Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

Untouchable in Blu

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

This weekend I watched the “check disc” for the forthcoming Blu-ray of Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life. I was very pleased. We had gone to some trouble and expense to shoot in HD (at the time something rather new, particularly for low-budget productions), and having the feature appear as intended, looking rather beautiful, is gratifying. It’s made bittersweet by seeing the amazing performance of Michael Cornelison, who passed away in 2011. The loss of this key collaborator on my film and TV work remains painful.

Mike and my great friend and collaborator Phil Dingeldein are featured on the commentary, which listening to is also bittersweet…and I wish I hadn’t dominated it so. But I tend to do that in such situations.

The Blu-ray has everything on it that the DVD did, and “An Inconvenient Matter” – the short film that was the last collaboration between Collins, Cornelison and Dingeldein – is also in High-Def for the first time. It’s an overtly film noir piece written by Chuck Hughes, my fellow Iowan and the screenwriter of Ed and His Dead Mother, a cult fave. This is the only time to date I’ve directed a script I didn’t write, and it was fun and interesting. There’s a Collins/Cornelison/Dingeldein commentary on that, as well.

Obviously, the advance buzz about the “magnum opus” (as the publisher describes it), Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me, inspired this release. The book is out in August, but the Blu-ray will bring up the rear in October.

You can pre-order the disc at Amazon (and I wish you would).

Phil and I are exploring a new film project around the second Mike Hammer play, The Little Death, that is scheduled for January 17 – 27, though if it sells out like the previous one did, an extra week may be added on. This will again star the wonderful Gary Sandy, and I am negotiating with legendary producer Zev Buffman to direct it myself. All concerned are hopeful that I will be able to direct a film version, somewhat in the style of the Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life feature.

More as that develops.

Speaking of Mike Hammer, the first issue of the serialized graphic novel, The Night I Died (developed from some of the same unpublished Spillane material that inspired The Little Death play) will be in comic book shops this week. A number of sites feature an advance look at the comic book, and this link will take you to one.

* * *

Crusin’s summer/early fall season (we mostly lay off in the later fall and winter) continued on Sunday with an appearance at the Muscatine Art Center’s annual Ice Cream Social. It was a fun, informal event, and the crowd liked us just fine, though I would be surprised if the ice cream and pie didn’t get even better reviews.

Our next appearance is in Muscatine at the Missipi Brew in their beer garden on the Fourth of July, which is on July 4 this year, interestingly. This can be a grueling event for us, particularly if we draw a hot day/evening. It’s also one of the longer shows we do, at least three hours. Lately we’ve been limiting ourselves to one- and two-hour gigs.

This does get more physically taxing, the loading in, setting up, tearing down and loading out in particular. How much longer I will be able to indulge myself in my rock ‘n’ roll fixation remains unclear.

* * *

Here is a very nice Quarry in the Black review. The cover of that one – I believe the great Glen Orbik’s last, completed by the very talented Laurel Blechman – is popping up all over the Net. It’s much admired, and I’m pleased to have acquired the original for my office (in my home with its sophisticated security system).

Here’s a little write-up about my long-ago Digest Dolls card set.

Finally, here is a really nice review of Scarface and the Untouchable in Publisher’s Weekly.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids – There’s a Prize in the Serial Box!

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

I try to stay away from politics here, but the latest wrinkle in the immigration story calls for an exception. I think the Onion covered it best.

But I would ask my Christian friends on the Right to consider that when Jesus said, “Suffer little children to come unto me,” He didn’t mean He wanted little children to suffer.

* * *

This may be as good a time as any for me to talk about Facebook, which is the only social media platform I use. I’m so out of touch I don’t even know if “platform” is the right word.

For a long time, I read the daily feed or whatever-the-hell you call it, and would get very upset about the political nonsense I saw posted – a surprising amount of it dark and nasty and often racist. Plus stupid. Did I mention stupid?

Because I am a reactive wise-ass at heart (and everywhere else), I would weigh in, often sarcastically, and bad things would transpire. I lost several good friends.

A while back I started only rarely checking in on the daily feed, and instead checked posts from a bunch of groups (not sure what Facebook calls them) that give me stuff about things I’m interested in, like paperback collecting, illustration and comic art, cult movies, pin-ups and so on. I have dropped one of these (about oddball LP covers) because the members of the group often made stupid, cruel, “funny” comments – imagine MST3K with morons.

But mostly these groups are fun.

