By most accounts, I was a nerd at the age of thirteen. I didn't have horn-rimmed glasses sporting tape around the bridge. I didn't have a pocket-protector or a button-down short-sleeved shirt. I certainly didn't wear high-waters. But... I was smart. I was so smart that I only received one grade that wasn't an A in all of grade school. I took the National Science Teachers Association test and got a higher score than the head of the Science Department at our school. On top of that I was involved in the theater and was the best artist in the school and so I was doomed an over-achiever without even trying. In grade school all of that added up to one thing. Nerd.
On April 9, 1983, Mike Hammer would change my entire world forever.
The first time I had ever heard of Hammer's creator Mickey Spillane was the day I saw the first promo for producer Jay Bernstein's Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer in: Murder Me, Murder You. I was instantly captivated. Who was this detective that wasn't overly tall and lanky? Where was the quirky P.I. with the goofy expressions? And more importantly, on what planet was a smart guy surrounded by beautiful women?
When the show finally aired I watched it with my parents. My mother had always watched Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot in anything they happened to be in. We watched Charlie Chan and Miss Marple together. If it was a mystery, my mother would try to watch it and I shared her enthusiasm. But Mike Hammer was different so different I wasn't sure I should be watching it with my parents around. For obvious reasons I took the risk and when Stacy Keach introduced me for the first time to what would become one of my all time favorite characters, I had started my own metamorphosis.
Later that year I started reinventing myself.
I bought a wide-brim fedora. No, I'm not kidding. A thirteen-year-old wearing a fedora in 1983. Needless to say, that step set me back with the girls. I didn't have the physique to pull that look off.
I started lifting weights and riding my bike everywhere. I thought to myself, "I can be smart and still be interesting to girls. I can be tough." In my circle of friends this was a sign of mental instability, but I risked their ridicule and started to toughen up anyway. I would be a nerd no more.
In 1984, I was granted another gift from the God of Noir, More Than Murder. Tanya Roberts had been replaced by Lindsay Bloom in the role of Velda Sterling. I thought my head was going to explode. "Oh my God, this is the greatest show EVER!" And it was. Stacy Keach had permanently cemented himself in my mind as one of my favorite actors. Mike Hammer had become as important to me as the Batman (no small feat in the world of nerds). But still... I was ever the geek to the girls in my world.
Later that year the television series spawned from those movies started and I never missed an episode. I had even made the bold decision to get a more manly haircut, thanks to the chiding of my drama teacher. I was one step closer to reaching my ultimate goal of "Braniac Tough Guy." Over the next two years I became the darling of the high-school theater. I was popular, but more because of my talent than my personality. Awesome but I wanted more.
I was old enough to drive when I made my final leap into Hammerdom. I had happened upon an old paperback of Vengeance Is Mine by Spillane himself. Up to this time I had yet to read a single word that he had written. Mike Hammer was essentially Stacy Keach to me. The book was old and somewhat rare and actually pretty expensive for a kid of 16, but I bought it anyway.
Where had I been?
Best book EVER.
After that I changed. A lot. I looked different. I walked different. I didn't take any crap. If you messed with me I messed back, but because I was the smart guy I usually managed to walk away without getting my hands dirty with the dean. I pushed things so far that I became one of those kids with the crazy hair and clothes and it didn't matter. I was on a roll. Girls loved me. Teachers loved me. Hell, even the jocks loved me, at least to my face. I had become confident, strong and smart.
Mike Hammer had saved me from a fate that I at least perceived to be worse than death.
A lot of years had passed. I'd had kids for over half of my life and I was trying to introduce them to the things that influenced me. I dedicated most of my time to trying to enrich their lives instead of mine like most parents. But I still had my favorite things from my youth, and Mike Hammer was at the top of the list.
Then Mickey Spillane passed away in 2006 and I felt that a huge part of my life had ended. What? No more novels? I had never met him and yet I was profoundly saddened by his death. And then...
Spillane's friend and collaborator Max Allan Collins, with the help and blessing of Spillane's widow Jane, resurrected my hero. He finished The Goliath Bone novel. He co-wrote and completed Spillane's unfinished novel The Big Bang. He wrote the second and third episodes of the audio show The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
Stacy Keach stepped up to the plate and provided the voice of Mike Hammer for the new series as well as reading the audio book versions of the new Hammer novels.
Spillane's fictional masterpiece helped make me the man I am today. Thanks to Collins' masterful writing and Keach's untouchable portrayal I don't have to let that part of my life slip away. With any luck my whiny kids will become interested and toughen-up a little, too, and the cycle will begin anew.
Long live Mike Hammer.
Buy The Big Bang by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins at your local book store or online at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.