Posts Tagged ‘The New Adventures of Mike Hammer’

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….


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

San Diego Dispatches

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
2011 Audie Award

That’s me in this week’s pic fondling my Audie award, taken in my basement book room. Very proud of this one (for THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: THE LITTLE DEATH). The crystal award is actually a very beautiful object. Thanks to producer Carl Amari (TWILIGHT ZONE radio series) for the great opportunity.

This will be a short update, but I will be posting on a daily basis from the San Diego Comic-con – expect the first missive to appear Thursday morning July 21 and every day thereafter through July 25. Look for pictures of celebrities who are, I hope, bigger deals than the one depicted with this posting.

Not long ago I went in to Chicago to meet with sports radio legend Mike North – a great guy, as smart as he is funny (which is pretty damn smart) – to continue exploring a movie project on his life, which is sort of Horatio Alger Chicago-style, from hot dog vendor to radio superstar. Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker covered it in his column, but you’ll have to scroll down past the GLEE stuff.

One of the fun things about the Internet is the occasional quirky, personal review of a book that turns up, very much not in the vein of traditional criticism. Check out this fun look at STRIP FOR MURDER from a reviewer who objects to my anti-anti-Communism – he prefers Joe McCarthy to Ed Murrow! Lots of discussion of Al Capp and Ham Fisher here.

And I liked this review of THE LAST QUARRY a lot – another quirky, personal but smart review.

We’ll close out with three more reviews of the Criterion Collection Blu-ray/DVD of KISS ME DEADLY, all of which mention my documentary MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE.

Also, there’s a Criterion 50% off sale at Barnes & Noble, both the web site and the stores, and it’s a cheap way to pick up the greatest Mike Hammer movie of all time.


Heller of a Week

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

I’ve made passing references to the Nate Heller backlist coming back into print, but now it’s official. AmazonEncore has put out a press release on upcoming titles, and this paragraph should be of interest:

“Award-winning author Max Allan Collins’ Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories, to be published by Thomas & Mercer on October 4, features Chicago PI Nathan Heller as the narrator of thirteen crime stories based on real cases from the 1930s and 1940s. Known for his graphic novel, Road to Perdition, the basis of the Academy Award-winning film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, Max Allan Collins is a recipient of the Private Eye Writers of America lifetime achievement award, the Eye, and is the writer and director of five feature films and two documentaries. Leading up to the publication of Chicago Lightning, AmazonEncore will re-release twelve other Nathan Heller books in August.”

Every one of the previous Heller novels (from TRUE DETECTIVE through CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL) will be reprinted in handsome, uniform trade paperback editions as well as e-books. CHICAGO LIGHTNING and the forthcoming TRIPLE PLAY are two new collections that take the place of (and expand upon) the previous Heller collections, DYING IN THE POSTWAR WORLD and KISSES OF DEATH. CHICAGO LIGHTNING is all the short stories thus far (including several never before collected) and TRIPLE PLAY will include the three Heller novellas-to-date (“Dying in the Postwar World,” “Kisses of Death,” and “Strike Zone”).

Obviously I am thrilled to have Heller climb back into print, timed to support and cross-promote the new Heller novels from Forge.

Speaking of which – and is very big news indeed – BYE BYE, BABY has received a starred PW review. Here it is:

“Set in 1962, Collins’s excellent 13th novel featuring Chicago PI Nate Heller (last seen in 2002’s Chicago Confidential) finds Heller–who’s investigated such high-profile crimes as the Lindbergh kidnapping and Huey Long’s assassination–looking into the death of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe. The book’s first half covers the movie star’s last two months, as she tries to deal with attacks on many fronts–by the movie studio that fired her; by her abusive ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio; and by the Kennedys. By the time a drug overdose claims her, there’s no shortage of people who wanted her dead. Heller, Monroe’s sometime lover, who refuses to buy the official line that she committed suicide, steps on powerful toes with his usual tenacity and stubbornness to reach the truth. Collins convincingly portrays the real-life players in the drama, who include Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sinatra. Readers with a taste for hard-boiled roman à clef will hope that more Heller is in the offing. (Aug.)”

Chicago Lightning

Mike Hammer remains very much in the public eye. An amusing review of KISS HER GOODBYE from AV Club is getting a lot of web distribution. Once again, the reviewer spends most of his time apologizing for liking the novel. But by the end he grudgingly, embarrassedly admits he did enjoy it (and bestows a B grade, not at all bad for the snarky AV Club). You may wish to read some of the comments, which are often hilarious in their idiocy (one guy doesn’t read my stuff because I look like a “nerd” in my author photos) and the knee-jerk political correctness rants that Spillane, even deceased, even in the 21st Century, can still inspire. Also, mention Spillane and “experts” will announce a predictable list of other hardboiled writers you should be reading instead.

This web review of KISS HER GOODBYE is fun and right on the money. Worth checking out.