I mention this to explain why you may have made a friend request to me that I have not accepted. My policy for several years was to accept any friend request because that represented a current or potential reader (or customer, as Mickey would put it). So many, even most, of the names were ones I didn’t recognize.

I mean, hey – who doesn’t want more friends?

But then I started seeing the far-right nastiness, the lies, the racism, the stupidity, and I just couldn’t take it any more. Plus, it tempted me into getting into fights with those very readers I was courting!

So I retreated into the posts about books and movies and art and pretty girls.

I do still post this update every week, and respond to responses to them. But only once a week (at most) do I see what the daily feed is feeding on.

And I haven’t accepted a friend request from someone I don’t already know in a very long time.

No offense! You may not be a moronic fascist, but I just can’t take the chance….

* * *

Barb and I spent a delightful weekend in St. Louis with son Nate, our daughter-in-law Abby and grandson Sam. It was in part celebration of Father’s Day but also of Barb’s birthday (today, as I write this – June 18).

Sam is extremely funny, sometimes on purpose. He won’t be three till September, but his verbal skills already suggest he will be a better writer than Nate, Barb and me. Building a slide out of piled pillows, and considering the small mattress he would have to pile on top of them, breathing hard, he turned to Barb and said, “Now…here’s the hard part….”

Wonderful child.

My son is pretty wonderful, too, giving me for Father’s Day an expensive book about Audie Murphy’s co-stars in movies and television. Again, not a book about Audie Murphy, but a book about people he worked with. Nate did this, admitting that no one in his generation had any idea who Audie Murphy was.

My wife is also wonderful, and feel free to skip this paragraph, because it’s going to be more sentimental slop along the lines of my previous two updates. I failed to mention, when I wrote about our 50th Anniversary, that I fall in love with this woman at least once every day. It’s chiefly her smile. But I also remember how she came to spend the day with me, every day, for my entire time on all three of my hospital stays, which added up to probably nearly a month. As you may imagine, I was not always an ideal patient. But she was a great life’s partner for every second of it. She has caught up with me in numerical age (she’s three months younger) but I won’t remind anyone of the year involved. But no one would ever guess it. Here she is with her birthday roses.

* * *

I have received my copies of the Quarry’s War graphic novel and am very pleased. Though we changed artists between issue #1 and #2 (the original artist didn’t like me telling him what to draw), it’s fairly seamless. I am burying the lead here, but I will offer ten copies to any readers who will write an Amazon (and/or other) review. [Update: All copies have been given away. Thank you for your support!]

You should write me at ****, and you must include your snail-mail address. USA only. I would greatly prefer that those who request a copy are readers who don’t usually read comics or graphic novels, because I want to make it clear to non-comics-fan Quarry readers that this is a genuine and even important entry in the series.

* * *

Here’s a very nice discussion of film noir, all the better because I am quoted and Ms. Tree is cited.

Killer Covers looks at artist Ron Lesser, showcasing his Quarry in the Middle cover.

Bargain hunters! Get the Girl Hunters blu-ray with my commentary here for a new price – $14.95.

Here are ten great comic book movies that aren’t about superheroes – and guess what’s number one!!!

M.A.C.

The Original Max Allan Collins

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

I had many lovely responses to my shameless Golden Anniversary tribute to my lovely wife, Barb. Several people inquired about where the photo of us was taken: that was on May 31 on our anniversary overnight getaway to Galena, at our favorite Italian restaurant there, Vinny Vanucchi’s.

We stayed at the Irish Cottage (which is not a cottage, of course, but a very nice hotel on the outer outskirts of Galena). We dined at our other favorites – Otto’s Place, a breakfast spot on the Galena River across from the old, restored train station, and the Log Cabin, a restaurant that’s been there since the ‘30s and is a classic steakhouse that has the look and feel of somewhere the Rat Pack would hang out. We took a trolley tour of the town (though we’d been there many times) and soaked up some history and saw lots of Painted Ladies (i.e., Victorian mansions and homes).

This was in part research, because I have agreed to do a follow-up to The Girl Most Likely, a thriller set in Galena that I delivered to Thomas & Mercer last year for publication later this year. The police chief there, Lori Huntington, has been most helpful. But we were mostly having fun – the downtown shopping, half-a-mile of it, is gift shops and antiques shops and two wonderful used bookstores. We also visited (by appointment) Main Street Fine Books, which gave up its Main Street location some time ago and is now on the lower level of a beautiful modern home. Bill Butts and his wife Yolanda welcomed us, and Bill had set aside a first edition of Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back for me.

