Max Allan Collins remembers Mickey Spillane
As soon as the news broke, the first person I thought of was Max Allan Collins, who not only is a notable crime writer, filmmaker and graphic novelist, but was a close friend of Spillane’s since they met 25 years ago at Bouchercon in Milwaukee. Though he’s in the midst of finishing up a book, Collins was kind enough to write a short tribute for publication here. It appears below.
What contemporary mystery readers (and writers) need to know about Mickey Spillane is simply this he was the most important American mystery writer of the 20th century. Note I didn’t say “best,” or even “most popular,” though cases could be made in either case. But even those who don’t care for his work — and his detractors were many, just not legion like his fans — need to accept his importance.
His Mike Hammer novels revitalized the mystery field in the post-war period, in particular the private eye story. The books were so hardhitting and (for their time) sexy that the standard for what was acceptable in popular fiction changed drastically — once Mickey opened the door, a franker treatment and escalated level of sex and violence were the norm.
Though his Hammer novels first appeared in hardcover, they led to the creation of the paperback original. His distributor, Fawcett, started Gold Medal Books — the first major publisher of non-reprint paperbacks — to fill the market for Spillane-type material.
Hammer himself, with his vigilante tendencies and willingness to sleep with women, changed the tough guy hero forever. Without Hammer there is no Dirty Harry, certainly no James Bond, and SIN CITY is Frank Miller doing Spillane outright (and not getting called on it, because reviewers today have the sense of history of a gnat).
Spillane was the first author of popular fiction to achieve massive celebrity. He posed in Hammer mode with fedora and guns on book covers. John Wayne starred Mickey AS Mickey in the 1954 movie, RING OF FEAR (out on DVD just recently). Mickey appeared as Mike Hammer in THE GIRL HUNTERS (1961). Did Agatha Christie ever star as Miss Marple? Are there any movies with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle playing Sherlock Holmes? Don’t think so. He had a remarkable 18 year stint, playing a spoofy Hammer-like version of himself, in the wildly successful Miller Lite commericals. He played the guest victim on a COLUMBO. He even appeared in two indie thrillers, MOMMY and MOMMY’S DAY, directed by some obscure mystery writer from Iowa.
Finally, though he is dismissed as a misogynist (by critics who never read him), Spillane created strong women characters — villains sometimes, but also Hammer’s P.I. partner, the beautiful Velda.
He created a fever-dream noir New York that, thankfully, we can visit again and again.
And he was my son’s godfather. Grant me the self-indulgence to give that a special importance.
Max Allan Collins