Listening To: (I Wish)

The Music From Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer

From Modernizor at Tumblr and Pinterest, originally from Flickr, The Music From Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, which looks like it’s music from the Mike Hammer TV series, arranged and conducted by Skip Martin…featuring RCA Victor’s ‘Sound Of Violence’?! Oh I wish that LP was spinning on my turntable right now.

 

The Master At 101 Years

Kiss me Deadly

Shame on me, but I screwed up my post scheduling, so this was meant to appear on Saturday.

A belated birthday acknowledgment to Frank Morrison Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane, born 101 years ago on March 9th, who sadly left us in 2006. Loved by readers, resented by writers (to this day), reviled by critics, spoofed by himself and many others, the man was actually an instrumental part of building the postwar paperback marketplace. I’ll argue that he played a part in revitalizing — maybe even redefining —  the hard-boiled private eye novel for the second half of the twentieth century, and along the way, sold a mere 225 million books.

Crime Reads Screen Cap

Crime Reads editor Molly Odintz has a very interesting piece at Crimereads.com, “The Ten Best And Pulpiest Mickey Spillane Covers”  – do log on and check it out. The covers shown here aren’t the ones Odintz presents, and some might say her choices aren’t anywhere near as pulpy, weird or downright pervy as some Spillane covers can be. Molly Odintz acknowledges that while commercial success should never be a measure of literary merit, Spillane’s recent centennial and various authors (Max Allan Collins key among them) arguing for a reassessment of the writer’s importance begs for publishers to reissue his work, but in different cover art, “…so that folks like me will actually want to read him in public. Can you imagine bringing one of these on the subway?” But she continues, and this is crucial to understanding Spillane and his work: “But Mickey Spillane didn’t care about what people thought of his cover designs, or the literary merit of his books, and paid no attention to any censorial judgments whatsoever, so perhaps the best way to celebrate the iconic writer’s birthday would indeed be to bring one of these on the subway – and not care what anyone thinks”.

Vengeance Is Mine

Odintz showcases ten Spillane covers she considers particularly weird, pulpy or tawdry. Anyone familiar with postwar pulp magazine and paperback cover art may consider them surprisingly tame. I’ll concede, Spillane’s One Lonely Night was almost always packaged with particularly disturbing cover art of a bound and partially stripped woman. The 1960’s – 70’s era Spillane reissues followed that period’s trend towards photo cover art, and typically employed provocatively posed near-nude women with no relation to the title, story or…well, anything at all, simply beckoning to the reader with ‘come-hither’ expressions. Some European editions of Spillane novels went way beyond anything that would be allowed in the U.S. market. And the fact is, many 1950’s era mystery/crime fiction paperbacks (and certainly the remaining pulps from the same era) can completely out-weird, out-sex, out-perv most any Mickey Spillane cover art, with one after another depicting menacing thugs and lover-boy private eyes threatening or otherwise taking advantage of a gallery of women-as-victims and women-as-eye-candy, invariably undressed or undressing in fetishistic detail, restrained, terrified…or often as not…dead.

One Lonely Night

Do we blame the writers? The publishers, their art directors, the illustrators? Do we blame the culture of the time? Do we blame anyone at all, or do we just recognize that they’re artifacts from another era? Don’t ask me…I’ll have to leave vexing questions like that to smarter folks than I. But I won’t apologize for appreciating Mickey Spillane. I have all of the Mickey Spillane novels, with doubles and triples of a few from different eras, along with the unfinished works completed by Max Allan Collins, some few books about Spillane, the complete Mike Hammer comic strip book and sundry other Spillane items. Call me a fan.

The Body Lovers

While I don’t ride the subway, I fully understand what Molly Odintz is saying, and there are more than a few (maybe most) of my Spillane books that I’m not too eager to whip out in the coffee shop, just so I can watch fellow patrons ease their chairs away from me. But the same goes for other vintage paperbacks I have, and quite a few contemporary books, now that I think of it.

Cheap used bookstore copies of the first few Mike Hammer novels were actually what lured me into the mystery/crime fiction genre in the first place, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. Spillane’s no-nonsense prose and plot-first writing style guides me in my own humble writing attempts, particularly whenever I get ‘writerly’. I don’t know if, like Molly Odintz, I’d like to see Mickey Spillane’s body of work reissued in ‘tamer’ packaging, or just as she speculates, if the hard-boiled crime fiction master’s work indeed should be reissued, but in cover art that celebrates all the violent, sexy, tawdry, pulpy storytelling each book contained.

The Long Wait

 

Manhunt

The Best of Manhunt

I think it’s great that publishers promote forthcoming titles in advance. But I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to wait until late July for The Best Of Manhunt. Subtitled: “A Collection Of The Best of Manhunt Magazine”, the book is edited by Jeff Vorzimmer, with a foreword by writer Lawrence Block and an afterword by Barry Malzberg, and collects 39 stories from the pages of mid-1950’s pulp magazine that many rightly regard as one of the very best of mystery/crime fiction magazines.