You know, Barb and I talked about going somewhere special – like Ireland or France or England – but instead settled on doing what we wanted to do, as opposed to what was expected of us. We went to Galena, a place we love, and chose the Irish Cottage over Ireland.

On June 2nd, still celebrating, we dined at our favorite Muscatine restaurant, DaBeet’s, where I’d arranged for chef Awad Dabit to prepare Barb’s favorite, Dover Sole. Earlier that day was a nostalic trip for both us, at the Muscatine Art Center, a wonderful museum in the historic Musser mansion. How wonderful? They display works by Renoir, Chagall, O’Keefe, Picasso, and Grant Wood, among many others.

But Barb and I were there to see the Elks Chanters exhibit. The Chanters was a male chorus that my father, Max A. Collins Sr., directed for fifty years, up to his passing in 2000. The original Max Collins was a remarkable guy. He went to Simpson College on a combined music and athletics scholarship. He was an incredible singer, who turned down offers to pursue professional opera, and a high school music teacher whose students racked up record wins at state music contests. He also put on the first high school productions of Oklahoma and Carousel – in the nation. When he left teaching after ten years for a better-paying job at HON Industries, the office furniture company, he kept his musical hand in with church choirs and, in particular, the Chanters.

How good were the Chanters? Well, in the fifties they entered the national Elks chorus competition and won, beating men’s choruses from the biggest cities in America. The next year they won again. The year after that they won yet again, although other choruses tried to block them, claiming the Muscatine outfit was clearly professional. They weren’t, but after that year, the competition was ended and the Chanters were made the permanent national champs.

Dad took his group all over the state and various parts of the country, including of course Muscatine, to schools and nursing homes; they also put on an annual Christmas concert. Every year around June they presented an elaborate show, with a concert portion divided between religious and popular works, and a Broadway-style revue with costumes, dancing, and the wives and kids of the Chanters participating. Each revue had a theme my father had been working on all year – Rodgers and Hammerstein, Legends of Popular Music, Grand Ole Opry and on and on.


Small part of Museum Art Center exhibit

His chorus had a uniquely masculine sound and he created it from everyday guys in all walks of life here in Muscatine. The Muscatine Art Center, thanks to Donna Reed (whose late husband Morrie Reed was one of Dad’s stars), has mounted an impressive display of Chanters memorabilia and has a big-screen TV showing the Chanters (and my Dad) in action. The exhibit goes through mid-August.

As a kid, I was in Chanters shows and so was son Nate. But I never joined the group. I had my musical path and Dad had his. I think he understood mine was not a rejection but a recognition that he would be seen as favoring me if he used me in any special way. I had appeared in high school productions (King Arthur in Camelot and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady) and many around town expected me to be a Chanter. But I was busy playing rock ‘n’ roll.


M.A.C., Jr., watching M.A.C., Sr. and his group

Here’s one story about my dad, who was an incredible teacher of vocal music, as this will demonstrate.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the chorus director put me (a tenor) with a bass, an alto and a soprano, as a quartet that would try out for the All-State Chorus – this is roughly the nerd equivalent of All-State sports honors. The director, who was new in town, told us that he would not have time to work with us. That he would be working with several quartets of junior and senior students, who had a chance of winning; but this would be a good opportunity for us to see what we were up against in the future.

I reported this to Dad. He told me to assemble my quartet (Mike Lange, Joyce Courtois and Kathy Bender) and that he would work with us. No one in the history of Iowa schools, at least up to that time, had put more students into the All-State Chorus (winners were sent to Des Moines for a big concert) than my father. Well, Dad worked with us all right. And the three quartets the high school chorus director coached all flamed out.

We won.

We won the next year, too, and the next. And at our final year at Des Moines, when the All-State Chorus was assembled to rehearse for its concert, its director asked the group of several hundred, “Who among you have been here before?” Our hands and some others went up. Then: “Who among have been here for all three years? Please stand.”

We four stood.

No one else did.

Thanks, Pop.

* * *

Barb and I have finished listening to Dan John Miller’s reading of Killing Town. I know some of you (myself included) are sorry to see Stacy Keach retire from the audio series. But Dan really knocks it out of the park.

If you enjoy listening to books on audio, and you like my work and/or Mickey’s, get your hands…which is to say your ears…on this one.

