On This Day in History, March 9: From Comics to Ace Mystery Writer
Mickey Spillane was born Frank Morrison Spillane on March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, the only child of an Irish-Catholic bartender, John Joseph Spillane, and a Presbyterian mother, Catherine Anne Spillane.
“I was christened in two churches and neither took,” Spillane once explained after his conversion to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the early 1950s. From his crusty father, who once dismissed his son’s books as “crud,” came the nickname that stuck, Mickey. Spillane attended grammar school in Brooklyn and Roosevelt Junior High in the Bayway section of Elizabeth, NJ, which he looked back upon as “a very tough neighborhood.”
He sold his first story to a “slick” magazine soon after he graduated from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn in 1935.
To survive during the Depression, Spillane worked at odd jobs during the winters and spent his summers as a lifeguard at Breezy Point, Long Island.
Spillane’s professional writing career grew out of his friendship with a Brooklyn youth named Joe Gill, whom he met when both of them were working as temporary salesmen during the 1940 Christmas rush in the basement of Gimbel’s department store. Through Joe’s brother Ray, an editor at Funnies, Inc., which produced comic books in midtown Manhattan, Spillane got a job as a script-assistant editor. Spillane was a prolific writer and turned out one 8-page story per day.
A few years after serving in the Air Force during World War II, he wrote the manuscript of his first novel, I, the Jury.
The publishing house of E.P. Dutton & Co. accepted it for publication. By 1954 1,600,000 copies had been published with millions more to come.
I, the Jury introduced Spillane’s character Mike Hammer to the world of detective fiction. In the next five years from, 1947 to 1952, Spillane completed seven novels.
Four of Spillane’s stories were filmed: I, the Jury (a 3-Dimension release of ’53), The Long Wait (’54), Kiss Me Deadly (’55) and My Gun Is Quick (’57). Spillane produced 18 novels between 1961 and 1973. In the late ’80s a hit TV series starring Stacey Keach was based on the exploits of Mike Hammer.
In 1979 Spillane’s first children’s book, The Day the Sea Rolled Back, won him a Junior Literary Guild award.
Spillane lived for many years on the coast of South Carolina before dying of pancreatic cancer on July 17, 2006.
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