Friday, March 09, 2007

The Good Garbage of Mickey Spillane

“I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”

“ My work may be garbage, but it's good garbage.”

Mickey Spillane

Today is the date on which Mickey Spillane was born in 1918. (He died last year).

Spillane was always a controversial figure in the mystery world because critics tended to hate his work. But as Spillane himself pointed out, his "garbage" sold well: Wikipedia says that he can boast of "seven titles among the ten best-selling American books of the 20th century."

Spillane was said to have a feud with Hemingway, who had publicly criticized his writing; however, when asked by an interviewer if he had read Hemingway's review, Spillane said, "Hemingway who?" This earned him a huge laugh from the audience and the permanent dislike of Hemingway.

The debate of books as products versus books as art still goes on today, often within an individual author. There's no doubt that authors would like to earn fine reviews for their work; there's also no doubt that authors would like to make money as much as the next person would. There's a certain wild appeal, therefore, in Spillane's claim that he had plenty of "customers" even if his books were considered trash.

Not everyone disliked Spillane, of course, which was why he had all those customers. His books were raw, different, new, in a time when the world was still recovering from war and was ready for heroes who were a bit larger than life, a bit more violent and a bit sexier than heroes had been before. Mike Hammer was as much of an icon as was Mickey Spillane, and in fact Spillane played his own character in the film Ring of Fear. (No, wait--my friend John Dandola has corrected me. He says Spillane played Spillane in that movie, and "He played Mike Hammer in the equally dreadful The Girl Hunters." :) Thanks, John).

There's no doubt that Spillane influenced the modern world: its literature, its film, even its perception of heroes. And of course he remains an icon in the world of the hard-boiled mystery.

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