Posts Tagged ‘Eliot Ness’

Mike Cornelison 1952-2011

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

I’ve written here before about my friendship and collaboration with Michael Cornelison – who starred in my four indie features, three short films and narrated both of my documentaries – but this weekend I spoke about in public, at the venue where he acted so often, the mainstage of the Des Moines Playhouse. We presented (and filmed) ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE at the Playhouse, but in the “black box” theater downstairs.

My son Nathan and his girl Abby spent the weekend with us, mostly in Des Moines. It was Nate’s 29th birthday and he chose to spend part of at Mike’s wake-like memorial. Nate knew Mike well, having worked on all of those film projects mentioned above. Mike’s son Nick is a very gifted young actor, and Mike was an incredible dad to Nick – and always warm toward Nathan, showing an interest in him that reflected his own positive parenting.


Nathan (and Abby) celebrate his 29th birthday, which he chose to in part celebrate by attending Mike Cornelison’s memorial in Des Moines with his mom and dad.

I won’t repeat what I said on stage, because I have no idea what that was. A few years ago, when Paul Thomas – also one of my best friends, my musical collaborator since 1968 – died unexpectedly, I was asked to speak. Public speaking is no big deal for me; it comes easily, and I always do it extemporaneously. But when I had to speak about Paul, I came unglued. I was washed off the stage in a tidal wave of tears and snot and sobbing, a tough guy just like Nate Heller and Mike Hammer. Sunday night, my goal was to get through speaking about Mike without it dissolving into a sentimental sob fest. I made it. Just barely. Dick Choate, Mike’s good friend and a great actor (and incredibly funny guy), went on before me (there were four speakers) and, presenting a warm, sometimes hilarious tribute to Mike, broke down about half-way through…I turned to Barb and said, “I’m screwed.” Not only was Choate great, he had stirred my own emotions. I figured I would do a repeat of the melting man routine I did for Paul, but I think I managed to serve Mike better.


I speak at Mike Cornelison’s memorial (on stage at the Playhouse in Des Moines) and manage to just get through it without dissolving into a puddle of goo.

Nick had asked me to talk about the man, not the actor, but the truth was, you couldn’t separate them. Mike barely scratched out a living most of his last twenty years (he’d made good money out in Hollywood) but he insisted on making that living, however meager it sometimes was, by exercising his craft and his art. He also wanted to live in Iowa near his son. That was one of the main connections between us – we were, each in our way, professional storytellers who preferred to live in Iowa, to raise our sons there. Being a professional actor working in (and out of) Des Moines is a rough road. But Mike travelled that road bravely and well.

He left behind an incredible body of work. If you are an ‘80s TV fan with DVD sets in your collection, Mike lives in your house. He was a guest star on HUNTER, HILL STREET BLUES, WHITE SHADOW, HARDCASTLE & McCORMACK, DALLAS, REMINGTON STEELE, GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, and a boatload more. He was in a lot of films, too, possibly most memorably as the hotel clerk in LOST IN AMERICA who Albert Brooks hilariously bribed. I think his performance as Mark in MOMMY shows him at the top of his considerable gifts, at what I consider his specialty – the flawed leading man. And when Patty McCormack, who had so enjoyed working with Mike on the MOMMY movies, saw ELIOT NESS, she said, “That Mike…what a wonderful actor.” As you might guess, Patty is no pushover where it comes to rating actors.


At Mike Cornelison’s memorial (actually a celebration of his life) with his actor son Nick and two of Mike’s best friends (and very talented actors themselves), Richard Choate and Greg Anderson. Greg was there when Mike and I wrote our first (unproduced) screen treatment together in my house on Lord Avenue in Muscatine.

It just goes on and on, the body of work he created (some of it ephemeral, because he loved the stage above all else). His last major project with me was playing Pat Chambers to Stacy Keach on the two NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER audio novels – hearing of Mike’s passing, Stacy said to me, “He was a fine Pat Chambers.” For those of you interested enough in my work to read this update, you know what that simple tribute means.

