Posts Tagged ‘Encore for Murder’

Better Late Than…

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

A terrific QUARRY’S EX review came in from Daniel Luft – very insightful and a real pleasure to read. Too bad the book didn’t come out last month as promised. On the other hand, and I can say no more, it looks like EX really will be out some time next year…possibly a year late, but…

Mystery File shared two Top 100 Lists by top-notch fan/critics, dating to 1993. I don’t remember this – maybe never saw it – but both lists have Nate Heller novels on ‘em. As you know, I despise such lists…unless I am included. In which case their validity is unquestionable.

I do wonder, when I see such lists, just how much tastes-of-the-moment are in play. In 1993, STOLEN AWAY was getting a lot of attention, rave reviews, a Shamus nod, etc. There hasn’t been a Heller since 2001, so I wonder how many lists today would fail to include one of those novels. We’ll see if BYE BYE, BABY gets Heller back on the radar.

Blood Money NEL EditionThere’s a very interesting look from a UK site about the first two Nolan novels and how they were published with very cool Dali-esque covers over there. If you’ve never seen these covers, it’s worth a trip (to the site, not the UK) (but I’m always up for a UK trip). I left a couple of comments that you may find of interest.

Barb and I listened to a rough cut of the new Mike Hammer audio novel (THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 3: ENCORE FOR MURDER) in the car on a Chicago getaway this weekend. Producer/director Carl Amari did a great job, with Stacy Keach just batting that ball out of the park as his signature character. But the rest of the cast is terrific, too – with Mike Cornelison as Pat Chambers (in my opinion, the best Chambers ever), Tim Kazurinsky as a Broadway producer, and all kinds of Chicago talent. This will be out next March. By the way, I play a role in ENCORE FOR MURDER – a small but significant one – and I got the best review possible from Barb: she didn’t realize it was me! This either shows that I did an incredible acting job, or that I don’t make much of an impression, even when you live with me for 40 years.

Also on the trip, we listened to the second pass on the new Crusin CD – CRUSIN’ LIVE – ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HAPPENED – and after just one tiny tweak, we’ll be ready to press the suckers. I’m doing about 100 copies for promo purposes, and a limited edition available here at the site – these will probably be given away “free” when you purchase another item (TBD). This is not a national release because it’s designed to show potential clients what the band sounds like, and includes covers of material that we can’t afford to license. We may be able to offer downloads of the original songs from the album (there are seven, including a blistering “Psychedelic Siren,” first live recording of that we’ve ever issued).

While in the Chicago area, I saw Nate’s book SUMMER, FIREWORKS & MY CORPSE in the science-fiction/fantasy section of Borders! He has arrived!

I would like to mention two of my favorite writers, briefly. First, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for the Facebook film THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a stunner – beautifully constructed and the dialogue crackles. Don’t miss this film.

Second, we lost Stephen Cannell last week. He did a lot of TV in recent years that I didn’t care about (starting around A-TEAM time), and I have never been able to get into his novels. But he remains one of my handful of favorite TV writers (Sorkin being another). He gave us ROCKFORD FILES, TENSPEED AND BROWNSHOE, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO (Mike Cornelison had a recurring role!), and RICHIE BROCKELMAN, PRIVATE EYE. Most important to me, he and Roy Huggins (my other favorite TV writer) came up with CITY OF ANGELS. That’s my favorite private eye show of all time, and I owe Cannell, Huggins and actor Wayne Rogers a huge debt – Nate Heller is their bastard offspring. I never met Cannell, but not long ago I sent him a foreign movie poster of a film version of the three-part ANGELS pilot, “The November Plan,” asking that he signed it. He did, and I will treasure it.

M.A.C.

Encore For Murder

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

MAC and Stacy Keach @ Encore For Murder recording
M.A.C. and Stacy Keach at the recording of “Encore For Murder”

On Sunday May 30, I had the pleasure of working with a highly professional group who assembled to bring my Mike Hammer script “Encore for Murder” to life. Under the leadership of producer/director Carl Amari, this second “audio novel” for the Blackstone Audio series THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER again stars Stacy Keach in his signature role as Mickey Spillane’s famous private eye.

