Posts Tagged ‘Spillane’

Dinner With Perry and Della

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Barbara Hale is gone.

She was 94, so it’s not exactly a tragedy, but it still hurts. Few actresses have done more with so underwritten a part as Ms. Hale did with Della Street on Perry Mason. She brought humor and intelligence to the role, and her genuine connection with both Raymond Burr and William Hopper brought a sense of reality to a fairly ridiculous if enormously entertaining concept – the defense attorney who (almost) never loses a case.

I was lucky enough to meet Barbara Hale and spend some time with her. Here’s what happened.

Back in the late ‘80s, I got the chance to collaborate on a project with Raymond Burr. Now, coincidentally, I had for some time been collecting the old Mason shows on VHS, and reading the Erle Stanley Gardner novels as crime-fiction comfort food, even collecting Mason first editions. Barb was a fan of the TV show, too, so it was a mutual enthusiasm, which is always nice for husband and wife.

Getting the chance to meet Burr, and work with him, was a dream come true. I made three trips to Denver, where the Mason TV-movies were being shot, and spent a lot of time with Raymond (he preferred that to “Ray”). He was an interesting guy, warm and generous and puckishly funny. The high-end hotel where I was staying had a residential wing where Burr lived during production of the films. I went to his suite, knocked on the door, and he answered, wearing a railroad engineer’s cap and coveralls – he had an elaborate model railroad set-up that threaded through the various rooms of the apartment. And the trains were a rollin’!

He and I got along fine. The first trip we didn’t work – we just got to know each other, and he regaled me with tales of his long and fascinating, much-travelled life. I heard about the Ballets Russes, where his career had begun, and of such world figures as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, as well as his experiences touring with the USO in Vietnam. I told him we should just skip the idea of doing a thriller and put together his autobiography. But he was adamant that he would never write that book, after spending hours convincing me it would be important and fascinating. His bisexuality, which he fairly openly referred to in our conversations – his frankness was part of my acceptance as a friend – was something he never wished to discuss in public.

On the other two Denver trips, we worked – plotting an espionage thriller in the morning and over lunch, with me working several hours in the mid-afternoon in my hotel room to put our thoughts on paper, joining him again an hour or two before supper. Every meal I had on these trips was with Raymond.

One meal was particularly memorable. Barbara Hale was arriving to shoot the next Mason TV movie, which was about to begin production. Raymond asked me if I would like to meet her and go out with them for dinner at the best steakhouse in Denver. I would have gone to the worst diner in Paducah for a chance to do that. I called Barb and said, “Guess who I’m going out to dinner with tonight? Perry and Della!” She said she hated me, but sounded sweet saying so.

Barbara Hale would have been 66 at the time – two years younger than I am now – but I remember being almost startled by how lovely and young she seemed to me, and, frankly, sexy. She came across older on television in the Mason movies. There was a genuine chemistry between us, and the fact that I could make Della Street smile so easily was just about as good as it gets.

We definitely hit it off, and she was impressed that I knew about her career right down to her appearing in small roles in various RKO movies of the ‘40s, like The Great Gildersleeve entries. In the limo on the way to the steakhouse, sitting between her and Raymond like their overgrown child, I told Barbara how much I loved her in Jolson Sings Again. Raymond, with his ever-present twinkle, said, “Oh, I agree. She was wonderful getting down on her knees in blackface.” She giggled and batted his arm and he giggled back. These two loved each other. Was I really here?

At the steakhouse – where actor Tom Bosley (filming the Father Dowling mysteries in Denver) stopped by to pay his respects – we had a long dinner during which I questioned Raymond and Barbara incessantly about the original Mason show. I had brought along the hardcover first edition of a Mason novel that had Barbara and Raymond pictured together on the back cover – I got this signed by both of them. They had a great time reminiscing about the original show and I only wish I’d secretly recorded all of it.

The TV movie they were shooting, The Case of the Musical Murder, had Debbie Reynolds as a guest star, but she wasn’t around while I was. I did get to go on set several times and watch scenes being shot, and also had several nice conversations with William R. Moses, who had just begun playing Mason’s young assistant on the show. For the first nine movies, Barbara Hale’s son, William Katt, had played Paul Drake, Jr., and Moses was essentially replacing him. I didn’t know why and was tactful enough not to ask.

