The best part about interviewing Mickey Spillane is the fun he appears to be having…I likened it to a cowboy trying to saddle a wily old mustang that refuses to be broken and knows all the cowboy tricks. Mickey holds little back, and he is so animated with stories you soon realise that one of the keys to his success is his genuine interest in people. He’s the kind of person who would fit in anywhere.
There are a number of stories he asked be off the record, and a couple of them then popped up a few nights later during his Guardian Lecture, but I’ve kept to his request. I’ve also had to leave out Mickey’s instructions on how to kiss a duck’s tail without ruffling the feathers, mostly because there’s no way I can describe it in prose. Mickey’s persona is that of a tough guy who doesn’t really care about his art, but as this interview makes clear, good story telling grows from understanding people, and Spillane has a PhD in people…
I’ll brown nose you right from the start…
Oh I’m an old pro, you won’t get away with that…
…I told my mother I was interviewing Mickey Spillane and she said ‘You make sure you tell him I named you after Mike Hammer, because she was 19 and reading I The Jury while she was pregnant and decided she liked the name Michael
I got a kid named Mike…jeez, the names they gave ME. My father was Catholic, my mother was Protestant, and because of that I got Christened in both churches, so I’ve got all these names…but my Dad always called me Mick. My mother called me Babe, and Babe is not a nice name for a guy, unless you’re Babe Ruth
A lot of writers don’t write under their given names
Yeah most of them. People are always surprised to find out my name is Spillane!
I was the first one probably in writing to use a nickname, Mickey, and it stuck. You see, in all my titles I used to use the personal pronoun: I The Jury, Kiss Me, Deadly, My Gun is Quick, Vengeance is Mine… I ran out of pronouns! THEY stuck, they were important to use…it gives you a personal introduction. Now I’m not an author, I’m a writer, that’s all I am. Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney.
[We discuss the failed attempt by Robinson Publishers to bring out a Spillane omnibus to coincide with his visit – the first he’s heard of it]
I like British publishers…when we were making a movie over here, Corgi books wanted to reprint…I did a lot of novelettes for magazines, and they put two novelettes together and you’ve almost got a novel, so they did that, and then my US publishers bought them from England. It’s like a lot of movie stars, they never made in the the US, they came to Europe and they made it big.
Why are your books out of print in the States?
I’ll tell you why. They have these corporate turnovers and they say ‘I think he’s old and passe’ but they never look at the sales! On top of that they never look at all the other things that’re going on…I’m 82 years old, wherever I go everybody knows me, but here’s why…I’m a merchandiser, I’m not just a writer, I stay in every avenue you can think of. For 19 years I was doing the Miller Beer ads, in front of the public every day, we made Miller Lite the second largest selling beer in the world and everybody said ‘no one’ll drink that stuff’. We had a group of great sports guys, who were better known now, from the ads, than they were in the sports world. Then there’s a corporate takeover, and we’re not part of their group, so they discontinue the ads and wheee (makes noise of bomb falling) sales crash…
With all the young, pulp fictions about has the market passed by Mike Hammer?
No, no ones forgotten him, he’s still on TV. Now we made the Guinness book of records, Mike Hammer has been on three different times with the same actor Stacy Keach, playing the same role. Now they’re getting ready to go back for movies, and he’s saying, ‘I’m too old’ and he is! You think John Wayne had hair?
I saw Keach do Hamlet, oh, it must be 30 years ago…
Sir Cedric Hardwicke, remember him? I met him with Victor Saville and he says, (imitating posh English accent) ‘I always wanted to play Mike Hammer’ and I say ‘you can’t, cause you have no hair’ and he says ‘hair? You can buy hair anywhere!’
This is true, you know. But the way he says it!
How many writers get to play their own characters in movies?
