Interview with Mickey Spillane
(Editor’s note: When I spoke to Mickey, he sounded in excellent health and in great spirits. Not the type of guy you’d want to cross at any age. It came as a shock to me when I read wire reports just 8 weeks later announcing his passing. I know Mike Hammer could be cruel and crude, but the world of mystery would be missing something without him.)
AFG: So tell me, what are you working on right now?
MS: I’m working on a novel right now.
AFG: What’s it about?
MS: I’m not going to tell you! [laughing] Don’t ask me what it’s about till I finish it!
AFG: So when do you anticipate you’re going to finish it?
MS: As soon as I can.
AFG: Can you at least tell me if it’s another Mike Hammer book?
MS: Yes, it’s with Mike Hammer.
AFG: A lot of actors have played Mike Hammer. Who’s your favorite?
AFG: Okay, besides you!
MS: Oh, they’re all pretty good. They all do different styles and whatnot. Acting is probably a personal thing. We started off with Darren McGavin way back when—on TV, you know. Yes, there have been a lot of actors. Some of them were pretty bad, but that was the fault of the producers for making lousy pictures.
AFG: I liked Stacy Keach.
MS: He was good. He was really good.
AFG: I liked the one with you. That was a very good one.
MS: We shot that in England.
AFG: How long did it take you to write I, the Jury? A week?
MS: No. It took either nine or nineteen days. I’m a writer, not an author.
AFG: So did you think it would be as successful as it was?
MS: Yes. That’s why I wrote it. I’ll tell you, there were a couple of reasons why I knew it was going to be good. At the end of the War, I saw—and I forget where, I think it was an army place—a brand new paperback original. It was a novel that had just come out. When I looked at that thing, I said this is the newest trend in publishing, and this is going to be the biggest thing going. So when I wrote I, the Jury, I didn’t write it for hardback. I wrote it for the paperback reprint. Now the funny part was that I, the Jury was turned down by three or four publishing houses who thought, “Oh, you can’t put books like this out on the market,” and who as good as shot themselves to death later. There was nothing bad about I, the Jury. It wasn’t dirty. It was a little raunchy in places, but not bad.
AFG: By today’s standards, it’s . . .
MS: It’s mild! [laughing] I know that! But back then it was, “Wow!” Anyway, I turned it in but I didn’t get picked up by a book publisher. I got picked up by a distributor—Roscoe Fawcett. I knew him because I had done comic books for him before. And by golly, he picked it up. Nobody wanted to print it, so he went to New American Library, which was Signet, and he said, “If you will print this, I will distribute it.” Now in those days it was hard to get a distributor, so they said, “Oh, that’s great. But before we can print a reprint, we have to have a hardback.” So they went to Dutton and they said, “If you print this, we’ll reprint it right away and get it out inside of a month”—or something like that. Now this was a win-win-win situation—I’m not gonna lie! So anyway, Dutton printed it. They made 7,000 copies of I, the Jury and it went to Signet and sold out immediately—and when I say immediately, I mean into the millions of copies in two days!
So anyway, in those days all he gave was about two hundred dollars in advance for a new book, but I needed a thousand dollars because my wingman buddy and I were going to build a house. We were going to live in a tent and build a house up in Newburgh, New York, out in the country. This was right after the War. So anyway, we got the thousand dollars and we bought the property and squeezed into the tent, and we built the house. It was real funny. I’ve got a picture, standing by this house, half-built. We were still laying cinder blocks and my friend, who was handling all my finances because, hell, I still can’t count, said, “Why don’t you get a truck?” And I said, “We haven’t got the money.” And he said, “You got two million dollars in the bank!” And I said, “What!”
Anyway, money’s the same way now as it was then. It’s something you use if you need it. I’ve never been money-hungry, fortunately. And I’ll tell you something else I’m very glad about. I’m glad that I was brought up during the Depression because, to this day, I don’t owe a nickel. I own the house I’m in. I’ve been here for 54 years, taxes paid. And I drive my Carolina Cadillac—a Ford Pick-Up truck. They all say, “What do you drive that truck for?” And I say, “I don’t want to take my Jaguar out tonight!” Cause I got a Jaguar, you know, that John Wayne gave me.