But I did, at our steakhouse dinner, tell Barbara in front of Raymond what a great job I thought her son had done in that role. She beamed at that. The next day, when Raymond and I picked her up at her suite for lunch, she took me aside and gave me a hug, and whispered, “Thank you for what you said about my son.” Katt, it turned out, had left the Mason movies for a (short-lived) series of his own, and apparently Raymond was not happy about it.

Still, the affection between the two performers was obvious. Raymond told me over lunch one day that he planned to end the series of movies with one in which Mason and Della finally got married. The films began to include genuine expressions of love between the characters, even a kiss or two (the original series had been much more coy about what was an obvious long ongoing relationship between boss and secretary).

Unfortunately the project with Raymond (and I do apologize for speaking of him so familiarly) did not go anywhere. The New York editor who had put us together wanted a mystery, and even suggested a courtroom-oriented one, with the world-hopping thriller we proposed not doing the trick. The editor clearly wanted something like Perry Mason or Ironside. Raymond Burr, with all his international interests and travels, wanted something wider-ranging and in the espionage field. I later learned that two other writers were put together with Raymond Burr and in each case the actor’s strong personality guided them to espionage, and each time the New York editor bridled.

Of course Perry and Della never got married. Raymond Burr’s death in 1993 pre-empted that.

While I regret I never shared the Burr byline on a book or even series of books, I still relish the memory of the collaboration.

After all, it’s not everybody who gets to spend an evening with Perry and Della.

* * *

Arrow is giving some info about Wild Dog’s origin. Still haven’t watched an episode.

Here’s a fun look at Mike Hammer in the movies and on TV (though the writer, who quotes me occasionally, does not seem to have read Mickey Spillane on Screen by Jim Traylor and me).

Here’s an article about the Quarry books and a discussion about what order to read them in, with several options.

Finally, here’s an essay that thinks Cinemax ought to give Quarry a second season. My bank account agrees!

M.A.C.

Grand Thanks

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The announcement of my Edgar award as a Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America has garnered congratulations and praise from all over the place. I’ve taken to posting a link to these updates on Facebook and that’s increased the activity.

First, I’m very grateful. It’s particularly fun or, in Facebook terms, to be “liked” (you like me, you really really like me) by old friends, some of whom I haven’t heard from in decades. The world at once seems bigger and smaller.

Second, I’m a little embarrassed. These updates have become more and more confessional. Originally I only wrote an update once or twice a year. My son Nate, who runs this website, said that was not enough – the only way to encourage traffic was with regular content.

So I went weekly, and for some time all I did was talk about books that had recently become available and share links to reviews (I still do that, obviously). Then Nate encouraged me to do updates that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process and what it’s like to be a freelance writer.

People seemed to like hearing about such things, but gradually more personal stuff got into the mix – the major one being my health issues. I didn’t post anything till the day I was set to take my first heart surgery (we had been going through hell for five months prior and I hadn’t made a peep about it here), and what I wrote wasn’t intended to appear till the day I was in surgery.

Then the surgery was postponed, and a second, preliminary surgery scheduled, and suddenly everybody knew about what was going on with my health. As I say, that wasn’t my intention. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that all the good wishes, which included prayers, didn’t give me a real boost. In the subsequent lung surgery, I found that support similarly spirit-lifting.

I thank you all.

And I thank you, too, for the congratulations about the Grand Master award, which won’t be presented till next April, by the way. This is even more embarrassing than courting good wishes for health reasons, as it falls into the “rah yay me” category.

I’ve been reflecting on the Grand Master this past week, the only troubling aspect of which is that it’s a reminder that a long career preceded it, and that the remainder of that career will be much shorter. Life achievement awards are something people try to give you while you’re not dead. So that part of it is sobering.

