An Old White Man Reflects

June 25th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

My band Crusin’ had its first gig of our season (which is mostly summer). Though we were well-rehearsed, we were rusty and it mostly served as a reminder of the things we need to do prepping for next week’s Ice Cream Social at the Muscatine Art Center (a fantastic facility). Read about that upcoming event here.

The event Saturday afternoon at the Village of Seaton in Illinois was pleasant but windy – outdoor gigs always have a downside – and the people were very nice. Right now we only have five gigs scheduled for 2019 and, while I will always consider offers, we really aren’t looking for any more.

We only played two hours but I admit to being tired at the end of the gig (loading in, loading out, setting up, tearing down, loading out, heading home, unloading – all adds to the tiredness for a 71-year-old rock and roller…and I’m not the oldest one in the band) (right, Bill?).

So I have a real sense that this is probably my last summer gigging, although I plan to do a new CD (“album” in old fart-speak) this winter and do a handful of gigs in the summer of 2020 promoting it. We have been working on the original material, but our bass player, Brian Van Winkle, is dealing with a health situation at home (his wife Lisa broke two legs!), so the CD project has been postponed. Also, we have had to cancel a gig at Arnolds Park. Maybe next year.

Another upcoming gig is at the Missipi Brewing Company in Muscatine on July 4. We start at 6 pm and play till the fireworks start.

* * *

I am going to talk briefly about something and will do my best not to turn it into a rant. But as a Democrat, I was angered by the treatment Joe Biden got from some of those running against him. Several smelled blood in the water and got all self-righteous, losing my respect and interest.

Biden is not necessarily my choice – I am still, to a degree, shopping…though the cynical candidates who attacked Biden have fallen off my shopping list. Still, he’s a credible opponent to go up against Trump. I also like Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, who were critical of freewheeling Joe but in an even-handed way. The popularity of Mayor Pete shows Democrats not understanding that the Heartland still has a nasty streak of homophobia in its blood (his problem with a shooting in South Bend will be another factor). But it’s early. I do wish the field would quickly narrow to half a dozen.

What struck me – personally – is the increasing contempt for old white men. This is particularly grating considering how the young left is adamant that everybody else be respected. But ageism is okay. And so is sexism, as long as it’s aimed at old white men.

Look, hating everybody over thirty is nothing new. I had plenty of contempt for older people when I was young (as Eric Burden said). Each generation seems to think theirs is where the human race has been headed all these years – finally evolving into perfection of thought and attitude. I have lived long enough to see that the Woodstock generation wasn’t any better than my dad and mom’s – we were worse, really, because that crowd weathered the Depression and the Second World War. Yes, some of us went to Vietnam and that was no fucking picnic; but most, like me, managed not to.

What we have today is a disturbing hypocrisy. Everybody has to be respected except old white men. Hey, I have contempt for plenty of old white men, and I am frequently an idiot myself, though I suspect age has little to do with it (being white does). But somebody like Biden, who has given his life to public service, shouldn’t be beaten up for his attitudes in, say, 1980 not lining up with a Millennial’s attitudes in 2019.

I only wish I could live long enough to see this enlightened generation get kicked in the ass by the next bunch. On the other hand, we are leaving them a world that will punish them far worse than the next generation ever could. Climate change alone gives them a right to be pissed off.

I admit that some of the reviews for The Girl Most Likely have gotten me thinking about this subject. Somebody asked me at the Centuries and Sleuths signing why I paid attention to reviews, particularly the Amazon ones.

I haven’t read any Amazon reviews for Girl since after the first month, though I do search each week for blogs and review columns about all of my stuff (you’ve seen me provide the links). The thing is, Amazon – or rather Thomas & Mercer, my publisher there – pay attention to those reviews. So it does affect my ability to keep going.

If you’re not in the upper reaches – like Stephen King or Harlan Coben or Mary Higgins Clark – a fiction writer is a freelancer, depending on gigs. So reviews count. That’s why I provide advance reading copies here from time to time. And you thought it was because I was such a nice guy!