I had a better time playing my own character in the beer ads, I’m with “the Doll”, Lee Meredith. We’re the same size, but I made her wear high heels so she’d be taller than me. Every time I’m walking through the airport people go “where’s the Doll?’ We haven’t done that for 12 years, but people still know the characters. I was with Lee walking down Broadway and the big crowds are gathering, and we can’t cross the street, and finally a cop comes up and gets us across the street and on the other side it’s the same thing again “hey, it’s the Doll!”, and I says “Lee, we’re not out of it yet, we’re still in there…and on top of this, I wrote another book…let me tell you what this feels like, you’ll be the only one who knows…you get an old guy working for Ford Motor Company, he was there when they made the Model T and Model A and big V8s and he’s still there, and he’s a real smart guy, and finally, he’s up in the front of the thing, Henry Ford you know, and all these guys are saying get rid of the old guy, give him the watch, get him out of here, so he goes out and he starts his own motor company and they cant get rid of him…and it’s funny, cause now I’m getting all these crazy awards…I got this Grand Master Award from the Crime Writers and I said, ‘you know, the only reason you guys never gave me this before is I never belonged to your club, that’s why.’ Then they gave me this Brasher Doubloon in Europe…Hurricane Hugo hit me, and took away all my stuff, wheee…I don’t need more stuff…
I’m going to write my last Mike Hammer novel…I used to write fast, but I can’t now, my rear end gets tired…I can’t put in 12 hours a day sitting in a chair
You wrote I, the Jury very quickly
In 9 days. It was either 9 or 19…
You knew it was going to be a huge hit?
I knew a couple of things…during the war years they came out with reprints of all the Dumas novels, Moby Dick, for the servicement, and I saw this and believe me I’m a very sharp merchandiser, and I say this is the new marketplace for writing, original paperback books. Now at that time you had to go through hardback. So I wrote I THE JURY and turned it in to EP Dutton, it had been rejected by four different publishers, saying no no this is too violent, too dirty…and it was picked up by Roscoe Fawcett, Fawcett Publications, and he was a distributor, doing comic books, but he saw the potential and he went to New American Library, which was Signet Books, and he said ‘if you print this book I’ll distrubute it’. Now they cant get distribution, so it’s a win-win thing for them, but they have to get it published in hardback, so they go to Dutton and say if you print this, we’ll do the paperback, so now it’s win-win-win, and they offer me $250 and I say no, I need a thousand dollars to build a house in Newburgh, so I get a $1,000 advance, which was unheard of. So Roscoe ordered a million copies, and THAT was unheard of! So somebody in his outfit says, oh that wasn’t what he meant, he must’ve meant a quarter million. So they bring out a quarter of a million at the wrong time, cause books sell great at Christmas time, but my book came out between Christmas and New Year, which is death, and it went straight to the top, because it was word of mouth, and it’s sold out and Fawcett says get the rest of them out, and the guy says there aren’t any more and Roscoe says whaddaya mean, I ordered a million, and a guy got fired!
And then you took a long time on your next book and that was rejected…
The Twisted Thing, yeah, that was rejected…editors are funny, they were still old time editors and they didn’t like this new-style stuff…there’s too much sex, too much violence…but actually, it’s a true story, the story it was based on was true…and when I finally turned it in…wow, it went right to the top. I held it for 18 years, they were desperate for something new…finally I said, yeah, how about this one. (Laughs) I got one like that now. I turned a book into Dutton, not a Mike Hammer, and they’re holding because the editor doesn’t like it. I don’t care what the editor likes or dislikes, I care what the people like. I don’t want that editor to tell me what the people want.
Before that you’d written comic books for Martin Goodman
Oh yeah, I was one of the first guys writing comic books, I wrote Captain America, with guys like Stan Lee, who became famous later on with Marvel Comics. Stan could write on three typewriters at once! I wrote the Human Torch, Submariner. I worked my way down. I started off at the high level, in the slick magazines, but they didn’t use my name, they used house names. Anyway, then I went downhill to the pulps, then downhill further to the comics. I went downhill class-wise, but I went uphill, money-wise! I was making more money in the comics. I wrote the original Mike Hammer as a comic, Mike Danger.
[After the first boom in Hammer novels, Spillane wrote one story for Manhunt, a men’s magazine]
Lemme tell you how that happened. I had this story I’d written for Colliers, but the editor there was a woman, and she said, ‘as long as I’m editor here there’ll never be a story by Mickey Spillane here’ so I turned in a short-short, which they bought, and St. John, the editor of Manhunt, came up on day and asked me about the story I wrote for Colliers and he said ‘I’d be interested in buying that from you.’ Now I wasn’t thinking fast enough, cause they’ve always got more than one check already written in their pockets, but that story didn’t take me long to write, and he said, ‘would you accept $25,000 for it’ and I said sure, and he pulls this check out.