AFG: That was when you wrote one of his films.
MS: Ring of Fear, yes. I still got it downstairs and it never goes anyplace.
AFG: Which writers did you read while you were growing up?
MS: I read everybody. I’ve been reading since I was a little tiny kid. I remember in about fourth or fifth grade or so we moved into a new room. Underneath the window there were these bookshelves and my teacher picked out a book and held it up and said, “Now children, some day you’ll be able to read this book.” It was Moby Dick. And I said, “I liked that book, Miss Fisher.” And she said, “You’ve never read that book!” And I said, “Call me Ishmael”—you know, the first line. Anyway, she never contradicted me on my reading after that!
AFG: So why did you settle in South Carolina?
MS: I’m a country boy. You know, I was born in New York and I hate New York. And when I say I hate New York, I mean I hate New York City. I have a place up near the Adirondacks, up in the mountains, for skiing. I go up for a couple of weeks every summer to do a lot of writing.
AFG: What are some of your memories of the War?
MS: Ah, I kinda loved flying. That’s all. People say, “How come no one shot you down?” And I say, “I was better than them!”
AFG: So do you like to travel at all?
MS: No. I hate to travel. I don’t like to go anyplace. I don’t like to leave Georgetown County.
AFG: So who’s your favorite writer?
MS: Oh, I read any book that’s good. Clive Cussler I like—he’s the guy who uncovered the submarine. I just wrote to him yesterday.
AFG: He writes about this character called Dirk Pitt.
MS: Dirk Pitt. That’s a real comic book name, but a good one. Writers are very funny. They don’t have to be anyplace. All they need is a typewriter. If I’m going to go someplace for awhile, I always take a typewriter with me.
AFG: I know how much Ernest Hemingway loved Mike Hammer!
MS: Now what happened with Ernest Hemingway was that he wrote this nasty piece about me. I never say anything bad about a writer. Some are better than others, that’s all. And some make more money. But anyway, I got aggravated at him writing that piece about me, cause none of it was true. So I was on a show in Chicago, a live TV show. It was in a big theatre and there was a stage audience, and the guy who was interviewing me said, “Did you read that piece that Hemingway wrote about you?” And I said, “Hemingway who?” It brought the house down, but he hated my guts after that.
AFG: Tell me the story about the picture in the restaurant.
MS: Well, I forget the name of the restaurant, but it was a very old restaurant and the place was down on the Florida Keys. The girl behind the counter had a picture of Hemingway—he used go fishing down there—and she had put it in a frame and put it up behind the cash register. I used to go diving out there, around the area. She’d found out who I was, and one day she said to me, “Can I have your picture?” So I gave her a picture, and she put it up next to Hemingway’s. Then Hemingway came in one day—I hate telling this story because it sounds like I’m making fun of Hemingway and I’m not, cause I liked him—and says, “What’s his picture doing up next to mine?” And she says, “I know him, too.” And he says, “Well either you take down his picture or you take down mine.” So she took down his picture and gave it back to him. Now that’s not a nice story to tell. [laughing]
AFG: Well, I like Hemingway’s stories, but I really don’t care for the way he presents the bullfighters as heroes.
MS: I know that. I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I felt the same way about him. I don’t like to see animals killed.
AFG: I think it’s brutal.
MS: I think so, too. You should see this house where we are. I live out on the creek here, surrounded by water. I got the best view of the creek. We’ve got five cats in the house, another five outside who always come up for mealtimes, and a bunch of raccoons who knock on the door if you don’t feed them. Luckily the possums hibernate, so they’re only here part of the year! We’re animal lovers.
AFG: So are you optimistic about the state of the world?
MS: I’m optimistic but not in the way you think I am!