Throughout my career – and I will be painfully honest here – I longed for, even dreamed of, receiving an Edgar from the MWA. I have been ridiculously well-honored by the Private Eye Writers of America, also by the Iowa Motion Picture Association; even won an Anthony from Bouchercon, and an award from the Edgar Rice Burroughs bibliophile group. “Barbara Allan” won a major award, too (not a leg lamp, though). But the Edgar, despite half a dozen nominations, has remained elusive.

When I see the array of trophies and plaques, which reflect not only achievement but my own needy efforts to land them – you have to enter many of these competitions to win them – I am a little embarrassed. I obviously need validation. Like most people with big egos, I have self-doubts that are even bigger.

What’s really, really nice about the Grand Master is that you don’t enter to try to win it. A group of your peers just agrees that you should get it. That feels really good.

And the company I’m in includes many of my favorite writers as well as others I admire. For example, Agatha Christie; Rex Stout; Ellery Queen; Erle Stanley Gardner; James M. Cain; John D. MacDonald; Alfred Hitchcock; Ross Macdonald; Graham Greene; Daphne Du Marier; Dorothy B. Hughes; W.R. Burnett; John Le Carre; Ed McBain; Elmore Leonard; Donald E. Westlake; Lawrence Block; Sara Paretsky; Sue Grafton; Stephen King; and Mickey Spillane. That’s just the ones that were influential in my writing life. Two (Westlake and Spillane) were mentors. I omit names of stellar types whose work I am not familiar with, and a handful whose work I dislike (here’s a hint – Angel in Black is a response to one).

I am notorious for not reading much contemporary crime fiction. My glib reason is that contemporary writers in the genre fall into three areas: (A) not as good as I am, so why bother reading ‘em; (B) as good as I am, so why bother reading them, either; and (C) better than I am, and screw those guys, anyway.

The real reasons I don’t read my contemporaries much are less smart-alecky.

First, I am a natural mimic and I tend to pick up the style and habits of other fiction writers. I discovered this writing Blood Money (my second published book) while reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. That writer, a very good one, wrote such distinctive dialogue that I could not shake the cadence of it. Some of it is still in that book.

Second, much of what I write is historical, and that requires a lot of research reading. So what reading I do falls largely into that category. And my pleasure reading tends to be non-fiction, too. Again, reading fiction is dangerous for me.

That’s not to say I don’t read some. I re-read my favorite authors (many of them in my Grand Master list above) and, if I’m on a committee for the MWA or PWA, I read the works submitted for award consideration. Plus, I have friends in the field whose work I often read. Also, if somebody gets really, really popular, I check them out. That’s how I came to read some Robert B. Parker, for example, whose work I don’t care for but whose impact on the field I greatly respect.

He won the Grand Master, too.

* * *

This week past the third Caleb York, The Bloody Spur, was shipped to Kensington. In addition, I did final corrections and tweaks on the proofs of The Will to Kill for Titan (Mike Hammer) and Executive Order for Thomas & Mercer (Reeder & Rogers). The proofs of Antiques Frame await.

The Grand Master news was all over the Net, but in some cases it was more than just a regurgitation of the MWA news release. This, from Mysterious Press, for example, includes ordering info on the Mike Hammer collection, A Long Time Dead.

Brash Books, who published the complete Road to Perdition novel recently, did their own write-up as well.

Here’s a brief discussion of the use of history in Quarry in the Black.

My old pal Jan Grape talks about how authors deal with errors in books, leading off with an anecdote that shows me in a perhaps unflattering (but highly accurate) light.

Here’s a brief Quarry TV write-up, with a deleted scene that I (partially) wrote.

The Quarry show makes this Best list.

And here’s a really great review of the finale episode of Quarry, with a look back at the entire world of the series.

M.A.C.

* * *

(Note from Nate: Quarry is available for pre-order on Amazon on Blu-Ray and DVD, although the release date hasn’t yet been determined. Here’s the link!)

* * *

Thanksgiving 2016

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

In a year like the one I’ve experienced, it might seem tough to be thankful.

Those of you follow these updates know that I’ve had some health issues. The year began with carotid surgery preceding open-heart surgery, during which I had a stroke. While not major, the stroke left me with a fairly useless right hand – couldn’t type, didn’t even have a signature. And a writer losing his or her signature has lost a key piece of identity.

