Everything Old Is “New” Again

September 27th, 2022 by Max Allan Collins
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher
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Audio CD: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link

Audio Sample:

The Dark City
The Dark City, 1987 Bantam Paperback

Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life Blu-Ray
Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life
2007 Blu-Ray, VCI

A new book is out about Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. I’m not going to share the name or much information about that book with you, because the book you should be buying and reading is the 600-page Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me, available now in a handsome and inexpensive ($15.49) trade paperback.

This other Ness/Butcher book (350 pages) is about as redundant and unnecessary a volume as I can imagine. But history is fair game, true crime included, and it’s not like this hasn’t happened to me before.

My theories developed about various unsolved or controversially solved crimes in my Nathan Heller novels have paved the way for non-fiction writers who didn’t have to (and didn’t) credit me, since I had merely written a novel. That those novels are crammed with research, often aided by George Hagenauer and done on site and in libraries and raiding old bookstores at much time and expense, didn’t matter a whit.

My novel Butcher’s Dozen, published in 1988, was the first book-length look at Ness and the Mad Butcher case, and George and I did much on site research about the case, and at Case Western Reserve Library found the massive Ness scrapbooks that hadn’t been seen since 1961 when Oscar Fraley wrote Four Against the Mob about Ness in Cleveland, the only book about Ness in Cleveland prior to my The Dark City in 1987. Since then have come any number of books about the case, including a graphic novel by a guy who used to write fannishly to the letter column of Ms. Tree (where Butcher’s Dozen was announced, advertised and discussed); there have also been scads of movies announced but never made.

Fair game, all of it. Dirty pool, at times, but within the rules.

And I am not here to cry plagiarism against the author of this new Ness/Butcher book. Maybe to cry “foul” a little. Here’s why. As part of the promotion of the book, the Smithsonian announced the author’s appearance for an event called “Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life,” featuring an actor playing Ness (as well as the author).

Some of you may know that I wrote a play that I adapted into a 2005 film for Iowa PBS of that very name – a one-man show with the late Michael Cornelison as Ness. I wrote the Smithsonian and complained. The author wrote me an e-mail saying the title hadn’t been his idea, and that he really admired my work very much. But he assured me that his September 2022 book had not been influenced by the Collins/Schwartz August 2020 book because, after all, he had concluded his research in 2019.

Uh, right.

The author claimed to have great respect for me, but the only book about Ness of mine that is (minorly) referenced in his new book is the Collins/Schwartz Scarface and the Untouchable (2018). There is a vague reference by this self-professed longtime Ness buff in the new book’s prologue (without mention of my name) to my Ness/Batman graphic novel, Scar of the Bat. No mention of Ness being a character in True Detective and subsequent Nate Heller novels. No mention of the four Eliot Ness in Cleveland novels, which have often been prominently mentioned in lectures and in print by Cleveland’s predominant Ness expert, Rebecca McFarland. And of course no mention of either An Untouchable Life or Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher.

It’s a tad hard to imagine that an Eliot Ness buff would never have heard of me or my pioneering research efforts (initially with George Hagenauer and later with Brad Schwartz, the latter the major Ness expert on the planet).

And it’s been frustrating to see friends and friendly acquaintances of mine extolling the virtues of this competitive book with no mention (or possibly awareness) of our book. The MWA Edgar committees did not acknowledge either of our massive, and frankly ground-breaking books, but the author of this new Ness/Butcher book seems a shoo-in, as he’s won before. That howl of anguish you will hear, should this author be nominated or win, will (I assure) you have emanated from Iowa (and Princeton).

When we queried the publisher (also the publisher of four Nate Heller novels, the most recent, Do No Harm, featuring Ness prominently…in Cleveland!) with questions about research material from our book that seemed to have made its way into this new one, we were assured that the author simply used the same sources we had. We were unable to confirm that, but we have been assured that future editions of this rival book will have some mention of ours, perhaps in a “recommended further reading” manner.

We appreciate that.

We don’t intend to take this any further. But if you are thinking about reading – or recommending – a book on this subject, please consider doing what the author of this new Ness/Butcher book doesn’t do: mention Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz.

[UPDATE to this week’s UPDATE written 9/25/’22:] In the Smithsonian event last night (9/26/’22), the author of the Ness/Butcher book did, if belatedly, acknowledge the two Collins/Shwartz Ness non-fiction books, giving them a full screen to themselves. He also listed me as one of “many” who have written Ness novels. That I was the first was not mentioned, nor was my role in rediscovering the Ness scrapbooks. Nor was the one-man show/feature presentation, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life. But it’s a start.

* * *

On a happier note, I’d like to share a wonderful (starred!) review from Publisher’s Weekly of the forthcoming new Nate Heller novel, The Big Bundle due out Dec. 6.