There is perhaps no greater joy in the creative process than working with a talented artist who you admire and to then receive admiration and devotion in return. His nickname for me was “Captain.” If Captain Chambers considers me his equal, I am a happy man. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to finally break the fuck down….

M.A.C.


The lovely picture of Mike during the production of the one-man show DARROW, which preceded ELIOT NESS by a few months.

Eliot Ness, Pat Chambers, R.I.P.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Someone on my Facebook page suggested that at my age I shouldn’t be surprised by the passings of friends. But I have lost two of my best friends, both artistic collaborators, in under a week. It feels like the Apocalypse, one drop at a time. We joined Chuck Bunn’s family and friends Sunday afternoon for a celebration of his life…a lovely event, really, but for me it was in the shadow of a second death, the day before.

Michael Cornelison was my friend. No question. But beyond that, he played such a key role in my adventures in indie filmmaking that it’s hard to imagine ever making another film without him. He co-starred with Patty McCormack in both “Mommy” films (playing two different parts, disappearing into each so completely that few viewers noticed he was in both films…in lead roles!). He was the cop lead in “Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market.” He starred in three award-winning short films of mine, and he narrated both “Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop” and “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.” His last stage appearance, earlier this year, co-starring with his talented son Nick, was in a five-minute play I wrote for a Des Moines competition (we were the judges’ pick the first of two nights). He played Captain Pat Chambers to Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer in the Audie-winning “The Little Death” and in this year’s “Encore for Murder.” And of course he was the star of the one-man show “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life,” which Phil Dingeldein and I preserved as an HD film.

That merely speaks to my collaborations with Mike. In the ‘70s and ‘80s he was in Hollywood, where he starred in three pilots, was a guest star on many major shows (including but not limited to HILL STREET BLUES, WHITE SHADOW, BJ AND THE BEAR, DALLAS, REMINGTON STEELE, KNOTS LANDING, HUNTER and, in a recurring role, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO), and appeared in numerous films, notably MY FATHER’S HOUSE with Cliff Robertson, WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM with Bill Murray and LOST IN AMERICA with Albert Brooks. In high school he landed a role in Norman Lear’s COLD TURKEY with Dick Van Dyke, and in his later years was a staple of indie film in Iowa (a nice role in THE FINAL SEASON, for instance) and was damn near the bedrock of Des Moines theater. He essentially discovered writer/director Frank Darabont when they collaborated on the short Stephen King film WOMAN IN THE ROOM, which went to home video as part of the NIGHTSHIFT collection and sparked Darabont’s filmmaking career. Additionally, Mike was one of the movers and shakers (writing, acting, directing) behind the legendary old-fashioned radio drama show out of Des Moines, REJECTION SLIP THEATER, which ran for ten years on WHO and was covered on NBC’s TODAY SHOW.

Mike left a body of work as a working actor that would be impressive even if he hadn’t mostly operated out of his home state. I met him in the mid-‘70s when he was acting opposite my sister-in-law Kathe Mull at Charlie’s Showplace in Des Moines. I had used Charlie’s as a pattern for a theater in QUARRY’S DEAL, and Mike had read that, got a kick out of it, apparently dug my writing, and we became friends. Shortly after that he was off to California for almost a decade. When he returned, he began nudging me toward indie filmmaking. We developed several potential indie films (check out my story “Firecracker Kill” for one of them), way way way ahead of the curve. Finally “Mommy” turned our dreams into reality. He was my right arm as well as my lead actor on all my productions. He was child actress Rachel Lemieux’s dialogue coach, for example, on “Mommy.” But most of all, as Patty McCormack said: “He is such a wonderful actor.”

This does not touch on the many visits and phone calls where we talked not just shop but our abiding love in pop culture. He was a jazz guy and I rock ‘n’ roll, but we coincided everywhere else. We would talk James Bond and MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. We would talk Tarzan and WILD, WILD WEST. We would talk about obscure TV shows of our youth like T.H.E. CAT and JOHNNY STACCATO. He would tell me about his actor friends, mentor Robert Lansing and roommate Peter Weller. I would rhapsodize about Mickey Spillane and he would share his love for Doc Savage.

