Born Frank Morrison Spillane, March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, NY; died of pancreatic cancer, July 17, 2006, in Murrells Inlet, SC. Author. Mickey Spillane created the most hard-bitten of all the hard-boiled detectives in American crime fiction, Mike Hammer. The 13 novels in the series that Spillane produced between 1947 and 1996 rarely won over critics, but sold millions of copies, were adapted for film and television, and gave him a devoted readership. According to his Times of London obituary, a writer for Life magazine once remarked that Spillane wrote books that "no one likes except the public."
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. Called Mickey from his childhood, 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 comicbook writer.
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.
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. He even spent his days proselytizing door to door, a common outreach tenet of the faith. In 1961, he began writing again with The Girl Hunters , and found that his anti-hero's popularity had not abated with readers. He even appeared in the 1963 film version of The Girl Hunters , making him the one of the rare authors ever to portray his own fictional detective in a film adaptation.
Three more Mike Hammer tales appeared that decade, but critics continued to savage Spillane's writing, faulting it for excessive violence, misogyny, and fairly obvious plot resolutions. His approach to his craft was a pragmatic one, however. "I don't give a hoot about reading reviews," he once said, according to Los Angeles Times journalist Dennis McLellan. "What I want to read is the royalty checks." Despite the bad reviews, Spillane's protagonist and his actions seemed to resonate with readers, and "the vengeance or vigilante theme running through many of the stories foreshadowed the kind of thrillers in which Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood were to star a generation later," noted the Times of London.
Spillane's personal life was almost as colorful as anything he might have written: In marked contrast to the gore and sex in his detective stories, he also produced children's books, such as The Day the Sea Rolled Back . He had four children with his first wife, Mary Ann Pearce, whom he married in 1945. After their divorce, he wed a singer and actress, Sherri Malinou, who was more than two decades his junior and rather infamously posed nude for the cover of his 1972 novel The Erection Set . They lived apart for most of their marriage, however, and were divorced in the 1980s in a well-publicized court battle over assets related to the second of the television adaptations of the Hammer stories. Spillane also appeared in more than 100 television ads for Miller Lite beer, costumed in a trench coat and fedora in a spoof of his character, which ran from 1973 to 1988.
With fans still clamoring for another Hammer story, Spillane wrote The Killing Man in 1989, the same year his South Carolina beach home was devastated by a hurricane. He rebuilt it himself, and continued to write, producing his last Hammer title, Black Alley , in 1996. He died at the home in Murrell's Inlet, South Carolina, on July 17, 2006, at the age of 88 from pancreatic cancer. Survivors include his third wife, Jane Rodgers Johnson, and his four children from the marriage to Pierce—sons Ward and Mike, and daughters Kathy and Caroline—as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "I have no fans," he once asserted in an interview, according to Richard Severo of the New York Times . "You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends."
Chicago Tribune , July 18, 2006, sec. 2, p. 9; CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/books/07/17/spillane.ap/index.html (August 11, 2006); Entertainment Weekly , July 28, 2006, p. 16; Los Angeles Times , July 18, 2006, p. A1, p. A16; New York Times , July 18, 2006, p. A23; People , July 31, 2006, p. 71; Times (London, England), July 19, 2006, p. 55; Washington Post , July 18, 2006, p. B6.