seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Novelist Mickey Spillane

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mickey-spillaneFrank Morrison Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane, American crime novelist whose stories often feature his signature detective character Mike Hammer, is born in Brooklyn, New York City, on March 9, 1918. More than 225 million copies of his books have sold internationally. Spillane is also an occasional actor, once even playing Hammer himself.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Spillane is the only child of his Irish bartender father, John Joseph Spillane, and his Scottish mother, Catherine Anne. Spillane attends Erasmus Hall High School, graduating in 1935. He starts writing while in high school, briefly attends Fort Hays State College in Kansas, and works 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.

Spillane starts as a writer for comic books. While working as a salesman in Gimbels department store basement in 1940, he meets tie salesman Joe Gill, who later finds a lifetime career in scripting for Charlton Comics. Gill tells Spillane to meet his brother, Ray Gill, who writes for Funnies Inc., an outfit that packages comic books for different publishers. Spillane soon begins writing an eight-page story every day.

Spillane joins the United States Army Air Forces on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, becoming a fighter pilot and a flight instructor. While flying over Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, he says, “That is where I want to live.” Later, he uses his celebrity status to publicize the Grand Strand on television, but when it becomes a popular resort area and traffic becomes a problem, Spillane says, “I shouldn’t have told people about it.”

Spillane decides to boost his bank account by writing a novel. In nineteen days he writes I, the Jury. At the suggestion of Ray Gill, he sends it to E. P. Dutton. With the combined total of the 1947 hardcover and the Signet paperback (December 1948), I, the Jury sells 6-1/2 million copies in the United States alone. I, the Jury introduces Spillane’s most famous character, hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer.

Spillane is an active Jehovah’s Witness. He and Mary Ann Spillane have four children and their marriage ends in 1962. In November 1965, he marries his second wife, nightclub singer Sherri Malinou. After that marriage ends in divorce and a lawsuit in 1983, Spillane shares his waterfront house in Murrells Inlet with his third wife, Jane Rogers Johnson, whom he marries in October 1983, and her two daughters.

In the 1960s, Spillane becomes a friend of the novelist Ayn Rand. Despite their apparent differences, Rand admires Spillane’s literary style, and Spillane becomes, as he describes it, a fan of Rand’s work.

He receives an Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award in 1995. Spillane’s novels go out of print, but in 2001, the New American Library begins reissuing them.

Spillane dies July 17, 2006 at his home in Murrells Inlet, of pancreatic cancer. After his death, his friend and literary executor, Max Allan Collins, begins the task of editing and completing Spillane’s unpublished typescripts, beginning with a Mike Hammer novel, The Goliath Bone (2008).

In July 2011, the town of Murrells Inlet names U.S 17 Business the “Mickey Spillane Waterfront 17 Highway.” The proposal first passes the Georgetown County Council in 2006 while Spillane is still alive, but the South Carolina General Assembly rejects the plan at that time.

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