So is this brief but lovely review of the audio, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: ENCORE FOR MURDER.

Here’s a nice review of the new Criterion Blu-ray of KISS ME DEADLY. I have an advance copy and it’s a lovely package, and the film looks great. So, I say unblushingly, does my new updated cut of the documentary, MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE, there as a bonus feature. I am grateful to Criterion for including it, because the sharp-looking booklet and some of the other features (notably the disappointing commentary) make the usual uniformed, sloppy, prejudiced comments about the original material. Constantly we’re told director Aldrich and screenwriter Bezzerides just “threw the novel away.” In fact, Bezzerides used Mickey’s basic plot, most of the characters (including their names), many memorable sequences (the opening of the film, for example, and the death of mobster Carl Evello) and even the fiery ending is a variation on Mickey’s. For Hollywood of the period, it’s quite faithful to its source, and evokes the surrealistic, fever-dream feel of early Hammer uncannily. Commentators continually talk about Hammer as if the books are predominantly about the P.I. taking on “Commies” (the only book of the first impactful six that does so is ONE LONELY NIGHT – a book in which SPOILER ALERT the bad guy turns out to be a thinly disguised Joe McCarthy). END SPOILER ALERT. Director Alex Cox has a piece where he’s enthusiastic about the film, but makes many dubious observations, including that Hammer is stupid in the novel and even more stupid in the film. At least Cox seems to have skimmed the book, which is more than most of the commentators have.

Finally, I recently did a little project with my frequent collaborator, actor Mike Cornelison (Pat Chambers on THE LITTLE DEATH and ENCORE FOR MURDER, and narrator of my Spillane documentary). It was a competition to write and produce a short play in just under a week. I hope to have a You Tube link to the production, called “Alley Cats,” soon.

In the meantime, here’s how we did:

The Judge’s Choice Award for night of competition, Friday, June 10, 2011.

This award signifies that the three-judge panel found “Alley Cats” the best theatrical presentation among the nine shows presented that night. That which most represented the spirit of the 711 competition, created the most engaging theatrical experience and adhered most closely to the rules of the game.

In addition, “Alley Cats” received the “Technical Excellence” award, which is voted by the technical staff of the 711 Project, and given to that production that shows the clearest vision, best use of lighting, sound and design and most concise and effective communication of their needs to the technical staff.

“Team Caligula,” which presented “Alley Cats,” is made up of Max Allan Collins (playwright), Michael Cornelison (director/actor), Nick Cornelison (producer/actor) and Jared Hammer (actor).


Hammer Grand Slammer

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

This news came in shortly after the last update was posted, so you may be aware of this – it got lots of play on the net – but my radio-style audio novel, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: THE LITTLE DEATH (starring Stacy Keach), won the Audie for Best Original Work. The Audies are the Academy Awards of the audiobook world, so this is a big deal. Blackstone Audio posted their congratulations here.

And if you haven’t listened to THE LITTLE DEATH – or its (I feel) even better follow-up, ENCORE FOR MURDER – you are missing out. Whether a Spillane buff or M.A.C. fan (or both), you will have a great time.

Kiss Her Goodbye

Also, Stacy Keach’s reading of KISS HER GOODBYE has just been released, with a different cover than the hardcover novel. We are listening to it now, and Stacy is just great. Any writer benefits when Mr. Keach is making them look good.

Another great piece of news comes with a rave review from Dick Lochte for KISS HER GOODBYE on the front page of the LA Times Calendar section. This stunning review has been picked up all over the net, and should give the book a very nice boost.

Also exciting is having January magazine single out KISS HER GOODBYE as one of Pierce’s picks of the week. But especially cool is the cyber zine singling out Pierce’s choice and the book for a front-page rave. Check it out.

J. Kingston Pierce’s new weekly pick has already been posted, but here is last week’s pick (KISS HER GOODBYE) for your reading pleasure.

The KISS HER GOODBYE raves just keep coming. Here the terrific site Singular Points makes some singular points about the book.

The same site has a very nice write-up about meeting Mickey Spillane some years ago.

Yet another great KISS HER GOODBYE review.

And courtesy of Jeff Pierce, this time at his Kirkus mystery-reviewing blog, comes the very first advance review of BYE BYE, BABYand it’s glowing (something that hasn’t exactly always happened to me with Kirkus reviews).

Some advance love for BYE BYE, BABY is viewable at another site, as well.

And this unexpected valentine to my first series character – in fact, first novel – comes from Paul Bishop (cop, writer, TV personality, handsome devil, talented, too…why don’t I hate him?) who made BAIT MONEY his “Forgotten Book” of the week, which is a compliment…trust me.

Another first-rate writer, Mel Odom, read Paul’s write-up and waxed nostalgic about Nolan and Jon himself.

What was it John Huston said in CHINATOWN? Something about whores and ugly buildings, if they last long enough, finally gaining respect?