Manhunt 1

The pulp magazine era had mostly died by the time Manhunt magazine debuted in 1952. Mystery and crime fiction migrated to the new and booming paperback market in the postwar era, their garish, spicy covers replaced on the newsstands by countless ‘true crime’ magazines, many of which soon switched to increasingly explicit photo covers and ‘fact-based’ stories full of gruesome and period-sexy photographs.

Manhunt 2

But Manhunt magazine continued to offer monthly doses of hard-boiled short stories and serialized novels from the era’s best writers. Just look at the covers of a few issues…they read like a who’s who of postwar mystery/crime fiction masters: James Cain, Harlan Ellison, Bruno Fischer, Fletcher Flora, David Goodis, Brett Haillday, Evan Hunter, Frank Kane, Henry Kane, Richard Prather, Mickey Spillane, Jack Webb and others. In fact, the magazine even did it’s own ‘best of’ as a Perma Books paperback (see image below) with 13 stories from its pages.

The Best From Manhunt

I may get a real kick out of vintage crime fiction, particularly of the postwar hard-boiled variety, and have bought a number of 1930’s-40’s pulp reprints and trade paperback collections. Doing so has taught me that a lot of the content didn’t quite meet the expectations of the cover art, and was, in fact, kind of dreary. I’m acquisitive, but fortunately, no collector, and unwilling to hand over serious cash for seventy-year-old magazines with questionable contents.

Manhunt 3

One nearby used bookstore occasionally shelves vintage magazines and had a few copies of Manhunt for sale ($25 to $40 each as I recall) and though I didn’t buy, I was allowed to browse, and can say that Manhunt at least looked a cut above the hurried cut-n-paste hack jobs that many of its ‘true crime’ contemporaries really were. But I know from reading about it at many a blog, site and mystery/crime fiction book that Manhunt was considered the one postwar pulp title that gathered together some of the era’s very best talents.

Oh, I’m pre-ordering this book, you can bet on that, five months to wait or not. Till then, enjoy some retro mayhem from the covers of Manhunt magazine, here and in the following post.

Manhunt 4

 

 

Primal Spillane

Primal Spillane

Some dismiss him, some revere him, and some 1950’s-60’ literary critics actually reviled Mickey Spillane, certain that he represented the end of American arts & letters. But nearly 250 million book buyers apparently thought otherwise. I’ll proudly admit to being among the adoring faction, having read all of his novels and re-reading a couple faves more than once. Sure, some of his later work can’t hold a candle to his first few Mike Hammer novels. So what? The man’s a hard-boiled genre icon. I’m glad that Iowa mystery writer Max Allan Collins forged a relationship with Spillane in the golden age great’s latter years, assigned to sort through his papers following Spillane’s demise, and authorized to complete several of Mickey Spillane’s unfinished novels (which I’ve enjoyed as well).

Primal Spillane is a collection of ‘short-shorts’ the emerging writer penned as filler material for comics back when he was starting out before his WII service. There are over 40 short pieces here, covering a lot of ground – not Mike Hammer stories so much as adventure stories, war stories along with some crime stories. Pretty uniformly, they employ those trademark Spillane gotcha endings and make the most of ultra-short word counts, which is a lesson in economy for any writer. There’s a good intro written by Collins, and the book was compiled with the able assistance of his researcher, Lynne Meyers.

Winter Reading Plans

three readers

Five days into the new year, and I just finished Meghan Scott Molin’s The Frame-Up (more about that one later), am deep into The Annotated Big Sleep for at-home reading and just picked up Sara Gran’s The Infinite Blacktop – A Claire DeWitt Novel to keep in the car for daytime-downtime reading. (I usually have more than one book going at a time, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.)

I normally have a folder handy on my desktop to screen-cap or download any interesting books I spot so I won’t forget to look for them, particularly since it may take a while to get around to it. Sometimes I feel foolish for letting so many books collect there, as if I could ever hope to read them all (not that it’d stop me from buying them). And at this time of year, when every blog and e-newsletter touts yet another ‘Best Of 2018’ or ‘Must-Read In 2019’ list, I feel doomed. When I skimmed J. Kingston Pierce’s Rap Sheet (therapsheet.blogspot.com) 1.3.19 post “Early Rivals For Our Reading Attention”, I was overwhelmed at first, then I didn’t feel quite so bad. It lists 325 US and UK new releases, and just for the first quarter of the year. If anyone can actually get through all those, they’re a speed-reader, unemployed…or nuts. And likely to be out about six grand.

the rap sheet screen cap

My own ‘watch-for’ list is much smaller right now. Forgive me for further cluttering feeds and inboxes with yet another book list. It’s a mixed bag of noir-ish fiction, mystery, hard-boiled crime, non-fiction, YA/comics-related titles and at least one genuinely goofy item: Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s. I mean, seriously…how can you not want to see what that’ll be about?

Raymond Chandler and The Annotated Big Sleep will keep me occupied for a few more nights. January is peculiarly balmy at the moment here, but it won’t be long before that changes, which means ideal at-home evening reading conditions. Indoors. Where it’s warm. And Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt will go down nicely with the dashboard heater blowing and a large coffee in the cup holder while waiting for an appointment or before work. Hopefully these other titles will show up at my local bookstore promptly.