“Encore for Murder” will be volume three in the series. The first volume comprised two shorter Hammer cases (not written by me). The second, “The Little Death,” was the first conceived as an audio novel, and was my first contribution to the series, based on a short story by Mickey. This third volume is another long-form play in the classic radio format – full-cast – and is an original Hammer novel developed by me from a one-page outline in Mickey’s files. It will likely run nearly three hours.

The experience was about as creatively satisfying as they come. The studio was intimate, very warm and conducive to collaboration. The cast was smaller than the one for “The Little Death,” and that turned out to be a plus. The way the studio is set up, the sound techs, the creative team (director and writer), and the actors waiting for their turn at the mic, all sit in a lounge-like area facing the glassed-in soundproofed recording booth. Last time, the actors were kept in a sort of green room/holding area, and brought one-at-a-time-as-needed into a small, modern studio – very efficient and professional, but lacking the warmth and interactivity of this set-up.

I don’t have a cast list handy, but what a talented group they were, with several impressive names – in addition to Stacy, we had my frequent actor-of-choice Mike Cornelison as Pat Chambers, with Second City/SNL legend Tim Kazurinsky helming the major “guest star” role and popular comedian/actor David Pasquesi as the key bad guy. David appeared at the Second City reunion with his pal Jeff Garlin (and Fred Willard). Pasquesi plays a young mob boss and was incredible – both funny and scary. But the entire cast delivered and then some.

I had specifically requested Tim and David, and Carl Amari delivered them – and on a holiday weekend yet!

It’s almost impossible to overstate Stacy Keach’s contribution. We worked a very, very long day – Stacy was at the mic from 10 a.m. till almost 7 p.m. with only a couple of breaks. It was inspiring and damn near unbelievable. What a great actor, and really incredibly nice man. As Mike Cornelison said, “Stacy is who would all want to be when we grow up.”

There’s still lots of work to be done – Stacy has the voiceovers to record (and that’s about one-third of the script), which he’ll do back in LA. Stacy is also composing the music, and has delivered something like 10 CD’s of original music and isn’t done yet. There’s lots of editing to do, sound effects to add, and so on. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER Vol. 3: ENCORE FOR MURDER should be out before Christmas.

I am very proud of “The Little Death,” but I have feeling “Encore for Murder” is going to raise the bar much higher. I’m very grateful to the players for being so complimentary about my screenplay. Stacy said I’d provided him with the best Hammer voiceover he’d ever got. That’s the kind of compliment a writer dreams of.

These are great people. I came away feeling like we’d shot an entire movie in a day, and with the same warmth and camaraderie that usually only accompanies the long time put in on a film.

I have a couple of pictures to share. Unfortunately I can’t label the cast pic of “Encore for Murder” person by person (I’m the guy Cornelison is trying hard to block).

Encore For Murder Cast

By the way, Barbara Jane Mull married Max Allan Collins, Jr., on June 1, 1968. Why she did that, I’ll never know…but it’s the one thing in my life I really got right.

M.A.C.

Still Offensive After All These Years

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Before I talk about my band Crusin’ appearing at the Riverside (Iowa) Casino last Saturday night – and offending delicate sensibilities – I need to take care of some writing business.

Crimes By Moonlight

Recently I completed “Encore for Murder,” the second Mike Hammer audio novel, and got a lovely phone call about it yesterday from Stacy Keach, who said it contained “the best voiceover ever written for Mike Hammer.” When I stopped crying, I thanked him.

I am working on NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU, the second J.C. Harrow novel right now. Work goes well, not quickly, but steadily. It’s a big book.

Two new short-story anthologies are worthy of your attention.

First, CRIMES BY MOONLIGHT, edited by the rich and famous Charlaine Harris (as Steppenwolf once nonsensically said, “Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sookie, Sue!”), is a supernatural-themed collection from the Mystery Writers of America. It includes the story “Grave Matter” by me and Mickey Spillane. Mickey gets second billing, which has never happened before, but the story has an unusual history.

“Grave Matter” was originally a Mike Danger short story that was written at the request of the comic book company who were then publishing the DANGER comic book. They never did anything with it, for reasons unknown. A few years later, I used the plot for a third-person novella; but the original story went off to live in limbo. Now it has been turned into a Hammer story (which essentially meant doing a universal search-and-replace, Danger into Hammer) for this anthology. Back when it was a Danger story, Mickey’s contribution was a few notes and his approval, so for once I took top billing.