That was a lot of money then
Sure…but he published it in four installments, and that made Manhunt magazine.
I saw this photo of you signing a contract with Victor Saville and…
Victor Saville was bad news because he wanted money just to do one big picture. I’d sold millions but he wanted to make The Chalice, which fell on its face with a deadly thud, and he could’ve made the biggest hit in the world with I,the Jury Instead he gets this slob writer called Harry Essex, who last I heard was making porno films, and he rooned everything, I mean, everything’s stupid. Imagine this guy hits Mike Hammer over the head with a wooden coathanger and knocks him out. You hit Mike Hammer over the head with a wooden coathanger, he’ll beat the crap out of you.
You went to see it and…
Yeah, I hadda walk out of it…
And the audience reaction was…
Awful. Biff Elliott walks out and says ‘I’m Mike Hammer’ and someone goes ‘Dat’s Mike Hammah?’ He was a good actor, a good friend, but he’s left-handed with a Boston accent. Saville’s lawyer saw him do live TV in New York, he won a prize, says, ‘aw I got the right guy to play Hammer’. I had the right guy, Jack Stang, a real cop, only he couldn’t act.
When I saw that picture of you, with Saville, you look like a young Ted Williams signing his first baseball contract with the Red Sox…There’s an image of the way American men used to want to be…but is that all gone now?
Yeah, it’s strange. It’s not all gone, certain things keep cropping up in our business. Stephen King. Now I’m not crazy about him, but he’s a great a writer.
He’s got a market, he fulfils that market, no one says Henry Ford’s a bad car maker, he was a great car maker. Cadillacs are different than Fords, but you don’t say people are bad…Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn’t. Of course most of mine sold for 25 cents, but still…you look at all this stuff with a grain of salt. You say, why all this nonsense? I know an awful lot of Hollywood people, who are so self-important, I can’t understand it. My father was a good Irish saloon-keeper, my mother always said to him, ‘Jack, how come you know everybody here’ and he’d say, ‘because I say hello’. I’m just like that, I’ve always been that way. I’m at a party once, with Hy Gardner, the columnist, and I wind up sitting between Salvador Dali and Jimmy Durante, and they’re talking to each other in something like English, and neither one understands a word the other’s saying, so I’m in the middle, interpreting…I was an only child…my Dad was the easiest guy in the world to retire, me, I can’t retire, I’ve got no money (laughs) I’ve gotta keep writing. But where’s the next step, where do you go? But at my age, you start to get tired. You’re not full of piss and vinegar. The vinegar’s all gone (laughs) It’s a strange thing, it happens to me…they make up these easy schedules and I say, don’t take it easy, I’m here to work.
What about writing another children’s book?
I wrote those books as an exercise, they sold, they won the Junior Literary Guild Award, which made all the guys who write kids books very aggravated, ‘how can you win that award?’, but you know what that does, it gets you into all the school libraries, which is a lot of sales. I’ve got one more kids book which I haven’t sold yet, I’ve got it at home, it’s all finished, maybe I’ll sell it over here…
The biggest book in Britain right now is a children’s book…
Really? Do you read those things? No? Well, The Day the Sea Rolled Back, now where I live on the beach they’ve got this strange thing, every five, ten years, a combination of wind, tide, rotation of the earth, whatever it is, but at low tide it goes way offshore. So the kids can go under the fishing piers and find lead, and whatever’s dropped off. They’re all excited. So what I did was take a thing that really happens, and extend it, so it goes back, like ten miles…and this could possibly happen it like that big tide in Nova Scotia, you can’t run fast enough.
It seems like you collect a lot of facts in case they might come in handy
But I don’t research anything. If I need something, I’ll invent it.
Mike Hammer was sort of a one-man cold war…
And when the cold war ended…
Yeah, I got out…
…did you get the feeling Mike Hammer was right all the time?
See, heroes never die. John Wayne isn’t dead, Elvis isn’t dead. Otherwise you don’t have a hero. You can’t kill a hero. That’s why I never let him get older.