2019 books 1

  • A Bloody Business by Dylan Struzan, with illustrations by Drew Struzan
  • American Heroin by Melissa Scrivner Love
  • Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix
  • Metropolis by Philip Kerr, the last Bernie Gunther novel before the author’s sad demise

2019 books 2

  • Murder, My Love by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (A Mike Hammer novel)
  • The Lost Girls Of Paris by Pam Jenoff
  • The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict
  • The Jean Harlow Bombshell by Mollie Cox Bryan

2019 book 3

  • Bad by Chloe Esposito
  • The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
  • Murder-A-Go-Go’s – Crime Fiction Inspired By The Music Of The Go-Go’s edited by Holly West
  • Under The Moon – A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle

http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2019/01/early-rivals-for-our-reading-attention.html

Reader Photos by Jessica Castro, Daria Shevtsova and Kate Williams

Their First Meeting

Strand Magazine Oct-Jan 2018

Foolishly, I used to bypass Strand Magazine on the newstands, wrongly considering it a Sherlock Holmes and cozy mystery title. Once I finally bought a copy, I learned otherwise, of course.

For example: The October 2018-January 2019 issue leads off with a Mike Hammer story by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, adapted from a radio-style playlet originally intended as part of a 1954 Mike Hammer jazz LP. Iowa writer Collins, as many know, became close friends with Spillane in the hard-boiled master’s latter years and was assigned to manage his papers after his death, which included completing a number of unfinished manuscripts.

“Tonight My Love” in this current issue of Strand Magazine is a short-short story, opening much like a Mike Hammer novel would, with the “hard-hitting and lusty” private eye on a routine tail job, lurking outside a low rent nightclub while he tries to keep a Lucky Strike lit on a rainy New York night. “That was when she showed up from somewhere wearing a red dress that would’ve looked painted-on if any living artist was only that good. Her eyes were big and dark, and her lips so lush it made my own go slack…”

In a little over two and half pages of taut, vintage Spillane (via Max Allan Collins) prose we witness an important event in the Mike Hammer saga that stretched over multiple novels, short stories, movies, TV series, radio shows and comics. The very last line of “Tonight My Love” is a gotcha for any Spillane fan (and I’m definitely one).

Different actresses have played the part, from Maxine Cooper to Tanya Roberts, but it may be that, much like Spillane’s Mike Hammer himself, it’s a role that can’t really be assumed since each reader has their own image of…well, that’d be giving away the last line of “Tonight My Love”. Check it out in the current Strand Magazine.

 

The Girl Hunt Ballet

Girl Hunt Ballet 3

The Band Wagon (1953) is a classic MGM musical (it’s the film that included the famous song “That’s Entertainment”) with Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant…even a walk-on by Ava Gardner. Astaire plays a popular but aging Hollywood song and dance star who’s returned to Broadway in the hopes of restarting his career, where’s he’s mismatched with Gabrielle Gerard, a famous ballerina unfamiliar with musical theater, played by Cyd Charisse. Their initial outing, an ill-conceived highbrow musical version of Faust, is a disaster. But Fred saves the day by rallying the cast and crew to rework the material into a more conventional musical comedy show that premieres to rousing success…while he and the ballerina (who originally nearly despised each other) naturally end up falling in love.

Okay, so why should we mention this film here? Because of its legendary The Girl Hunt Ballet sequence.

Girl Hunt Ballet 2

One of many song and dance numbers planned for the film was called “The Private Eye”, but it proved unworkable for some reason. Still determined to probe that theme, they found inspiration in a recent Life magazine article on Mickey Spillane, at that time a very controversial pop culture phenomenon, reviled by critics, but read by millions.  The result, “The Girl Hunt Ballet” is a dance tale set in a Spillane-style urban underworld of violent New York streets and smoky gin mills, all teeming with cops and robbers shooting it out, gangsters wielding switchblades and fetching femmes fatales…Charisse (remember, she’s playing an aloof prima donna ballerina in the film) the ‘fetchingest’ of them all. Astaire does what comes easy for Astaire – being effortlessly cool, even playing a private eye. Director Vincent Minelli decided the sequence needed some narration, like Mickey Spillane’s first person narrative Mike Hammer novels themselves, and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner wrote it, though he insisted on going unpaid and uncredited so as not to step on the toes of the film’s songwriters and screenwriters.

Cyd CHARISSE und Fred ASTAIRE in 'Vorhang auf!', 1953

I’ll be the first to admit that musicals aren’t really my thing. But The Girl Hunt Ballet is really something to see. Articles about it frequently refer to Charisse and Astaire’s “sexually charged” duet. That’s putting it mildly. I don’t know how the film didn’t melt. The extended 12 minute sequence captures every period pulp and hard-boiled mystery cliché and trope you can think of and turns them into a brilliant piece of noir art. Maybe you don’t want to sit through all of Band Wagon. I get that. But if you can seeThe Girl Hunt Ballet – YouTube or wherever — watch it. And with good speakers and the bigger the screen the better.

Girl Hunt Ballet

 

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