BLOOD, GUTS & WHISKEY from Kensington is a collection of short stories from Thuglit, noir stories from new writers, edited by Todd Robinson. I have provided an introduction that traces the history of the hardboiled short story from Black Mask to the internet. Check it out!

A very nice overview of MS. TREE, with a focus on the trade paperbacks of yore, has popped up on the web. Terry Beatty and I get questioned on this all the time, and we admit to being frustrated that it’s taking so long to get new reprints of the MS. TREE material out there in book form. I can only say that we are again in very serious talks with a reputable publisher.

Blood, Guts, & Whiskey

Probably a good number of the visitors to this site could care less about my rock ‘n’ roll endeavors. Nonetheless, “Psychedelic Siren” – the 1967 Dial Records (an Atlantic subsidiary) by the Daybreakers, written by yours truly – continues to attract cultish attention. Check out this blog entry from musician Bill Kopp.

At our recent Riverside gig, we were announced as having had the “hit single” “Psychedelic Siren” – though the song was only a regional hit, and appearing was the latest version of the band known as Crusin’, not the Daybreakers. So the first thing I did was tell the audience we wouldn’t be playing “Psychedelic Siren.” No riots broke out.

We had determined to do an eclectic bunch of songs, though we led with a pandering “Mony, Mony” (catnip to Midwestern baby boomers) before doing stuff like “She’s Not There” by the Zombies, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” by Dusty Springfield, “No Matter What” by Badfinger, “Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night, and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge (my favorite heavy band). Not too many bands have ever played both Vanilla Fudge and Bobby Rydell (we also did a blistering “Wild One”).

We were part of a Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association “Hall of Fame” show – our one-hour set was one of four. The other bands were solid, but our song choice set us apart (the Wise Guys of Chicago did soul stuff, very well, and the other two bands did solid ‘50s rockabilly).

As with the appearance of the original Daybreakers at the 2008 Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction concert at Arnold’s Park, we differed from the other acts by doing a certain amount of original material. We have always taken pride in being a “real” band. This included a song by the late, great Bruce Peters (“I Need Somebody”), and another by Rob Gal (“I Feel Better”), who is alive and well and I assume still cheerfully deranged. The band began in 1966 and has gone through many changes and members (beginning as the Daybreakers, briefly called Rox, then Crusin’, then the Ones, then Crusin’ again); and along the way some very good songs were written and recorded. Here’s where you can buy a CD collecting a lot of that material. [Prices are post-paid for the continental US. – Nate]

[2013 EDIT: All options temporarily sold out! We’ll recheck our remaining stock and make a new post soon!]

One of the songs we did was a shirt-tail hit of ours. It’s an infamous number called “Pussy Whipped,” which is the story of a henpicked husband. We didn’t write it – it was a Barnes & Barnes tune that Bill Mumy (its co-author) contributed to the band Seduction of the Innocent, which became a crowd pleaser (and stirrer) at various comic cons in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and was featured on our CD GOLDEN AGE. (Band member Steve Leialoha’s relationship with the great artist/writer Trina Robbins somehow survived her feminist-fueled hatred of the song.) It’s sung on the original album by the incredible Miguel Ferrer, and a fine live version is available here.

[2013 EDIT: All options temporarily sold out! We’ll recheck our remaining stock and make a new post soon!]

When THE GOLDEN AGE came out (it’s out of print, unfortunately), KFMH, a very popular eastern Iowa radio station, with a notorious and controversial dj (Steve Bridges – whose antics earned him a TOMORROW SHOW appearance with Tom Snyder) began to play the Seduction of the Innocent version of “Pussy Whipped.” It became a regional hit. I played keyboards and sang harmony on the cut, and this was played up by Bridges. Crusin’ was very active in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and we began to get requests for the song, and wound up learning it, with me filling in for Miguel as best I could. We even played it live on KFMH on three or four occasions.

The current version of Crusin’ has been paying a lot of attention to our history, doing songs from the Daybreakers to the Rox era (Bruce’s originals were done then) to the Ones version (when Gal was dominant songwriter, with me absent for a year or two), on to the present. Since “Pussy Whipped” was the band’s biggest hit (in its shirttail way) since “Psychedelic Siren,” we have put it back on the list.

