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'Hammer' Author Mickey Spillane Dies at 88

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'Hammer' Author Mickey Spillane Dies at 88


'Hammer' Author Mickey Spillane Dies at 88

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One of the bestselling authors of all time, has died. Mickey Spillane, he was 88. He was born Frank Morrison Spillane, in Brooklyn, and he set many of his Mike Hammer detective stories in New York. NPR's Neda Ulaby, reports.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

Mike Hammer was a real tough guy. The two-fisted, hardboiled, pulp fiction icon.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unknown actor: (as Mike Hammer) Mike Hammer, I'm a private investigator. Got some questions for you.

ULABY: Readers enthralled by Mike Hammer's macho glamour, include writer, Max Allen Collins. He's a biographer of Mickey Spillane's, and best known for his graphic novel, The Road To Perdition.

Mr. MAX ALLEN COLLINS (Author, Biographer): There really is only one great character in Mickey Spillane, and that is Mike Hammer. But what a character.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unknown actor: (as Mike Hammer) You've really got me steamed.

Mr. COLLINS: You can't talk about Dirty Harry, Sipowicz from NYPD Blue, any of these tough detective characters - they all, they all come from Mike Hammer.

ULABY: Mickey Spillane wrote his first Mike Hammer novel in three fevered weeks, after returning from World War II. He read from that 1947 book, I, the Jury, on WHYY's Fresh Air. In this passage, Mike Hammer explains his feelings to a cop, after the murder of an old war buddy.

Mr. MICKEY SPILLANE (Author): (Reading) I hate hard, Pat. When I latch on to the one behind this, they're going to wish they hadn't started it. Someday, before long, I'm gonna have my rod in my mitt and the killer in front of me. I'm gonna watch the killer's face. I'm gonna pump one right in his gut. When he's dying on the floor, I'm gonna kick his teeth out.

ULABY: Mickey Spillane's pugnacious prose shocked and excited his first readers in the early 1950s, says Max Allen Collins.

Mr. COLLINS: Prior to I, The Jury, tough detectives, in books, they might flirt with the women, but they didn't sleep with them. Mike Hammer slept with the women. Sam Spade, or Philip Marlowe might get tough with a thug, Mike Hammer would shoot him.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unknown actor: (as Mike Hammer) Drop the knife! Drop the knife!

ULABY: In 1955, Spillane's Kiss Me Deadly, was adapted to the screen. It's now considered a classic film noir, but Spillane was disappointed that the movie played down his fiercely-felt anti-communism. And he believed Mike Hammer was woefully miscast. In 1963, he played Mike Hammer himself, in the film The Girl Hunters.

(Soundbite of movie “The Girl Hunters”)

Unknown Actress: So, you're Mike Hammer.

Mr. SPILLANE: (as Mike Hammer) Expect something different?

ULABY: Blocky and graceless, Mickey Spillane was none the less irrepressible as his hero. Here relentlessly investigating an alluring, yet duplicitous blonde widow.

Unknown Actress: If I don't talk, will you belt me one?

Mr. SPILLANE: (as Mike Hammer) Hell, I don't hit dames, I always kick ‘em.

ULABY: By then, Mickey Spillane had become a Jehovah's Witness. He evangelized, door-to-door with The Watchtower. Spillane's books inspired two TV series in the 1950s and the 1980s. One starred Stacy Keach, who said on a DVD extra, that Mike Hammer's motivation derived from an almost biblical drive to even the score.

Mr. STACY KEACH (Actor): In that respect, he's very much an Old Testament kind of character. He really believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

ULABY: Spillane went on to star in beer commercials, and he kept writing; including books for children. He also collected Blue Willow China.

Mr. SPILLANE: At one time, Blue Willow was just cheap kitchenware for all the farm ladies, all over the country. But, there was a classic thing about it. It was all excellently made, was great Chinaware. Cheap, very cheap.

ULABY: But it lasted. And Spillane said, it was antique, like him.

Neda Ulaby, NPR news.

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