Mickey Spillane was born Frank Morrison Spillane on March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of an Irish bartender. He grew up, by his own report, in one of the tougher neighborhoods of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Little is known about his early schooling. In the mid-1930’s he attended Kansas State College, hoping eventually to study law. During the summers, he was captain of the lifeguards at Breezy Point, Long Island.
In 1935, when Spillane was seventeen years of age, he began selling stories to the pulps. He was able to pay his college tuition by writing for radio and by writing comic books. (He claimed to have been one of the originators of the Captain Marvel and Captain America comics, which enjoyed enormous popularity in the 1930’s and 1940’s.) During World War II, he served in the United States Army Air Force, training cadets and in time flying fighter missions. After the war, he briefly worked as a trampoline artist for Barnum and Bailey’s circus.
Spillane’s success as a writer really began in 1947, with the publication of what remains his most popular book, I, the Jury. In 1952, after publishing half a dozen additional titles, he was converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Almost a decade passed before the release of The Deep (1961), considered by many to be his finest novel. His last book, Black Alley (1996) concluded a half-century-long career. Though Spillane wrote his books in a matter of weeks, or even days, and only when he needed money (a claim intended to deflect criticism with perfect indifference), he could never be accused of “cranking them out”; he wrote fewer than twenty-five novels in fifty years, a relatively modest number for a writer in this genre, and always managed to infuse the formula with the vitality of a righteous and unrestrained rage and a wildly original outcome.
Divorced from his first wife, Spillane married a woman much his junior, Sherri Malinou—a model whom he had met when she posed for the cover of one of his books—in 1965. Along with producer Robert Fellows, Spillane formed an independent film company in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1969 for the filming of features and television productions, while continuing his other writing. Mike Hammer’s adventures were depicted in several films of the 1950’s, as well as in a television series. Spillane cowrote the screenplay for—and even starred as Mike Hammer in—The Girl Hunters, a 1963 film. Later incarnations of Mike Hammer have included a syndicated television series.
Spillane received the lifetime achievement award from the Private Eye Writers of America in 1983 and the Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1995—almost fifty years after the publication of I, the Jury. The belated award came near the end of a lifetime of blithely dismissing critics, who for decades had been practically unanimous in disparaging Spillane’s artless, primary-palette prose. He routinely neutralized vitriolic reviews by pigeonholing his own work as “chewing gum” fiction and “garbage, but good garbage,” and deferring to American taste as evidenced by his royalty checks.
Spillane remarried in 1983, to Jane Rodgers Johnson. He moved to Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina, in 1954. Though his home for more than thirty years was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, he remained a resident in that beach town until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2006.
Mickey Spillane (spuh-LAYN) is one of the best-selling detective fiction writers in the history of world literature. He was once listed as the author of seven of the ten best-sellers in the United States. He was born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn, the only child of an Irish Catholic bartender and a Presbyterian mother. His father nicknamed him Mickey. An inveterate reader, Spillane boasted that by age eleven he had read all the works of Alexandre Dumas, père , and Herman Melville. Spillane attended Brooklyn’s Erasmus High School (1935-1939) and briefly studied...
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