We don’t always play it. You don’t want to play the song at a wedding (even as a warning). Nor to you want to make it part of a Valentine’s Day dance. But at a casino – where I understand people are gambling, and children aren’t allowed, and where even smoking is sanctioned – I figured we had an adult audience.

Of course this is the Heartland, and it’s America, where you can get yourself a reality show by having a big butt or sleeping with Hugh Hefner or having way too many kids, where you can form an unintentionally obscenely-titled movement protesting the taxes that have been lowered by the president you despise. So it’s always up for grabs.

Anyway, as for “Pussy Whipped” at Riverside, well, the crowd loved it – we got cheers and applause and there were lots of smiling faces, if mostly male. I made sure my diction was good so that the entire tale got heard, as the emasculated narrator tells his sad story in an amusingly ballsy fashion. Sure enough, while we were quickly tearing down to make room for the next band, a middle-aged woman with glasses and a stony expression approached the stage.

She said, “I want to make a statement. If you have to apologize for doing a song, you shouldn’t do that song. Some people were offended!” She seemed on the verge of tears.

I said, “I wasn’t really apologizing when I introduced the song. That was a joke. It was all meant in good fun.”

She didn’t know what to say, and disappeared off into the crowd.

What can I say? I am 62 years old, still playing “Pussy Whipped,” and offending older women who are probably younger than me.

I must be doing something right.

M.A.C.

Smothers Brothers Comedy Column

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Last week was spent recovering from writing KISS HER GOODBYE. I really should allow myself a week off between projects, but I am stacked up right now and just can’t take the luxury. But it was slow-going, getting anything done. By late in the week I was finally able to finish a 14-page synopsis for the next Mike Hammer radio novel, which is entitled ENCORE FOR MURDER. The basis is a brief novel outline I found in Mickey Spillane’s files, so THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER VOL. 3 (starring Stacy Keach) will again have a basis in Mickey’s work.

I also wrote the introduction for volume ten of IDW’s reprint series of the DICK TRACY strip, edited by my old pal Dean Mulaney, the man who brought MS. TREE to the world of comics. The book winds up 1945, includes the entire run of 1946, going several months into ‘47. This is prime Gould material — great villains, lots of wonderful comic-relief characters, with everything from the intro of the Two Way Wrist Radio to the marriage of B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie. Watch for that — it’s one of Gould’s strongest periods.

You Can't Stop MeThe first review of YOU CAN’T STOP ME has appeared, from internet reviewer Harriet Klauser, and it’s a nice one.

I have been in a somewhat nostalgic mood lately, primed by reading a good book, DANGEROUSLY FUNNY: THE UNCENSORED STORY OF “THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR,” by David Bianculli. It’s as entertaining as it is informative, though the author has a bad habit of repeating himself (how many times do I have to be told that Jennifer Warren became Jennifer Warnes?) and sometimes including personal asides (don’t you hate writers who do that? I do!).

Anyway, it prompted me to look at the two seasons of THE SMOTHERS COMEDY HOUR available — actually these are BEST OF’s, selected and edited by Tommy Smothers himself. Season Three, the final season, was released first, followed by Second Two (no sign of Season One yet). This is not Tommy Smothers being quirky, rather realistic. The show began as a fairly traditional comedy/variety hour in 1967, and as the times changed, and the under-thirty crowd got radicalized, the show shifted naturally. By the third season, it was featuring counter-culture musical artists (The Doors, The Who) and hip comedy (George Carlin, Jackie Mason, the Second City-style Committee) with a number of episodes performed in the round. The third season set includes an excellent documentary, SMOTHERED, which chronicles the war between the show (in particular the volatile Tom Smothers) and CBS.

I started with Season Two, and admit to being shocked by how standard a variety show it mostly was — later I learned that Tom Smothers had edited both seasons ruthlessly (sometimes too ruthlessly) because he too realized the memory of the ground-breaking show of over 40 years ago was better than the reality. That, of course, is why he insisted the final season be released first. This is not to say there isn’t a lot of funny material in the second season boxed set — the Pat Paulson run for the president is there, and Paulson was an excellent deadpan comedian. But I fast-forwarded through about a third of the stuff. Leigh French as Goldie O’Keefe, spaced-out hippie chick, remains a lovely young woman, frozen in video amber, with a nice delivery, but the “jokes” run mostly to slipping drug references past un-hip censors. If hearing the word “roach” or “high” tickles your funny bone, you’re in the right place.