He doesn’t get older, but does it change with the world…
Remember the elephant says, ‘if only I knew then what I know now’. So now when I write about Mike Hammer, he looks at a girl, he KNOWS now…you know what, he’s got all this information about age, that would be me, but he’s still a young guy, he can use that.
Would he still put Velda on a pedastal?
Oh yeah. People still come up to me and say ‘she walked towards me, her hips waving a happy hello’, things I wrote. They remember this stuff. “On some people skin is skin, on you it’s an opportunity to dine”
Opportunity to dine. Have you read the Hannibal Lecter books?
I liked Hannibal, but I don’t know how they’re gonna make a movie out of it.
They oughta leave it right like it is. But violence isn’t like it used to be. Sex isn’t like it used to be either…I’ve got a great line I use. I get asked it all the time, someone comes up and says ‘how could Mike Hammer have possibly shot that naked broad right in it belly button’? I say ‘he missed’. (Laughs)
He shot high?
No, I just said he missed. I didn’t say one thing wrong, there’s nothing dirty about that…THEY were the dirty ones. There was another there, this girl is giving Mike information, and he’s opening a suitcase, and she wants him to look at her. She’s just given him this big piece of information and she says “MIKE!!!,’ and she’s taken this housecoat and spread it open and she’s naked and he says ‘my beautiful blonde had a brunette base’. Interesting. Only place you see a beautiful blonde is you go to Sweden or someplace. She might’ve had her roots showing, but everybody’s got another thought. But these are the little things that work their way into a story.
Speaking of opening boxes, Kiss Me Deadly is the best regarded of the Hammer films, but you’ve said before you don’t like it
I dont like any of them, because they don’t read the books. In Kiss Me Deadly my story is better than his story. Anthony Quinn played in The Lond Wait and he didn’t read the book either. I said ‘read the book’ and he did and he came back and said ‘Why’d they make it that way?” They did because it’s Hollywood. Everybody wants their name on the screen. I played in a movie called Ring of Fear with Clyde Beatty and Pat O’Brien. I’d watched Clyde Beatty since I was a kid, he was a great act, and you know, Devil Dogs of the Air, O’Brien and Cagney, great things. And now, in the middle of the shooting the agents came to me and asked who’s gonna be first in the credits, and I said I don’t care, put me last, and that took me right out of the way. It put me in the middle, so I said, we should leave Clyde on top cause it’s his picture. That was some movie. This was where I got the Jag. The guy wrote and directed the picture had problems, but John Wayne who produced it, never gave up on his friends. Duke was having a bad time, going through a divorce, and they needed to fix the script. So they’re thinking who could do it, and someone says, Spillane’s a writer, he could do it. Now I’m playing ME in the picture, for pete’s sake. They called me up in Newburgh on Wednesday, I’m already back home across the country, and said come back and fix it. So I took my Wagner records, flew West, and worked Friday, Saturday, Sunday. They set me up in a beautiful hotel suite, and I worked. So I’m sitting there Sunday, all done, having a cold beer and listening to “The Ring” and in comes Andy McLaughlan, Victor’s son. He says, ‘how you doing?’ and I tell him I’m all done and he thinks I mean I’m done for the day because it’s Sunday, and I say “I’m finished’ and he says “whaddaya mean you’re finished, you just got here!” So I hand him the pages, and he’s reading and going “wow, wow,wow” and he calls Duke and Bob Fellows and says we got it. He goes out in the street and says to this woman ‘you wanna make a hundred bucks?” and the guy she’s with nearly slugs him, but he was looking for typists! So they type up their pages, and they left me alone. So I go home. A few days later, they’re going to go to Phoenix to shoot, and they can’t find me. They call all the bars, the police stations, the whore houses, nothing. So they say try him at hime and Bob says, ‘he wouldn’t be at home’. But I was. So they get me out there to Phoenix and make the picture. And they wanta pay me for the script but I won’t take nothing for that, it was a favour. But Duke says, ‘he was looking at those Jags in the lot next to the Cock and Bull’. One night, I’m back in Newburgh, it’s snowing, and out in front of my house is this beautiful Jag with a red ribbon around it, and a note that says ‘Thanks, Duke’. People see that car now, I had a guy saying ‘who makes those?’ I said, that car’s older than you are!