I admit I don’t understand why a handful of negative reviews are taken seriously when the positive ones don’t seem to be (Girl stands at a 4-star average right now with 100-some reviews). But to some degree I’ve been up against young women who obviously resent an old white man writing about, yes, a young woman; and also a handful of nasty responses from male readers (damn these old white men!) who are furious that I wrote about normal people this time, and not the anti-hero likes of Quarry or Mike Hammer or Nate Heller.

I share these thoughts so that you, the readers who care enough about what I’m doing to check in here, might understand what kind of waters I’m navigating.

Old white men have lived an unquestionably entitled existence. But many of us have also worked hard over our lifetimes, usually partnered with a good woman (or another good man), to give our children and our society the benefit of our efforts.

On the other hand, Joe Biden needs to take care. Looking back at how he got things done in a world of racists may seem like a good thing to talk about, but not in this climate.

And, Joe – don’t hug anybody, either.

M.A.C.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Shaft

June 18th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

I bought Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft in 1970 at Iowa Book & Supply in Iowa City, on my way to class at the University of Iowa. I bought the first edition hardcover primarily because its black private eye hero was described in the jacket copy as making “Mike Hammer look like a sissy.”

When the film Shaft came out in 1971, Barb and I were there. We were perhaps unlikely fans of blaxploitation movies (then in their earliest stages), but we went to scads of the things, from Cotton Comes to Harlem to Coffy, from Slaughter to Super Fly.

For us, Shaft topped them all, due to the perfect marriage of the opening Isaac Hayes theme, Richard Roundtree’s charismatic performance, and Gordon Parks’ gritty, location-heavy direction. The follow-up, Shaft’s Big Score, wasn’t as good, but the finale was incredible, with John Shaft chased through an industrial landscape by a swooping helicopter. For some reason, the third entry, Shaft in Africa, didn’t make it to many theaters, and we didn’t see it until home video years later; but it turned out to be the best of the three. Unsung hero of the series was producer and Africa screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, the genius behind TV’s Route 66 and Naked City.

Shaft came to TV in one of those rotating anthology “wheels” (like the one that included Columbo and McCloud), but after seven TV movies the series was cancelled, though ratings had been good. The show got a lot of criticism for lacking the grit of the films, but looking at them years later, they seem pretty good (and I liked them at the time), with Roundtree great and the Hayes theme in play. They are available from Warner Archives as a boxed DVD set.

Warner Archives also just released Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa on blu-ray for the first time (the original Shaft has been available on blu-ray for several years), both as individual discs and in a three-disc set of all three features. I had long hoped for this kind of blu-ray release and it doesn’t disappoint. I have not revisited the 2000 Shaft with Samuel Jackson as the nephew of the original, played again by Roundtree. I will get around to seeing it again, but remember finding it just passable.

Now there’s a fifth Shaft film, and guess what? The critics hate it, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Seems the elder two Shafts (a young Millennial Shaft is the actual protagonist) strike them as politically incorrect, gun-loving louts, misogynist and violent. But the audience reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

There’s a reason audiences responded so favorably – it’s a terrific picture. I was in that joyous state I so seldom find myself in, these days, in movie theaters: I was a pig in shit. A lot of advance (pre-anybody seeing it) criticism has been thrown at the new Shaft on Facebook and elsewhere, for being a comedy and for not using the iconic Isaac Hayes theme. On Facebook, the question was posed indignantly: What kind of Shaft movie doesn’t have the Isaac Hayes theme? Many Facebook experts agreed that all real Shaft movies have that theme.

Of course, someone – I believe it was me – weighed in to point out that Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa, two of the original three films, also didn’t have the Hayes theme. Now that I’ve seen the new Shaft, I realize the theme is used a lot – just minus the Isaac Hayes vocal. But the wah-wah pedal-driven theme is used beautifully, when real Shaft-like stuff kicks in, like Jackson walking down a ghetto street, gun in hand, ready to kick drug dealer ass.

