Mickey Spillane: The Critics Panned Him But He Didn’t Care

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of a writer who called his books “the chewing gum of American literature.” That’s crime novelist Mickey Spillane, born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn. His Irish father was a bartender, and Spillane grew up in a tough neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He worked odd jobs, including as a lifeguard, circus performer, and salesman.

He was selling ties at a department store when he met a coworker whose brother produced comic books, and he was convinced to try writing some himself. Spillane worked writing comic prose for a year, then left to join up with the Army Air Forces. After the war he returned to comics. He said, “I wanted to get away from the flying heroes and I had the prototype cop,” so he invented a private eye hero named Mike Danger. Danger in comics was a flop, so Spillane renamed him Mike Hammer and wrote a novel instead.

I, the Jury took him just three weeks to write, and it was an instant hit. He turned out more than 30 novels, most of them featuring Mike Hammer, including Kiss Me, Deadly, The Girl Hunters, Body Lovers, and The Killing Man. His novels were violent, usually ending with Hammer executing people.

The critics panned Spillane, but he didn’t care. He said, “Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar.” He said he never had a character who drank cognac or had a mustache, because he didn’t know how to spell those words. He said: “I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.” His books have sold more than 225 million copies.

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