Let’s talk about your influences. I know Carroll John Daly must’ve been a big one
Oh he was a great writer for the pulps…Tyne Daly from Cagney and Lacey, she’s his niece you know, but Daly was a great story writer, but he couldn’t write long books. He was my favourite, and after I was a big writer I wrote a fan letter to John, saying how much I admired him when I was young, and wanted to write like him, and how I thought of Race Williams when I created Mike Hammer, and I got a letter back from his agent saying they were gonna sue me for stealing his character! So I got in touch with John and he was angry, this was his first fan letter in years! and he fired his agent!
What about Chandler? There’s that famous scene where Marlowe throws what’s pretty obviously a Mike Hammer book into the garbage
I know. I think it’s pretty stupid. Did I tell you the Hemingway story?
Hemingway hated me. I outsell him and he was steamed. One day he wrote a story for Bluebook berating me. So I’m going on a big TV show in Chicago and I don’t get it, that’s sour grapes…I mean if you can’t say something nice about someone why say anything at all? So I go on this show and the host says ‘did you see what Hemingway said about you in Bluebook?’ and I say “Hemingway who?”
That killed him.
Oh boy no. Every summer I went down to Florida on treasure hunts, and there’s this great restaurant called the Chesapeake and they had a picture of Hemingway behind the bar. So one day the owner asks if she could have a picture of me to put up there, and she puts one there. One day Hemingway comes in and sees my picture and says ‘what’s he doing next to me? Either take his down or take mine down, so they took his down and he never came back to that restaurant. (Laughs) I don’t like to tell that story cause you’re talking about a dead guy can’t defend himself…but he was a great reporter, but he got carried away with all the other stuff, the bullfighting…I’m always on the side of the bull, I hope the bull blows the hell out of that crazy guy in the clown suit out there. I don’t like to see animals hurt, not deliberately. If they’re putting the bull out there, don’t stick the things in him first.
But you can kill off lots of people…
That’s different, it’s a fair fight…I saw a bull once, charge a bison eating in a field. And the bison just drops his head, the bull hits in and BOOM, he’s out, and the bison goes back to eating. I went to college out there, in Fort Hayes, Kansas, where they filmed Dancing with Wolves. I used to love to watch the bison. One day an old male died, and the rest, they stood around him, and they did this for two, three days, no one could get to the body out. Finally it’s was as if they decided, OK, you people can come get the body out. It was amazing. It always surprises me, how animals seem to have an instinctive knowledge…now what am I talking about dead bulls for?
You were raised a Catholic, right?
No I wasn’t raised either one (Catholic or Protestant). I’m one of the Jehovahs Witnesses.
You joined in the fifties?
You don’t join that, you have to be a witness. Witnessing is an active word.
The word apocalyptic keeps coming up in criticism of your work. Do you believe in the second coming?
The word coming is a misnomer. The word used is parousia in Greek, and it means ‘presence’. Take President Clinton. Do you know him? No. But you feel his presence, all the taxes he lays on you. We feel his presence because we have to live under his direction. So when these things were asked of Jesus they asked ‘what will be the sign of your presence, and the end of the system of things…now that was translated in the King James Bible as the end of the world. Now the word ‘world’ and the word ‘earth’ are two different things…the Bible says the earth abides forever. It’s the simplicity of it, religion has turned everything inside out! Someone says how’d you like to be able to live forever? You say, oh boy would I liketa live forever, there’s so many things I’d like to do, I used to be able to pass a football with either hand, now I can’t throw from here to the wall…there’s so many things…I think the best time for me was around 35…but if you’re not a wise guy you can put up with those things…I know too many guys my age, they walk around, like they’re crippled. I try to stay in good physical shape, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink…I’ll have a beer once in a while. People say,’ you have a beer, you’re a Jehovah’s Witness…but the Bible doesn’t proclaim against drinking, it proclaims against drunkenness…anyway, someone says how’d you like to live forever…we know what death is, you can kick a dead dog, it won’t bite you…but Jesus makes the greatest remark I think it’s so funny nobody pays any attention, he says ‘this means everlasting life’, and they say what, ‘you gotta stand on your head, you gotta pay knowledge, what’, and he says it’s taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and that’s so easy…I get so excited about this, I’ll keep talking to you like this if you don’t say that’s enough, but this is why people think you’re a nut, they say, don’t people turn you down, I say ‘they don’t turn me down, they turn God down’. That’s why people can’t stop drinking, do drugs, that’s why the world’s the way it is…do you know a stable country in the world?
