Spillane, Mickey: Mystery Writer (Mike Hammer), Dies at 88

Mickey Spillane, the mystery writer who created detective Mike Hammer, died Monday in Murrells Inlet, S.C. He was 88.

Spillan’s hard-boiled, workmanlike style marked his books, which define the paperback market in the late 1940s. 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.

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. Other titles included “The Killing Man,” “The Girl Hunters” and “One Lonely Night.”

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 1940s, he was writing for Batman, SubMariner and other comics.

When WWII broke, 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 doubted the writing, but not the marketability, and thus 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, which was the reason why some critics didn’t approve of his work.