TV variety shows of the fifties, sixties and even seventies were pretty dismal. I watched a lot of them as a kid, but they are a tough go to sit through now. Even shows that were hip for their era, like SMOTHERS BROTHERS, FLIP WILSON, and LAUGH-IN, seem about as dated as kinescopes of early TV.

Smothers Brothers Season 3
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:
Best of Season 3

The third season of SMOTHERS was a revelation, though — while some traditional variety show stuff survives (and Tom S. edited a lot of that out), there is plenty of social commentary and musical acts that could have appeared no where else on primetime TV of the late ‘60s. I find myself not liking the stuff I didn’t like at the time — Mason Williams’ classical gas remains gaseous to me, as does his anti-censorship poem, and self-righteous hippie show biz types like the aforementioned Warnes, the Los Angeles cast of HAIR, Joan Baez and the oh so precious Donovan still give me a pain. If you lived through those years, and were a sort of hippie yourself (and that’s how I’d describe myself then — a sort of hippie, married and going to school but long-haired, in a rock band, and desperately trying not to get drafted), you found a lot of the hippie musical stuff of the era pretty forced and artificial and terribly self-satisfied.

Nonetheless, the bravery of the Smothers Brothers to air this stuff — and to employ as writer/performers young punks like Bob Einstein (aka Super Dave Osborne), Steve Martin, and Rob Reiner — is impressive. The difference in approach and attitude between season two and three is shocking — it’s like one week the show is CAROL BURNETT, and the next week it’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Historic performances from Pete Seeger (“Big Muddy” is amazing) and Harry Belafonte (“Don’t Stop the Carnival” to footage of the ‘68 Demo Convention) are alone worth the investment, and not much fast-forwarding elsewhere is required.

At the center of it all are those underrated performers, the Smothers Brothers, hip subversives posing as white-bread American boys. I loved them from the first time I saw them on (wait for it) Jack Parr’s TONIGHT SHOW. In the midst of a lot of smug and self-important folk musicians, the Smothers Brothers came on with their lampoon version of folk that had, in its day, the impact of Andy Kaufman. Initially, Tommy just seemed to be an idiot screwing up the act. We did not know we were witnessing one of the last great traditional comedy teams in the Laurel and Hardy/Abbott and Costello/Martin and Lewis mode. And Dick Smothers was and is a genius straight man.

I had all their albums. Grew up listening to them. Saw them perform at Hot Springs, Arkansas, at a nightclub/casino (a mob operation my middle-American parents took me to), and got to speak to them both and get my first celebrity autographs. They were extremely kind to me. (I would have been, perhaps, 16.) From junior high on, my friend Jim Hoffmann and I did Smothers Brothers impressions at parties and shows — we got great laughs in the time-honored tradition of kids stealing the acts of professionals, butchering those acts, and getting undeserved giddy praise from their classmates.

During the late ‘60s, Barb and I never missed THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS on Sunday night (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE came right after, with Leonard Nimoy in for Martin Landau at this point, Trekkies). We were married in June ‘68, Barb 19 and me 20, and the assassination of Robert Kennedy took place while we were honeymooning in Chicago. Right around this time, I took a draft physical at Des Moines, Iowa, that scared me silly, classifying me 1-A — fortunately, I eventually was re-classified 4-F. Would Barb and I have gone to Canada? Probably. So we were absolutely the target audience of THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW, but I admit that I never saw anything controversial about what I saw there, and was shocked that censorship was an issue in an era of MIDNIGHT COWBOY and ZAP COMIX.

(Yes, friends, an almost draft dodger with leftist leanings somehow became the caretaker of right-wing icons Dick Tracy and Mike Hammer.)

So watching these DVDs, I find myself experiencing various shivers of memory — delight, sorrow, embarrassment, even pride — as I watch Tom and Dick Smothers on their very important TV show take on the establishment. The stories of Tom’s battles with CBS are so much like mine with the Chicago Tribune Syndicate over DICK TRACY that it made me uncomfortable — we were both punks, and both right. We took a stand, and got fired. I said pride was one of the shivers.

I recommend the book and both DVD sets, which are loaded with special features, each episode bookended with on-air comments by a very uncensored Tom and Dick (prepared for E Entertainment reruns a while back). Anyone my age will find this compelling viewing.

M.A.C.