Where I live in South Carolina, it’s stable, but it’s so crooked…the local sherrif, he says ‘you’re the only guy I trust, cause you don’t vote for anybody…
Was it simpler back when you were writing I the Jury, was it different then?
No, the field changes. When I started the paperback market, there were only a few good writers, now the market’s loaded…you don’t know which one to take.
The women have a great thing going for them now, and they’re making use of things, like there’s a bunch of gay women who write great stuff, very masculine stuff, and I like their work, but you can see where they put in their petitions towards being gay, which is all right but it doesn’t make for a great role model…
Mike Hammer is always putting his petition forward for what we used to call the American Way
It’s a black and white painting
Everything’s black and white, commies are bad…
Now hear this!
But what if it were today and the American Way is a series of crooked presidents…what happens to Mike Hammer then?
That’s demoralizing…then how can you do this…there was a piece in our local paper the other day about girls, 12, 13, in school, they’re practicing oral sex. And when someone tells them to stop they say, ‘what’s wrong, the President does it’.
This comes out in the paper, a big deal. This guy has no sense of shame. I can’t get over how many of the vets voted for him, he’s a draft dodger. You understand the Kennedys, everybody says ‘they’re good Irish boys’ but the phoniness of it all.
And that poor Kennedy boy who crashed. I’m a pilot, I got 11,000 hours, I was a big fighter pilot during the war, I just passed my physical…they hate it, I’m over 80, they don’t want guys over 80 flying, anyway, he had what, less than 100 hours? All the pilots I know knew what happened to him, he spun out, and he couldn’t drop his stick…you what we say about this guy, ‘he ruined a damn good airplane’. And took people with him.
Maybe the difference is Mike Hammer’s been in war
You remember Audie Murphy, the most decorated American solider, became an actor in Westerns? A cop told me, he stopped a car on 101 in California, and Audie comes out of his car, dark, middle of the night, with a rifle, and I saw his eyes, he looked nuts, and before he could do anything I say “hey Audie, how’re you doing” and stuck out my hand, and he stopped, and then stuck out his hand”. He said it was like looking at death’s eyes, and he was a sweet looking guy, like a little kid, but Audie’d been shot so many times
Coming out of the war there were more guys like that than people think, they’d all faced that
Yeah, I was like that. In 45 when we got out it was a different scene. We weren’t the same people. I’m a pussy cat. I write about that stuff, but I dont want to mess around with all that nonsense. You change as you get older, but, how much older am I gonna get? I buy a new dog, I gotta make sure I live to be 100. It sounds silly, but it’s true. I talk to you about these things, these are only little incidents, actually they’re little anecdotes
You’ve got millions of them, I bet
Yeah but I don’t ever think about them You ask me a question, they pop in my mind
Did you ever write anything in the Hammer books to specifically answer criticisms?
I don’t pay any attention to them. Those guys, they get free books and then they try to tear you down. Critics themselves, they used to tear me up. One time I had the whole New York Times bestseller list, then the Godfather came along, pushed me out…here’s something funny, Hy Gardner gave me this…at one point I was the fifth most translated writer in world. Ahead of me were Lenin, Gorky, Tolstoy, and Jules Verne. (Laughs) It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s a funny thing to bring up. One day this little prissy guy, I’m at a tea party, if you can picture me at a tea party, and this guy comes up to me and says ‘what a horrible commentary on the reading habits on Americans to think that you have seven of the top ten bestsellers of all time” and I looked at him at I said “You’re lucky I don’t write three more books”.
Do you do a lot of reading?
I read all the time…I read a lot of history books.
Who do you like in crime writing?