He lived the life he wanted to live. He had a substance abuse flirtation in Hollywood but threw it off like a coat gone out of fashion (that may be in part why he moved back to Iowa – we never spoke directly of it). He was a “gentleman drinker” (as he put it) until he was told quit or die – he quit, but he continued smoking and his eating habits would have killed me long, long ago. He was at once selfish child and generous grown-up (perhaps that was why we bonded so), and a caring, sweet friend who (again, perhaps why we bonded) operated off of an engine of enthusiasm.

In his prime, he was a leading man (“Mommy” caught that) who should have been very famous and successful. I often told him he was the kind of leading man I most admire – the really good-looking guy who has a twinkle of humor and a wellspring of intelligence, masculine but not macho. Think James Garner or Paul Gross. With a break or two, he could have been so much more than he was, and yet what he accomplished is almost mind-boggling…and mostly from Iowa.

He called me the night he summoned an ambulance. The liver problem that he’d been told meant he’d die in ten years – eighteen years ago – had finally caught up with him. While he waited for the ambulance, he thanked me for my friendship and support and told me he loved me. I told him I loved him, too. We talked for about forty-five minutes.

Then the ambulance came.

UPDATE

This weekend Barb and I attended the GLIBA event in Dearborn, Michigan – Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. I spoke at the Saturday night banquet (as did Christopher Moore and Luis Alberto Urrea, both great guys). I only had fifteen minutes, so I took a risk and just opened it up for questions – with Barb as a shill in the audience to pick up the slack if the audience members were shy. I think it went well. I was there to talk about BYE BYE, BABY and the upcoming TARGET LANCER. Some good if sometimes tense conversations with indie booksellers flowed out of their concerns (and frankly resentment and hostilities) over e-books in general and Amazon in particular, and of course I’m being reprinted by AmazonEncore, so some view me as sleeping with the enemy. But the conversations were constructive, and a step in the right direction.

We also had a lovely luncheon with my pal Brad Schwartz and his great parents. Brad is a senior in college now and working on a very exciting Orson Welles project – the “Ness kid” has come a long way! Speaking of which, just hours after our luncheon, Brad was the first fan I heard from about the death of Mike Cornelison – he and his parents had driven from Ann Arbor to Des Moines to see the play, “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life.” Brad is a Ness buff and considers Mike’s Ness the best of all. So do I.

Here’s what the Des Moines Register had to say about Mike.

QUARRY’S EX got some major love on the net this week. This particular review has been picked up all over the place.

And here’s a Playlist double-feature review of both QUARRY’S EX and THE CONSUMMATA.

Here’s another fun CONSUMMATA review.

Both QUARRY’S EX and THE CONSUMMATA are reviewed here, the former a rave, the latter less so but not a pan by any means.

Finally, Tom Piccirilli’s blog has some nice things to say about CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

M.A.C.

Bang Bang

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

J. Kingston Pierce over at the great Rap Sheet site has a fun discussion (with plenty of comments, including from me) about the relative merits of the USA and UK covers of THE BIG BANG, the second Spillane/Collins “Mike Hammer” collaboration. But the key piece of news here is that THE BIG BANG trade paperback is out this week, and if you didn’t pick up the hardcover, now’s your chance to get the Best Private Eye Novel of the Year (according to Sons of Spade).

Big Bang Paperback

Another book that’s out is the TOP SUSPENSE anthology, designed to be an e-book but also available in a very nice trade paperback, too. Here’s the pitch:

Don’t forget the blistering anthology TOP SUSPENSE is now available for $2.99 on Kindle and a mere $11.99 in trade paperback. Our authors at the peak of their powers in thirteen unforgettable tales. This pulse-pounding anthology – packed full of cold-blooded killers, erotic tension, shady private eyes, craven drug dealers, vicious betrayals, crafty thieves, and shocking twists – is only a taste of the thrills you will find in the breathtakingly original ebooks by these authors at www.topsuspensegroup.com.