What followed was a lot of work getting my hand functional again and recovering from the surgery with physical and occupational therapy. Also, in the run-up to the heart surgery, something growing in my lower right lung lobe made itself known, requiring keeping an eye on. Eventually I was scheduled to go in for surgery that would probably be just a closer look, but might result in more serious surgery.

While all of this was going on, my son Nate’s bride Abby gave birth to Sam Collins, a preemie who fought a brave battle for life. Nate and Abby practically lived in the hospital for a month while this little tadpole of a kid fought to be a baby. We visited as often as we could, though this was going on concurrent with my heart condition stuff, and that limited us some.

Then both Barb and I managed to get pertussis, which is to say whooping cough. I got mine in August and she got hers a few weeks later, and we are still coughing (the hundred-day cough, they call it). My adventures, recounted in detail in previous updates, included rushing back from New Orleans the moment I landed because Barb’s pertussis had sent her to the emergency room; and having my lung surgery postponed for a month to allow me to get over my bout with the stuff.

The surgery wound up being more serious. A baseball-size thingie was taken out of my lower right lobe. It’s now been diagnosed as MALT-lymphoma, which has nothing to do with old Pop Jenkins down at the soda shop.

Then, while I was recovering from the lung surgery, glued to the TV, I witnessed Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

So what the hell do I have to be thankful for?

Almost everything (except for the Trump part).

We can start with this career that has allowed me to concoct stories and get paid for it for four decades. We can move from there to my wife Barb, whose love and support got me through all of the bullshit above – she always knows when I need a tender shoulder and also when I need a kick in the pants. She is not a self-pity fan.

From there we can move to my great son and his equally great wife, who gave me this wonderful grandson who has overcome all of the obstacles and is now smart and healthy and very funny. You may have a baby or a baby grandkid who seems pretty cool, but can yours do an evil maniacal laugh at sixteen months?

As for my travails, I was typing almost immediately when I got home from the hospital. Initially all I could move was the mouse, and for some weeks the sensitivity of the computer keyboard was how my weak right hand was able to register anything. But two weeks home after my three-week hospital stay (two of it in O.T. and P.T.), I was working on my draft of Antiques Frame. Before long I was writing The Will to Kill, the new Mike Hammer, and Executive Order with my pal Matt Clemens. Throughout every stage of various recoveries, I have found that my writing has been unimpeded, that it is a place I can go and think of nothing but the story at hand.

Every day I filled at least a full notebook page with my signature, and within a month I had it back. If you ever need an M.A.C signature, my wife can tear one of out the notebook I filled with them. (Ask for one from a later page.)

The pertussis Barb and I shared brought us even closer together, because we were dealing with it at the same time. I won’t pretend it didn’t suck, but something odd happens when you are sick and have a reasonable expectation to get well – you start to really, really appreciate normal, everyday life. To look forward to the most trivial damn things – a meal out, a movie, a walk on an autumn day.

As for the lung thing, I am in a wait-and-see mode, and have a few more tests to take, but I am assured this is a treatable, very survivable condition…and I may have no recurrence. At this point there’s been no talk of chemo or radiation.

If that comes, rest assured I will do everything I can to keep writing, and taking advantage of the support and friendship my readers, editors and my great agent Dominick Abel have always provided. Do not worry about me. I am fine, and I am blessed.

Thanks.

* * *

Here’s the Brash Books blog with stuff about Road to Perdition the novel and Quarry as well.

Here’s a nice latterday review of Kill Your Darlings, though oddly the Bouchercon aspect of the story (usually the favorite aspect of readers) is not so favored here.

Finally, here’s a cool review of Dan John Miller reading Better Dead.

M.A.C.

3 Movies We Made it Through

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Now that Barb and I are feeling a little better after our bout with pertussis – and are not contagious – we’ve started going out to movies again. As regular readers of these updates should recall, she and I have walked out of an inordinate number of movies this year – on one occasion, two in one day.