I really like Max Allan Collins…he’s a great researcher…his Nate Heller books on the Lindbergh story, and on the Cermak assassination are both excellent, and the new one, on Amelia Earhardt is great. I say “Max, you’re writing is so good, but you research too much! You could write more if you just invented it! But I like the guy…we’re strange buddies (Laughs)
I’ll tell ya, when I worked with Shirley Eaton (in The Girl Hunters) or with Lee Meredith, these were two girls who gave everything, they made things look good for you. Why, for the sake of making yourself look good, destroy a picture. And that’s how Max is, he doesn’t try to take anybody down, and it’s nice to know that people like that are still around. It’s like when you’re doing an interview and you say this is off the record…well, if you wanta go off the record, you shouldn’t say it, but sometimes it fits in with what you’re trying to tell the guy…now I don’t care anymore. That interview in the Guardian, he did it tongue in cheek and the headline, (The Hardest Jehovah’s Witness in the World) he wouldn’t know what he was fooling with…
Well, he wouldn’t have written the headline
I don’t give a lot of crappy stuff out, they want to know something, hey, I’ll tell you. I don’t know of anything I hold back (laughs)
Well, you’re tough to pin down
I’ll tell you, I’ve been in the National Enquirer four times and they’ve never said anything bad about me yet (laughs)
But you must know exactly what interviewers will be asking
Oh sure, I give them leading answers so they’ll ask me questions I want to answer. I’ll tell you what gets people aggravated. I’ve done literally thousands of TV shows, and you get on a show with people, with actors, and they’re terrible, unless they’ve got a script in their hand they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how to sit still, and all of a sudden you’re walking away with the show and they don’t know what to do! They don’t understand, if they’d only stop the nonsense and just talk! You know who the nicest guy I ever met in the acting field was? Basil Rathbone. He was the neatest fellow around, nice, kind, considerate…he always played villains, exccept for Sherlock Holmes. He had the perfect sneer.
Who would’ve been the best guy to play Mike Hammer?
Jack Stang, if he could act. He was a tough Marine. He went into one Japanese island in the Pacific, with 240 men, he was one of four came out. ((We look at pictures of Stang’s screen test, which Mickey wrote)) That’s Jonathan Winters, the comedian, playing the corpse. And that’s me…jeez, did I ever look like that!
I always wanted to have Mike Mazurki play Hammer….too bad he couldn’t act. Remember when Dick Powell played Marlowe? Well Mike Mazurki is playing Moose Malloy, a big guy, he’s 6-6, and Chandler said he wore this outlandish plaid jacket, ‘it was so big it had golf balls for buttons’. Comes time to make the movie, they didn’t use that line! He was big enough. It was like hitting Hammer over the head with a coathanger.
Sometimes things that mean so much in a book get lost on the screen
When Harry Essex wrote I the Jury, there’s a shot from a .38, hits a brick wall.
Biff Elliott picks it up, it’s in perfect condition, he says ‘it’s a .38′ I say “Biff, you were in the Army, you know that bullet’d be flat!’ He says ‘It didn’t make any difference’.
It’s like the ‘Magic Bullet’
Yeah, exactly. I remember when I’m playing Hammer. I’m 46 years old, I’m in good shape, the director says to me “can you run?” I say ‘yeah, what’s happened?”
He says ‘can you run’? I say sure. So we do the scene, and I ran away from the camera. Roy Rowland says ‘what’re you doing!” I said ‘tell me what you want, don’t say ‘can you run’.” We made that picture in Britain. Did you know Billy Hill?
No, I haven’t been here that long
Well, this is going back 35 years. Billy Hill was the Al Capone of London. The other guy was Jack Spot, actually his name was Jack Comma, he changed it to a period. Billy Hill had a big war record, he terrorized Europe! Second day I was here Jack Spot comes into the Rembrandt Hotel where I was staying, and they had all these hall porters, and they’re all going crazy, and we’re telling stories.
Anyway, he left, and up comes this guy in a bowler hat and raincoat, and he says, sucking a pencil tip, ‘tell me sir, did you recently entertain a guest named Mr. Jack Spot?’ And I say ‘yes’ and he sucks the pencil again, makes a note, and says ‘would you mind giving me the gist of the conversation, sir?’ I said, ‘sure, he wanted to know about all the hoods in New York’. So he left, and all the hall porters are saying ‘he’s from Scotland Yard, this like out of the movies’.