So sit back, bite down on a piece of strong leather, and prepare to get hit by some gale-force suspense and writing so sharp it will draw blood.

CLICK TO BUY YOUR COPY NOW!

Top Suspense includes:

Unreasonable Doubt by Max Allan Collins
Death’s Brother by Bill Crider
Poisoned by Stephen Gallagher
Remaindered by Lee Goldberg
Fire in the Sky by Joel Goldman
The Baby Store by Ed Gorman
The Jade Elephant by Libby Fischer HellmannThe Big O by Vicki Hendricks
The Chirashi Covenant by Naomi Hirahara
El Valiente en el Infierno by Paul Levine
A Handful of Dust by Harry Shannon
The Canary by Dave Zeltserman
The Chase by Top Suspense Group

Press release over, and M.A.C. back again: this is a terrific bunch of writers, all of whom have work well worth sampling, making this a worthwhile purchase (the e-book price is damn near a gift). Several of the Top Suspense Group writers are good friends of mine, but one is among my best friends – Ed Gorman. This week Ed was nice enough to give my Eliot Ness series a push (and me in general). If you haven’t read Ed’s work yet, you are missing one of the great contemporary voices in crime fiction – funny, wry, sad, innately Midwestern.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece about Ed that I wrote a while back, dealing in part with the notion some people had (early in Ed’s mystery-writing career) that he was a penname of mine – a mistake that arose because (a) Ed is an Iowan but never attends conventions and rarely does book signings, and (b) there are at least superficial similarities in our style and approach:

I am proud to have Ed Gorman’s writing mistaken for mine – having him viewed for a time as the Ed McBain to my Evan Hunter was pretty cool, actually. And, for years, when I would tell people that I had, no kidding, really met Ed Gorman, multiple times, it all seemed to be part of my master plan to put this pen name across.

Of course, this mistaken identity couldn’t last – Ed Gorman is too distinctive a writer, with a laconic, wry voice that is his alone, whether in first- or third-person. But it was fun while it lasted….

Ed’s distinctive voice and style are an outgrowth of his interests. He is an endless resource of arcane information and informed opinion about popular storytelling in the 20th Century. That’s why I spent so many hours on the phone with him – we could do half an hour on why Rex Stout was, line for the line, the best wordsmith of all; forty-five minutes on why we both loved Hammett and Chandler but considered the former superior; or an hour on why certain highly regarded crime writers of our day were worthy of Emperor’s New Clothes awards. It’s Ed’s ability to analyze what works in the fiction he reads that has made him such a skillful writer himself.

No writer of the late 20th and early 21st century has mastered so many genres – Ed is equally adept at mystery, crime, horror, science fiction and western. He is a screenwriter and a columnist. He respects and understands these genres and forms, much as he respects and understands his job as a professional storyteller.

Read more about Ed Gorman here (cue the NBC “More you know logo”):

http://topsuspensegroup.com/authors/ed_gorman.php

M.A.C.

The Big Year

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this will be a big year for me, and for my collaborators Barb, Matt and Mickey.

Some of this has to do with publishers holding onto books a while before publishing; some of what is seemingly a big output has to do with my working with those gifted collaborators I just mentioned. My big fear is that some of this work – all of which, I think, finds us at the top of our collective game – may slip through the cracks. Those of you who follow these updates are encouraged (well, actually I’m begging) to support this stuff, and tell your friends, write about the stuff on blogs, and post Amazon and Barnes & Noble reviews.

Encore for Murder

Writers who are at all prolific suffer – we “grind” out and “crank” out books. People who use that kind of phrase really don’t know much at all about writing. But expect to hear that sort of thing said about me this year. Now, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business is okay. That’s fine. I am still rock ‘n’ rolling, after all.