So I am pleased – make that relieved – that the last three movies we’ve seen found us making it through the entire presentation, even when the pop, popcorn, and Milk Duds had run out. Here’s a brief rundown:

MASTERMINDS is an odd one that has left some reviewers cold, but both of us liked this one quite a bit. It’s a true-crime film that is also an over-the-top comedy. Here’s the cast: Zach Galifianakis; Kristen Wiig; Kate McKinnon; Jason Sudeikis; Owen Wilson; Leslie Jones; and Ken Marino. With four of the principals veterans of Saturday Night Live (Wiig, McKinnon, Sudeikis, Jones), and another from The State (Marino), and with SNL’s Lorne Michaels one of the producers, you should have some sense of how this differs from, say, IN COLD BLOOD.

The odd thing of it for us is that as we watched, we began to slowly realize the true incident being loosely depicted was one Barb and I had considered turning into a novel ourselves, a few years ago (the clipped newspaper articles remain in our story files); we just couldn’t figure out how to handle this unlikely, goofy story of a crew of trailer-park “masterminds” who pulled off a $17 million Loomis Fargo robbery. The slapstick nature of the real crime makes great fodder for the improv style of the cast, though (as I say) some found this marriage of true-crime and comedy off-putting. We howled.

HELL OR HIGH WATER – I almost passed on this one, since the screenplay was by Taylor Sheridan, whose SICARIO I despised. But the high Rotten Tomatoes rating got us there, and both Barb and I loved this throwback to the character-driven crime films of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, with its strong nod toward BONNIE AND CLYDE. Sheridan and director David Mackenzie follow two sympathetic pairs – Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, Texas Rangers, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster, bank robbers – on a course of inevitable, tragic confrontation. Criminal Pine comes across as an antihero of sorts, and Foster pulls off the very tricky role of Pine’s somewhat unhinged, borderline sociopathic brother, bringing to it unlikely charm. Bridges is the almost crotchety Texas Ranger just days from retirement who needles his Native American partner unmercifully in politically incorrect ways that create nervous laughter. The points of view of both sides of these teams are understandable, and it’s increasingly uncomfortable knowing collision is coming. When it does, no punches are pulled. The cinematography is striking in its depiction of a barren, even ravaged modernday Texas, and echoes of the Wild West past of outlaws and lawmen lurk on the fringes of this melancholy but always entertaining film. Best of the year so far.

GIRL ON THE TRAIN – We didn’t walk out of it, but this one barely eked out our attention. For a more compelling melodrama, try watching a snail crawl across a patio. All of the characters are unsympathetic, and – possibly explaining the sleep-inducing pace – there’s about a short story’s worth of plot here, stretched out and arranged in two hours of pointless flashbacks that don’t announce when they’re over (including some flashbacks within flashbacks, depictions of false memories, and flashbacks remembered by people who weren’t there). The screenwriter is female and so is the author of the novel, and if a man wrote a novel hating women as much as this film hates men, he would be dismissed as a sexist boor. Worst movie we didn’t walk out of in recent memory. Slight compensation: the performances of Emily Blunt (though she’s mostly playing drunk) and Allison Janney as a cop (who ought to be more on top of things).

* * *

Stacy Keach is a nominee for best narrator of a crime & thriller audiobook for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS by Spillane & Collins. Stacy does a fantastic job on his readings of the novels, and if you’re a Mike Hammer fan, you shouldn’t miss any of them.

Another top narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, has done QUARRY IN THE BLACK on audio. I’ve not heard this yet, but Stefan always does a good job. He has a deep voice that suggests the older Quarry (of, say, THE LAST QUARRY) ruminating about the adventures of his younger days.

Speaking of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, the positive reviews keep coming, like this one from Criminal Element.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

From Australia comes this great review of the QUARRY TV show, with lots of references to the original books.

Here’s a review of the early novel in the series, QUARRY’S DEAL.

And finally, in German (but you may have a Google translator or something), is a career piece on me the likes of which nobody in the USA has ever done. It comes from the very knowledgeable Martin Compart, who was my editor at several publishing houses in Germany. Martin, the epitome of cool, was an early advocate of both Quarry and Nate Heller. Scroll down the article and you’ll see a great picture of him, next to some young punk.

M.A.C.