Now next day, I’m the only guy who drinks water, and I’m drinking ice water and this guy walks up, Billy Hill, and he comes up and says ‘Hey Mick, how ya doing, my name is Billy Hill’. Now this is before Benny Hill, even, and the hall porters are shaking, no one will look him in the eye. And we know a couple of guys in common in New York, and he says ‘I’d like to go out and watch a movie being made’ and I say ‘Sure, come out, be my guest’. Next day he comes out to the old set in Elstree, and I didn’t tell the assistant director, who was a fuss-budget, and I’m showing Billy around, introducing him to Shirley Eaton, and the AD says ‘who’s that on my set, I’m going to throw him off’, and someone says to him, ‘that’s Billy Hill’ and he melted, aaagh, because he knew Billy heard him. So he disappeared. So he’s trying to hide, and finally Billy turns around and glares at him, and he almost dies!
Now Billy asked if there was anything he could do for me, and we had this awful Spanish gun for Mike Hammer, so I asked him if he knew where we could find a .45, and next day he shows up on the set with a gunny sack, and he says “I got your pieces for you, where should I put them?’ and he dumps about two dozen .45s there, and ammo, and the prop boy nearly hit the roof, “those are REAL GUNS”. Bob Fellows the producer, knew this, but he didn’t pay any attention, he just got them registered. The paperwork was incredible.
A .45’s important isn’t it?
That’s what I carry. I’m licensed to carry it. (Reaches into his back pocket))
I know you don’t have a .45 back there
No, here’s the licence. See my birthday, March 9th, the anniversary of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, Hampton Virginia, 1862. It’s a South Carolina licence. It’s a nice place, but too many Yankees coming down there. It was OK when I was the only one! You’d think the South won the Civil War
But it agrees with you
I’m a country boy. I hate New York. But that’s where things happen, so I use it as a base for stories, I know enough about it. But I have to keep going back there.
Things change. The Blue Ribbon, that I thought’d be there forever, that’s gone. The face of the city changes. The city’s almost alive, you can see the movement of people from one section to another. When they took all the Els down on the East Side and let the sunlight in, everything changed. But it’s too crowded, jammed up, I can’t be happy there.
But if we ever have another hurricane in South Carolina, the evacuation will be jam packed. In a hurricane three things kill you, water, trees and poles falling down on you, and traffic.
Carl Hiaasen says people are arrogant, millions of them build in the path of hurricanes in Florida and then they’re surprised when nature doesn’t detour to avoid them
Where I am they can smell out a hurricane. My house survived Hurricane Hazel, but it didn’t get past Hugo.
Tell me a little about Max’s film (Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane
It’s very embarassing, because everybody’s saying nice things about me. These are people in the writing business, I watch it, I want to put my head down…
You expect people not to say nice things?
One day a guy from the National Enquirer comes up to do a story in Myrtle Beach, and they say, do a story about Spillane and he tells them he cant, because I dont do anything! You know, most guys get in trouble through drinking, look that that guy Willis, with Demi Moore, they’re looking to get into the papers. I don’t want that. What I got married, they wrote “Mickey Spillane marries daughter’s girlhood chum!” Jane was a divorcee with two kids when I married her…I used to throw her out of the house when she was a little girl, now I’m saying ‘I do”! How do I do this? Oh, and they said I had a secret wedding! I only had 200 people there. That’s what they do to you. But I didn’t do anything. I’m not gonna sue them.
Your second wife helped promote your books by posing naked on the covers
She wanted to do that. I fondly refer to her as ‘the snake’. She liked the publicity, the big time, she went Hollywood, in a bad way.
You never went to Hollywood?
Can I translate that as ‘Shit’?
If you want! I go into Hollywood, do my business, and get out. That’s not my lifestyle. And their lifestyle is terrible. They don’t live too long. You know how old Hitler was when he died? 59?
But that wasn’t natural causes!
He would’ve died younger in Hollywood! Erroll Flynn, 53 he was. Gee. You look at him and you say, ‘what happened?” I don’t want to be like that. But I don’t care about posterity. I say “Now!”
Thank you Mr Spillane…