* * *

The graphic novel collection of Quarry’s War is out now! I spotted it in Daydreams, an Iowa City comic book shop. Amazon lists the on-sale date as July 3rd, but apparently comic book shops get it earlier.

I’ll post more on this later.

M.A.C.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Puppetland

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

If you’ve always wanted to read something sentimental and sappy from a hardboiled noir mystery writer, this is your lucky day.

Barb and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on June 1. You can check out the “before” and “after” photos above to see how much damage the years have done to me, and how Barb only gets lovelier as time lightly touches her.

I am reminded of my great grandparents and their Golden Anniversary celebration – dim and yet vivid in my memory. My great grandmother Rushing appeared to have stepped out of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” while my great grandfather was more Walter Huston in The Devil and Daniel Webster – she was staid and long-suffering, and he was a twinkle-in-the-eye reprobate.

The entire Rushing clan was gathered at their home for a big and elaborate celebration, with more food than lunch on the Road to Perdition set. At the after-dinner round of toasting, my great grandmother announced that she was divorcing my great grandfather and that he was to gather his things and leave at once. The suffering had gone on long enough, and now that she’d had her celebration for putting in her time, the old boy was sent literally packing.

He died a few years later, hit by a car as he crossed the street heading to a liquor store from the hospital where he was drying out.

I am happy to report Barb has not sent me packing, although some might say she would have the right, even if I’m not a hard-drinking reprobate. I am difficult and self-centered and a classic only child, spoiled by doting parents. She was one of seven (all girls save one), and her mother was bi-polar (not yet the diagnosis) who could make things miserable for her.

That had a lot to do why we married so young – I was twenty and she was nineteen. Her home situation was one I wanted to rescue her from, plus we were – and are – very much in love.

We’ve known each other since childhood. The story goes that we once shared a playpen while our mothers visited, but neither of us remember that. Sometimes we’re described as childhood sweethearts, which is sort of accurate. In the fifth grade, when I first noticed her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, as I approached an age where such a resemblance was meaningful, she was my girl friend. By the sixth grade we had both moved on.

We were friends in junior high. Barb was an excellent trumpet player and I was a trumpet player, too (note the absence of an adjective before the second “trumpet,” which is what I was – second trumpet). Yes, I was second chair and she was first, and she once humiliated me (quite without malice) when I “challenged” her for her chair. Look, I knew she would wipe the floor with me, but the band director expected it of us all to go after the next chair. Somehow she did not laugh when the band director said to me, “Well, Allan, let’s stop it right there – I lost you on the second page….”

In high school, we went our separate ways – she to band, me to chorus (you had to choose). Our relationship was limited to smiles and nods in the school hallway. She was going with an older boy, a senior. I was going with nobody, not for want of trying. At my first junior-senior prom, my date ditched me. Funny story – I took the same girl to the next prom, and we laughed about winding up together again, though she (like Barb) was going with an older (college) boy.

Prom night 1966, the class had a riverboat ride after the dance – the XL’s with my pal Joe McClean played dances at both the prom and on the riverboat. My band the Daybreakers had their first gig at the after-prom party following the riverboat ride. But, like Vivian in the Antiques books, I digress. Back to the riverboat….

My date somewhere dancing with somebody else, I found Barb leaning against the railing, alone, looking out at the Mississippi gliding by in the moonlight. I think it was misting a little. I joined her and we spoke for maybe five minutes. I don’t remember anything about the conversation, but I do know she was melancholy – I believe she had broken up with her now-college-age boy friend, or anyway her mother had broken them up. We had a very nice conversation, though, and connected, and I do remember wishing she was my date (no offense meant to my actual date, who had ditched me the year before, remember). We connected, briefly, but connected.

We both wound up at Muscatine Community College. Barb’s grandparents had offered their grandchildren funding for two years at MCC, and Barb took them up on it, as did her year-older sister, Ann (very pretty, the Veronica to Barb’s Betty). I had been offered a few football scholarships and a creative writing one at Iowa Wesleyan, where I had won a high school writing competition with a piece about how it felt for us at high school on the day Kennedy was shot. But I turned those down to go to MCC, because I was having a good time with the Daybreakers and wanted to keep the band going.