I pity the fools (as someone once said) who cannot enjoy this knowingly politically incorrect salute to the original film and its cinematic era. Roundtree doesn’t enter till act three, but he does so with a bang – a number of them. He’s wonderful.

But so is Jackson, much better than he’s been lately in some of his projects, spurred on this time by good material. Jessie Usher is winning as John Shaft, Jr., and the generational interplay between him and Jackson is funny and even at times touching. Director/co-screenwriter Tim Story does a fine job with both his actors and his action scenes.

As for this being a comedy, no – it’s a crime flick with comedy, not even tongue-in-cheek, although it does have an awareness of its absurdity. A scene in an Uber while Jackson tries to explain the film’s convoluted plot to Usher, getting interrupted by a chatty driver, is amusing proof of that. So is Roundtree’s throwaway reference to being called Jackson’s uncle, not father, in the 2000 Shaft.

The original novels by French Connection creator Ernest Tidyman are an odd but worthwhile bunch. Tidyman wrote the first three – Shaft, Shaft Among the Jews and Shaft’s Big Score – while the remaining books employed ghosts who worked from Tidyman’s outlines, with Tidyman apparently doing final drafts.

In my view, Tidyman screwed up Shaft’s potential as a long-running series character by utilizing two different ghosts and not doing all (or anyway most of) the work himself. The final book, in which he rather rudely and unnecessarily kills Shaft off, The Last Shaft, appeared only in England and remains difficult to find. Took me years, and I had begun to think the similarly titled, Goodbye, Mr. Shaft, was the same book.

Author David Walker has picked up the series in both prose and graphic novel from, doing so with respect and skill.

Also of note is The World of Shaft by Steve Aldous, with a Walker foreword. It’s from McFarland, so it’s pricey, but it’s a wonderful book. McFarland has a 25% off sale going right now, so it’s a good time to buy The World of Shaft…and Mickey Spillane on Screen. [Note from Nate: Here’s a link to The World of Shaft and another for Spillane on Screen. Enter code ANN2019 at checkout for 25% off.]

By all means, if you liked the Richard Roundtree Shaft, ignore the idiotic, easily offended critics and have a good time with this funny, exciting tribute to blacksploitation of yore.

* * *

The audio of the new Caleb York, Last Stage to Hell Junction, is beautifully performed by Jack Garrett, whose range of voices is just perfect. I have been lucky to have solid narrators on this series so far, and Garrett continues my lucky streak.

And the book itself has received a wonderful review from Bookgasm. Check it out!

M.A.C.

Centuries & Sleuths Rules!

June 11th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

The signing at Centuries & Sleuths on Sunday afternoon was a lot of fun. Not a big group, but dedicated fans – familiar faces plus a couple who drove 3 ½ hours to see me. As Judy Tenuta says, it could happen.

The occasion was Antiques Ravin’ by Barbara Allan and everybody bought a copy. Barb was charming and funny, and I blathered as usual. Lots of good questions, though, and a young woman impressed me with her knowledge of and interest in hardboiled fiction. How wonderful to find a Millennial female who is a fan of Mike Hammer and loves Velda.

Other fans encouraged me to keep writing Hammer, and I assured them that I had another half dozen books I could write from Spillane material.


M.A.C. and longtime fan Mike Doran

I am writing this Sunday night. Monday Brad Schwartz and I will go to WGN-TV to be interviewed by Larry Potash about E.J. O’Hare, the Capone Outfit crony whose son O’Hare Airport is named for. It’s part of promoting the trade paperback of Scarface and the Untouchable, which was just published. As you may recall, it has additional new material that wasn’t in the hardcover, and a few corrections have been made as well.

Brad appeared at the Printer’s Row book expo on Sunday while Barb and I (Barbara Allan, remember?) did the signing and talk at Centuries and Sleuths.

