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Books: Crime ‘writer’ will join S.C. Authors Academy

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Despite more than 20 years of marriage, there was a lot about Mickey Spillane’s life that his widow, Jane, never knew.

The famed author of the Mike Hammer detective series and one of Murrells Inlet’s most beloved residents, Spillane was much older than Jane and had already done a lot of living by the time the couple married in 1983.

But as the date for Spillane’s posthumous induction into the S.C. Academy of Authors draws near, Jane is filling in a lot of the blanks.

“He would tell a tale and you’d think, ‘oh, he’s exaggerating.’ But we’ve found out from research and documentation that it all appears to have been true,” she said from the inlet home she and Mickey shared. Spillane died in 2006. He was 88.

From the entranceway, where his Mike Hammer trench coat, hat and holster still hang, to his personal library, the house is bursting with mementos of his life. And Jane has been going through it all, gleaning everything she can. She has been sharing the information with the public in a series of events leading up to the sold-out April 21 induction ceremony and reception.

The weekend before, on April 14, she’ll join Georgetown County residents in celebrating Spillane’s life and talent at the Strand Theater, where two of the films based on his books will be shown. “The Girl Hunters” (1963) starts at 1:30 p.m. followed by a reception and 4:30 p.m. screening of “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955). Jane will introduce both films, telling stories about her husband and showing off some of his prized possessions.

In “The Girl Hunters,” Spillane actually stars as Mike Hammer. He remains the only author who ever played his own star character in a film adaptation. He decided to do it, according to Jane, because “he was so fed up with Hollywood.” That way, he decided, it would at least be done right.

He stars alongside Shirley Eaton, best known for her role in “Goldfinger.”

In “Kiss Me Deadly,” Ralph Meeker stars as Hammer and “he’s the meanest, nastiest Mike Hammer you will ever see,” Jane said.

“Mickey wasn’t so thrilled with the film when it was made, but as time went on, he realized it was a great film. It’s absolutely one of the best noir films out there,” she said.

She adds that Meeker made a very attractive Mike Hammer.

Admission is $5 per film for Strand Cinema members, and $7 per film for everyone else, or $10 for both.

In addition to the screenings, Jane recently finished teaching a 12-week course on her late husband’s life, featuring documents, letters, contracts and photos, as well as movies and home films, including some even Jane had never seen before. There was so much material she only got to use about half of it, she said, but she plans to have the course regularly. The next session is set to start in September.

“I took these boxes and boxes of videos to get them all turned into DVDs and preserved,” she said. “I didn’t know what I had.”

She came across one last week she had never seen, showing it to those in her class without knowing what would pop up on the screen.

“I took a chance in putting it in,” she said. “He was talking about me and telling a joke about our marriage. They were falling out of their seats and I was too. I didn’t know what was going to come out of his mouth next.”

Another she found looked to be the beginning of his own documentary of his life.

Through letters and other documentation she has found, Jane has confirmed many of the stories Mickey told that she once viewed skeptically, including those about chasing moonshiners from the Carolinas up to Maryland, a task that once got him shot. Race car drivers would be recruited to take the haul away and Mickey would go after them, according to Jane.

He worked undercover with several law enforcement agencies and there are also references that indicate he worked for the FBI.

He was good at it, she said, because nobody ever suspected him and everybody liked him, including the moonshiners.

She also learned a lot about the time he spent in the circus, something that all started with a project he worked on with John Wayne. The film was “Ring of Fear” (1954), which revolves around murders in a circus. Wayne wasn’t happy with the script. He said it was terrible, according to Jane, and asked Mickey to go to Hollywood and help him fix it. For his help, Mickey found a new Jaguar in his driveway when he got home.

“The next thing you know, Mickey is doing a trampoline act, and then they started shooting him out of a cannon,” Jane said.

For a number of years, he would periodically take off to join the circus for a bit, she said.

Of course, all that happened long before she became part of his life. Jane was a child when she met Mickey in Murrells Inlet, where her parents had a house. She used to play with his children and he would chase her out of the yard for being too loud. She remembers being afraid of him, because her parents told her “he was a Yankee and wrote those dirty books.”

After going to college up North and ending her first marriage she came home to live in her parents’ inlet house and reconnected with Spillane when her best friend wanted to meet him.

“People ask me doesn’t it hurt to watch these videos,” Jane said. But for the most part, she said seeing Mickey on film, getting to know more about him through the materials he left behind and knowing his work lives on makes her happy.

“Mickey always said he was going to live forever and darn if he isn’t going to live forever,” she said. “He left so many manuscripts and documents and video clips, it’s like he’s still here.”

In fact, his work is gaining popularity again as his novels are released in e-book formats and a number of his unpublished manuscripts are being brought to light. So far, four have been released and another is due out on May 8.

Additionally there are discussions about a Mickey Spillane museum and possibly a new Mike Hammer TV series, but Jane is being careful with the negotiations. She wants to make sure any project stays true to Mickey’s work and is something he would have approved of — not like a remake of one Mike Hammer film that Spillane was so disgusted with that he walked out of the theater. The actors were naked in the first scene and he called it “porn,” Jane said.

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As for his induction into the S.C. Academy of Authors, Jane will accept the honor for Mickey and said she knows exactly what her husband would have said were he alive to do it himself.

“He would have joked with them,” she said. “He would have said, ‘I’m not an author, I’m a writer.”’ He believed writers write to sell and make a living, while authors take a more leisurely approach, she said.

Also being inducted into the Academy of Authors this month are: Franklin Burroughs, Marian Wright Edelman and Charles Joyner.

A number of other author events are also scheduled around the upcoming inductions. Among them:

“Down by the Riverside and Other Spirituals” at Brookgreen Gardens, Wednesdays at 1 p.m. through May 23. Information from Charles Joyner’s groundbreaking book about Gullah culture, “Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community” (1984), and the writings and personal insight of Ron Daise, Brookgreen’s vice president for creative education, will be featured, along with Gullah songs. Free with regular gardens admission. Call 235-6000.

“I Can Make a Difference: Illustrations by Barry Moser from the book by Marian Wright Edelman” at Burroughs & Chapin Art Museum through April 22. Moser is one of the most sought-after contemporary children’s book illustrators and has illustrated more than 200 books for children and adults. Eighteen original paintings will be on display. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Free. Call 238-2510.

“Poetry Workshop: The Making of River Poems” at Coastal Carolina University’s Waccamaw Higher Education Center in Litchfield. Libby Bernardin will use quotations from Franklin Burroughs’ “The River Home,” Charles Joyner’s “Down By the Riverside” and Marian Wright Edelman’s writings about the river. If possible, bring a photo of your favorite river spot. Other materials will be provided. April 12, 1 to 4 p.m., $25. Call 349-6584.

“The Life Work of Marian Wright Edelman” at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center. This tribute honoring Edelman’s life and body of work will be led by Tracy Swinton Bailey. April 19, 10 a.m. to noon. Free. Call 349-6584.

Franklin Burroughs’ “The River Home” at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center. His profoundly moving love letter to the rivers of South Carolina will be discussed by Tom Johnson. April 19, 1 to 3 p.m. Free. Call 349-6584.

“When I Just Can Remember” at Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort. Coastal Carolina University professors Veronica Davis Gerald, Preston McKever-Floyd and Sandra L. Shackelford perform a play based on the interviews done on the Waccamaw Neck and in Georgetown by Genevieve Wilcox Chandler during the 1930s. Ex-slaves Hager Brown and Ben Horry (from Brookgreen Plantation) are the featured narrators. April 22, 2 p.m. Free, but reserve a ticket at the Waccamaw Higher Education Center, 349-6584.

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