Meanwhile, a lot of our mutual friends – almost all of them – had gone to college elsewhere. Barb and I were, of our extended crowd, about it. So maybe it was natural we wound up together. Our first date was not a rousing success – it was part of a chorus outing at Wild Cat Den, and Barb has always loved the Great Out of Doors, and I haven’t (and don’t). I remember sitting on a rock high above a beautiful expanse of green with the first browns of fall, saying, “You know what the first thing was that the pioneers did, when they came west?”

“No,” she said.

“They built a cabin and got the hell inside.”

I have always known how to charm beautiful women.

Somehow I got a second date with her. I’m sure I was trying to impress her, babbling about writing and music, but she has reported the moment she fell in love with me as when – in the midst of some self-important discourse – I accidentally stuck my fingers in my water glass at Bishop’s Cafeteria in Davenport, Iowa.

We quickly became that arm-in-arm couple in the school hallway who made everybody else sick. We went out on weekends and frequently were together in the evening. We cut class and went to the nearby Quad Cities to have meals and shop (this is something we still do, although it’s work we escape from, not class). Barb’s mother, who called me a “juvenile delinquent,” did her best to break us up. She dragged Barb off to Arizona when a younger sister needed a change of clime for medical reasons, and this seemed in part calculated to put an end to the Barb-and-Al thing. The trip was truncated, only a few months long (despite Barb having transferred to a Tucson college), and we got serious. Really serious.

I don’t recall, exactly, asking her to marry me. I think we both sort of knew we had to get her out of that house. My parents were very supportive but a little suffocating, as the parents of only children often are, but overall they were great. Barb’s grandparents were great, too, letting us live in their home for the first months of our marriage while they stayed in a summer cottage.

I commuted to Iowa City and the University of Iowa while Barb supported us by working at the First National Bank. She was a stellar performer there and rose to an officer’s position. When I landed the Dick Tracy strip in late ‘77, she left the job – she got a retirement party at age 28! – and went back to school…Iowa Wesleyan, where I had almost gone, though she took most of the classes through MCC.

Then Nathan Collins came along in 1982.

To talk about how Barb has grown and blossomed – in ways I never have – would take a book, not a blog entry. It’s too bad the current generation has made “amazing” and “awesome” meaningless, because Barb is both those things. I truly believe if her husband had been a brain surgeon, she would have picked that up. Though she had no strong interest in writing fiction, or even reading it, she displayed a strong story sense from the start. We always went to a lot of movies, and her analysis of them – their strengths, their weaknesses – was always spot on.

She has been, from the start, my editor. I used to work nights, and would always have a chapter waiting for her in the morning. She continues to be the reader whose reaction is both first and foremost. Back in the Ms. Tree comic book days, when Terry Beatty and I were doing the “Mike Mist” minute mysteries as a filler, I asked her to do rough drafts for me. She did. Then when Terry needed a break from drawing the strip, I asked her to try writing a Mist mystery in prose format. She did.

I remember exactly what I said to her, after reading it.

“This is good,” I said. “A little too goddamn good.”

The thing is, she’s not a natural. She has to work at it, which she does – hard and diligently. She brings her considerable smarts and her willingness to work to a craft that many say they want to master, but don’t, or can’t. Soon she began doing short stories for anthologies edited by the late, so great Marty Greenberg.

Her work was so strong, and well-received, that I encouraged her to try novel writing. We did that together, with Regeneration and Bombshell. Then, at editor Micheala Hamilton’s urging, we tried a proposal for a cozy mystery series. That neither of us read cozies did not stop us.

We’ve done thirteen Antiques novels, which makes fifteen novels. Three times the number Dashiell Hammett published, and more than that piker Raymond Chandler ever managed.

Along the fifty year way, this beautiful, brilliant woman has put up with an egocentric lout with whom you may be familiar. She runs the household, and the business, and the cozy mystery series she co-writes with me is one of the most successful things I’ve ever been associated with. Our union has also produced an incredibly gifted son, who also married a fantastic woman, resulting in the cutest, smartest grandson (Sam) in the history of man. No brag, just fact.

Who can blame me for loving Barb even more today than when I was a fresh-faced punk and she was the most beautiful woman in Puppetland (as Pee Wee Herman described Miss Yvonne)?

For those out there who hate me – and I can hear you sneering – this is what you should hate me for most: the luck, the fantastic crazy luck, that has given me fifty-two years (thus far) with this awesome, amazing woman.

I love you, baby.

* * *

Speaking of the Antiques series, here’s a lovely review of Antiques Wanted.

M.A.C.