After a long bout with cancer, pulp king Mickey Spillane passed away yesterday at age 88. Richard Severo in the New York Times has a splendid obit we’re tempted to quote in its entirety. Instead, two highlights:
Mr. Spillane referred to his own material as â€œthe chewing gum of American literatureâ€ and laughed at the critics. â€œIâ€™m not writing for the critics,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m writing for the public.â€ He described himself as a â€œmoney writer,â€ in that â€œI write when I need money.â€
â€œI have no fans,â€ he told one interviewer. â€œYou know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.â€
His customers remained loyal even after the Hammer character became much imitated and later generations of pulp writers produced books filled with even more violence than Mr. Spillaneâ€™s.
Mr. Spillane took issue with those who complained that his books had too much sex. How could there be sex, he asked, when so many women were shot? He noted the conspicuous role women played among his victims: Mary (abandoned), Anne L. (drowned in a bathtub), Lola (fatally stabbed), Ethel (whipped before she was shot), Marsha (shot) and Ellen (like Mary, given the heave-ho).
And then there was Velda, Mike Hammerâ€™s blond, beautiful and patient companion in several novels. Hammer made no advances toward her and all she got for her trouble was being shot, assaulted, strung up naked and whipped.
In â€œI, the Jury,â€ Hammer became so angry at a female psychiatrist that he shot her in her â€œstark nakedâ€ stomach. (â€œStark nakedâ€ was a phrase that Mr. Spillane rather liked.) As she died, she asked, â€œMike, how could you?â€ To which Hammer replied, â€œIt was easy.â€
Of the pantheon of noir writers whose work shaped what may be the prototypical language of modern cinema, it’s Raymond Chandler, with his reluctant romanticism, at whose altar we genuflect. But Spillane’s work was always much more fun, and the best adaptation of one of his books, 1955’s "Kiss Me Deadly," is one of the greatest noir films in existence. Strange and bleak, it contains every noir trope you’d expect while also managing to undo them â€” watch the clocks. At Greatest Films, Tim Dirks has a lengthy essay on the film.
+ Mickey Spillane, 88, Critic-Proof Writer of Pulpy Mike Hammer Novels, Dies (NY Times)
+ Kiss Me Deadly (1955) (Greatest Films)