I do precious few bookstore appearances these days, but Centuries and Sleuths, with its emphasis on history and mystery is special, as are Augie and his wife Tracy Alesky, the owners of the cozy but book-packed shop.


M.A.C. and Augie

Barb and Tracy

Bob Goldsborough showed up, before Barb and I did our talk, to get some books signed by me, and by him to me, as well. He is doing a fantastic job continuing the Nero Wolfe series, and we make an obnoxious mutual admiration society.

* * *

Here’s a terrific review of Last Stage to Hell Junction.

M.A.C.

An Anniversary and a Passing

June 4th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

I celebrated 51 years of marriage to Barbara Jane (Mull) Collins this weekend. The weather was lovely and we had a wonderful time together, which included delicious meals, walks in the sun, the new Godzilla movie, and a successful search for a summer wardrobe for yrs truly. Other details are too intimate to share, but let me say…if I could marry this woman a second time, I would.

I am burying the lede (I hate spelling it that way!), but Barb and I, in our Barbara Allan mode, will be appearing for Antiques Ravin’ at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, Illinois, at 2 pm on Sunday June 9. That’s at 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130. The phone there is 708-771-7243. Centuries and Sleuths specializes in history and mystery, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we love it.

* * *

The great portrait artist, Everett Raymond Kinstler, had died at 92 – a long life well-lived. To me, and many others in the world of comics, his portraiture is overshadowed by his early work for the pulps, paperback covers and comic books.

Some of what follows is drawn from my introduction to the Hermes Press collection of pre-Disney Zorro comics.

Several decades ago, when I was just beginning to write the Dick Tracy comic strip, I wrote Everett Raymond Kinstler a fan letter about his Zorro comics. He wrote back, astonished that anyone was still interested in such ancient work, and invited me to join him in his studio at the fabled Player’s Club on my next visit to New York.

I did. He was gracious and friendly, the studio exactly what you’d expect, a high-ceilinged, sunlight-streaming space. He was working on a John Wayne portrait, and I was just becoming aware of what a very big deal this artist was, painter of movie stars and presidents. But what pleased me most was how fond he was – how enthusiastic he remained – about his brief tenure on Zorro. He clearly felt it was his best work in comics.

He was warm and lively and not at all patronizing. He gave me a lovely original that still hangs in my office – the inside front cover of a ‘50s crime comic book (he also gave me a signed copy of his book on painting portraits with a drawing on the flyleaf). I also have a Classics Illustrated page that I bought from Heritage for a relative song a few years ago (pictured here).

As the years have passed, this much-respected artist never shied away from or downplayed his formative years in the pulps and in comics, and that in itself makes him a remarkable man.

I spoke with him maybe ten years ago at a San Diego Comic Con and we caught up. I’ve received lovely Christmas cards from him over the years, and he was very happy that I had managed to get his Zorro art collected in book form by Hermes Press.

Look, this guy encountered – and painted – many of the great figures of the Twentieth Century. And yet he had not a particle of snobbery in his make-up. He loved having worked in the comics.

The book to get about this great man and great artist is Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture – 1942-1962. It’s a hundred bucks at Amazon but Bud’s Art Books has it at bargain prices ($30 for the hardcover, $15 for the trade paperback!). Order it here, but move quickly.

But you should also track down Zorro: The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics from Hermes Press, which I introduced and edited. It’s out of print and somewhat pricey, but ebay has a couple of copies for around fifty bucks.

Read about Ray Kinstler and see some examples of his work here.

Read one of his great Zorro stories here.

I’ve lost another hero, but if I could live that long, and continue to work at my peak as Ray did, I would be content.

* * *

Here’s an interesting, insightful review of my 1976 novel, Quarry (actually written around 1972).

And, finally, Ron Fortier has reviewed the splendid trade paperback from Brash Books of Black Hats.

M.A.C.

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