Novelist, short story writer. Nicknamed “Mickey” by his Irish Catholic father, Spillane was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 9, 1918, the only child of John Joseph Spillane and his wife, Catherine Anne. After graduating from Brooklyn’s Erasmus High School in 1935, he attended Kansas State College in 1939, intending to study law, although he dropped out that year. In 1940 he began work as a scripter and assistant editor for Funnies, Inc., a Manhattan producer of comic books. He joined the U.S. Army Air Force in December 1941, spending four years as a cadet flight instructor in Mississippi and Florida.
Spillane married Mary Anne Pearce in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1945. Discharged from service as a captain, he returned to New York and the comic-book business. Needing money for a house, he turned out his first novel, I, the Jury (1947), in three weeks. The protagonist, Mike Hammer, a hard-drinking private investigator fond of buxom women and vigilante justice, became a household name by 1953, with five more Hammer novels selling millions of paperbacks. His hard-boiled plots and characters inspired the “Girl Hunt” production number with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in the MGM musical The Band Wagon (1953).
Spillane became interested in the Grand Strand after judging the Myrtle Beach Sun-Fun Festival beauty contest, and in 1953 he moved his wife and four children to Murrells Inlet, where he lived the rest of his life. The already twice-divorced Spillane married the actress Sherri Malinou in 1965 and then the former Miss South Carolina Jane Rodgers Johnson in 1983.
The Mike Hammer character was developed for radio, movies, and TV, including a 1980s series starring Stacy Keach. Spillane portrayed the character in the 1963 movie The Girl Hunters and starred as himself in Ring of Fear (1954). His TV credits include The Milton Berle Show and a 1974 episode of Columbo. During the 1970s and 1980s he was also featured in commercials for Miller Lite Beer.
The author created other successful characters, including espionage agent Tiger Mann, introduced in Day of the Guns (1964), and Mako Hooker, a former U.S. government operative working as a fishing boat captain in Something’s Down There (2003), a thriller set in the Caribbean. Spillane’s many magazine short stories have been collected in multiple volumes, and one of his children’s books, The Day the Sea Rolled Back (1979), earned a Junior Literary Guild award.
As of the early twenty-first century, Spillane’s books had sold more than 140 million copies. He received the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America in 1995. Although his books proved to be a pervasive guilty pleasure during the first two decades of his career, they were almost universally panned by mainstream critics for their then-graphic depictions of sex and violence, as well as Hammer’s “eye for an eye” sense of justice. Nevertheless, Spillane has accrued the respect attendant to his authorial longevity and the ongoing popularity of Mike Hammer, with the New York Times stating, “There’s a kind of power about Mickey Spillane that no other writer can imitate.”
Following his death in 2006, Spillane’s widow, Jane, has continued to champion his work. To date, she has assigned seven of his uncompleted Mike Hammer manuscripts to writer Max Allan Collins, who worked with Spillane on the science fiction comic-book series in the 1990s based on his character Mike Danger. Most recently, Collins penned introductions to omnibus editions of Spillane’s earlier Hammer novels.
Besides this active posthumous publication record, Spillane has been the subject of a number of belated honors in his adopted state. In 2011 a stretch of Highway 17 through Murrell’s Inlet was renamed the Mickey Spillane Waterfront Highway, and he was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 2012.
Spielman, David G., and William W. Starr. Southern Writers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
Spillane, Mickey. The Hammer Strikes Again. New York: Avenel, 1989.