This week we are sharing with you the first look at the terrific cover of THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 3: ENCORE FOR MURDER. This was about as fun and rewarding a project as you could imagine. Working with actors like Stacy Keach, Tim Kazurinsky, David Pasquale, and Mike Cornelison is a dream come true. As I’ve mentioned before, Tim is one of my favorite Second City/SNL talents, and Pasquesi is a great stand-up who shared the stage with Jeff Garlin and Fred Willard at the Second City Reunion last year. And Mike Cornelison is probably the best Pat Chambers ever. The previous Hammer audio, THE LITTLE DEATH, was adapted from a screenplay; but ENCORE FOR MURDER was written specifically for the audio novel format, and I’m really proud of it. Like Sinatra said after listening to a playback, “If you don’t like that, you don’t like ice cream.”

Also coming up in the Big Year are:

ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF, Kensington hardcover, March. Both Barb and I think this is the best of the Antiques novels, both in terms of mystery and funny, and it presents a conclusion to the story arc of the first five books. Best cover we’ve snagged.

NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU, also Kensington but a paperback, and also March. This is the second J.C. Harrow novel by Matt Clemens and me, and we both think it’s superior to the first one (which was well-received, and which we like, but there was room to improve…and we did). It’s a satire on reality TV and features two really scary serial killers. We went for broke on this one. Frankly, if this doesn’t do well, there won’t be another. Please support this one. Here’s an idea: buy thousands, go up in a plane, and dump them over your town. Just a thought.

KISS HER GOODBYE, Harcourt “Otto Penzler” hardcover, May. This was a particularly strong unfinished manuscript from Mickey, circa 1975, and I am hugely happy with the results. I think it’s at least as good as THE BIG BANG. I had great material to work with. Thanks, Mick!

BYE BYE, BABY, Forge, hardcover, August. The first Nate Heller novel in ten years. This was delivered in 2009, and faces the clutter of the other M.A.C. novels out there this year. Marilyn’s murder, solved. Find out what really happened, and see if Heller at age 58 is any less violent or randy than he was back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. (Hint: he hasn’t mellowed.)

QUARRY’S EX, Hard Case Crime, trade paperback, August. Postponed from last year. Made some “best book of the year” lists in 2010 without being published. Good trick, even for Quarry.

THE CONSUMMATA, Hard Case Crime, trade paperback, October. The long-awaited sequel to THE DELTA FACTOR by Mickey with me batting clean up. Cubans, bondage, and Robert McGinnis!

RETURN TO PERDITION, DC Vertigo hardcover, October. Graphic novel. The final chapter in the PERDITION saga, with MS. TREE artist Terry Beatty coming on board. This may not be the final PERDITION novel or even graphic novel, but it is guaranteed the last chronologically. Terry is doing his best work.

In addition, I am close to signing an agreement that will bring all of the Nate Heller books back out in trade paperback and e-book, including two new collections of short stories and novellas. The Ness novels are already out, as are the early Quarrys (though not yet on e-book), and likely Nolan will be next. Also, trade paperbacks of the Barbara/Max Collins collaborations REGENERATION and BOMBSHELL are on the horizon (with e-books), as well as short story collections of both authors. Look for Barb/Max titles to appear as “Barbara Allan” works.

After our exchange of views on his review of an early Quarry novel, David Rachels asked me to contribute to his regular feature “Five Quick Questions” at his always interesting Noirboiled site. Despite the brevity of the format, some new things came up. And David, who teaches Japanese lit, e-mailed to say he had ordered Nate’s book, SUMMER, FIREWORKS & MY CORPSE!

Both QUARRY’S EX and THE CONSUMMATA are nicely showcased in the latest news release from Charles Ardai about the return of Hard Case Crime. It appeared lots of places, but this link takes you (appropriately enough) to the Violent World of Parker site.

Similarly, the news release about the e-book-oriented Top Suspense Group (of which I’m a member) got wide cyber attention, but here it is at my pal (and fellow TSG member) Lee Goldberg’s great website.

Jeff Pierce of Rap Sheet fame has a wonderful site about sexy covers of tough mysteries, and he went nicely nuts over the McGinnis cover of THE CONSUMMATA.

Did I mention that 2011 is my 40th anniversary in the writing game? BAIT MONEY sold in December 1971.

M.A.C.