spillane, with Robert Fellows & Roy Rowland. Roy Rowland directed the movie and Mickey Spillane himself played the role of Hammer.
The Delta Factor (1970, Spillane-Fellows). This is one of the non-Hammer movies which based on the writings of Spillane. Directed by Tay Garnett and starring Christopher George and Yvette Mimieux.
I, The Jury (1982, American Cinema). Another adaptation of the bestselling book, this time directed by Richard T. Heffron and Armand Assante as Hammer.
Mike Hammer (1954). Because this was an unsuccessful pilot, it is hard to find the the original series. Blake Edwards wrote and directed the movie and Brian Keith played the role of Mike Hammer. You can find this piece on Max Allan Collins ‘The Black Box: Shades of Neo-Noir DVD collection.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1958-1960, US Syndicated series). was also a Hammer for TV series and 78 episodes of the show were made starring Darrin McGavin as Mike Hammer.
Mickey Sppilane’s Margin for Murder (1981, CBS) was a 2 hour made for TV movie and was directed by Daniel Haller with Kevin Dobson as Mike Hammer. Also a 2 hour made-for-TV movie, Mickey Sppilane’s More Than Murder (1983, CBS TVM) was a Hammer film that Gary Nelson directed in 1983 with Stacy Keach as Hammer.
Mickey Sppilane’s Murder Me, Murder You (1983, CBS). Gary Nelson and Stacy Keach also worked on this made for TV movie.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1984-1985, CBS). 22 60-minute episodes. Stacy Keach played the role of Hammer in the series.
The New Mike Hammer (1986-1987, CBS). 22 60-minute episodes. Stacy Keach was also a collaborator in this series playing the role of Hammer.
Come Die With Me (1994). Also featuring Mike Hammer, Rob Estes played the main role and Pamela Anderson played the role of Velda.
Mike Hammer – Private Eye (1997). 26 60-minute episodes. This is also a series in which Stacy Keach played the role of Mike Hammer.
Mickey Spillane Comic Books
Mike Danger (1947, Jerry Iger’s syndicate). Since the story appeared in local New York area papers, it is very hard to locate original copies of the story. Mike Roy did the artwork for this piece.
Green Hornet (1942-47, Harvey Comics). Out of the 33 issues, one featured Hammer prototype Mike Lancer. This issue was titled “Mike Lancer and the Syndicate of Death” (#10, December 1942). Harry Sahle did the artwork for the story.
Crime Detector (1954, Timor Publications). 2 out of 5 issue featured Hammer protoype Mike Danger. The two stories include “Meet Mike Danger, Private Detective!” (May 1954, #3) for which Sam Burlockoff did the artwork and “Murder at the Burlesque” (July 1954, #4) for which Mort Drucker did the cover art.
Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger (1995, Tekno). Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins developed this 10 issues as a collaboration. Collins wrote the stories and various artists also helped with the artwork including: Eduardo Barreto, Steven Leialoha, and Jose Delbo.
There are also few comic book collections which feature Mike Hammer. They include The Sudden Trap and Other Stories (1982; comic strips) and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Comic Strip, Volume 2. Additionally, Mickey Spillane’s From the Files of… Mike Hammer (2012). This title is rather a unique collection as it is the first to collect all the dailies and Sunday strips from 1953-54.
Sources: Mickey Spillane on Screen, Biography of Mickey Spillane (Hyper Ink), Mickey Spillane (Encyclopedia of World Biography), Mike Hammer (Thrilling Detective).