Mickey Spillane, the macho mystery writer who created detective Mike Hammer, died Monday in Murrells Inlet, S.C. He was 88.
Critics didn’t approve of his hard-boiled, workmanlike style, but the popularity of his books helped define the paperback market in the late 1940s.
After starting out in comicbooks, Spillane wrote his first Mike Hammer novel, “I, the Jury,” in 1946. Twelve more followed, with sales topping 100 million. Notable titles included “The Killing Man,” “The Girl Hunters” and “One Lonely Night.”
Many of these books were made into movies, including the classic film noir “Kiss Me Deadly,” “My Gun Is Quick,” “The Delta Factor” and “The Girl Hunters,” in which Spillane starred.
Hammer’s stories also were featured in the mid-1980s TV series “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” and in several made-for-TV movies. In the 1980s, Spillane appeared in a string of Miller Lite beer commercials.
Besides the Hammer novels, Spillane wrote a dozen other books. Many of his novels were out-of-print or hard to find; the New American Library began reissuing them in 2001.
Spillane was born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn. He grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., and attended Fort Hayes State College in Kansas, where he was a standout swimmer before beginning his career writing for magazines. In the 1950s, he also worked as a circus performer, allowing himself to be shot out of a cannon; he appeared in the circus film “Ring of Fear.”
He had always liked police stories — an uncle was a cop — and in his pre-Hammer days he created a comicbook detective named Mike Danger. At that time, in the early ’40s, he was writing for Batman, SubMariner and other comics.
World War II broke out and Spillane enlisted. When he came home, he needed $1,000 to buy some land and thought novels the best way to get it. Within three weeks, he had completed “I, the Jury” and sent it to Dutton. The editors there doubted the writing, but not the market for it; a literary franchise began.
A rare political conservative in the book world, he portrayed communists as villains, and liberals took some hits as well. He was not above using crude racial and sexual stereotypes.
Married three times, he was the father of four children.