The Big Bundle: A Nathan Heller Novel

Max Allan Collins. Hard Case Crime, $22.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-78909-852-5

In MWA Grand Master Collins’s superb 18th Nathan Heller novel, (after 2020’s Do No Harm), the PI crosses paths with Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa. It’s 1953 in Kansas City, Mo., when millionaire Robert Greenlease retains Heller’s services after his six-year-old son, Bobby, is kidnapped and ransomed for $600,000. Greenlease makes the payment, but the kidnappers delay returning the child. Heller uses his underworld contacts to try to get a lead on Bobby’s whereabouts by attempting to trace the marked bills used for the payoff, though he fears that the boy is already dead. Flash forward to 1958. Heller is working both for Hoffa, the corrupt Teamsters leader, and Kennedy, then chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee, who’s looking to nail Hoffa. With half of the ransom never accounted for, Kennedy hopes Heller can help him prove it ended up in the Teamsters Pension Fund. Heller’s search for the money and the truth behind Bobby’s abduction proves perilous. Collins again artfully uses a real-life crime, one now obscure but headline-making in the 1950s, as the springboard for a crackerjack plot. This is another standout in a consistently good series.

And I have to share this nifty Big Bundle review from the great Ron Fortier, whose “Pulp Fiction Reviews” column is always a fun, informative read.

THE BIG BUNDLE
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crimes
Arriving Dec 6th 2022
295 pgs

This is the 20th in the Nate Heller historical crime series by Collins. If you are unfamiliar with them, the conceit is simple enough. Collins, either working alone, or with other collaborators, researches an actual American crime and then drops his fictional private eye into the tale as either an investigator or actual participant in the events. In this case, he becomes both. The story revolves around the 1953 kidnapping of young Bobby Greenlease of Kansas City. The six year old was the son of Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Sr, a multi-millionaire auto dealer. His kidnappers were paid a ransom of $60,000, the largest ever paid out in American history at that time.

Collins splits the book in two parts. The first has Heller hired by Greenlease Sr. to help find the kidnappers and rescue his son. We’ve always admired Collin’s ability to empathize with his characters and that is never more evidenced than here. Believing the boy is already dead, after finding Hall, Heller’s emotional restraint is nothing short of painful as his desire to blow away the scumbag killer is kept in check with having to learn the truth. His portrayal of Carl Hall is both deft and creepy at the same time.

At the time of the couples’ eventual arrest, only half the money was recovered. Five years later the mystery remains as to where it went and who ended up with it. Reporters and police investigators suggested the funds had been laundered through organized crime and ended up in Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union Fund. Thus Greenlease Sr. once again hires Heller; this time to find out where it went. Not because he needs the money, but is sickened by the thought that unknown lowlifes profited from his son’s abduction. Like his previous Heller books, Collins skillfully weaves his protagonist through the documented historical facts having him cross paths with such players Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy.

“The Big Bundle” is classic Max Collins, that alone should have you pre-ordering it. Of all his Heller novels to date, this one will leave you feeling as if you’d been sucker punched. Since the Garden of Eden, evil has existed in our world. In 1953, it reared its head tragically.

A final note. We rarely mention of the covers of books we review. Hard Case Crime is one of the few publishers out there that always delivers stunning paintings reminiscent of the early 50s paperbacks. Paul Mann does the honors on this title offering up a Nate Heller who looks a whole lot like the late actor Robert Lansing. What we’d call brilliant casting, Mr. Mann.

And the love fest continues with this great Library Journal review of the about-to-be-published (Oct. 4) new Barbara Allan novel, Antiques Liquidation.

Antiques Liquidation Cover
Antiques Liquidation
by Barbara Allan
Severn House.
(A Trash ’n’ Treasures Mystery, Bk. 16).
Oct. 2022. 208p. ISBN 9780727850911. $29.99.

Brandy once again finds herself an unwilling partner to her septuagenarian mother’s antiques subterfuge in Allan’s 16th “Trash ’N’ Treasures” mystery (following Antiques Carry On). Awoken early in the morning by Vivian for a shady antiques shopping trip, Brandy is prepared for something to go wrong. With a little blackmail, Vivian has secured access to the auction goods before the auction happens. She has her choice of deadstock, and after an encounter with the police, is able to take it safely home. However, murder is never far behind where Brandy and Vivian are involved, and the auctioneer soon turns up dead. Vivian adds her own interpretation of events throughout the book, often to humorous effect. Readers will also find several recipes and Vivian’s tips for buying and selling antiques. Brandy’s asides about events in the previous novels will help new readers to enjoy this installment without having read the rest of the series. Fans who are returning to the series will continue to find humor in Brandy and Vivian’s relationship and will enjoy seeing favorite characters return.
VERDICT: Best for readers of cozy mysteries who enjoy small-town living, humor with a side of murder, and cute canine companions.
Reviewed by Tristan Draper, Aug 26, 2022

Our old pard Caleb York is getting a boost from Kensington, who will run price discount promotions on the York novels during October at major eBook retailers. For example, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek will be promoted with a BookBub blast on 10/8/2022 – a rootin’ tootin’ 99-cents!

* * *

The aftermath of the presentation here in Muscatine, Iowa, on September 17 of Gary Sandy in my play, Encore for Murder (developed from a Mickey Spillane synopsis), has been gratifying. The people who saw it have approached me with praise, and others with regret that they didn’t see it.

We have just started to scratch the surface of the voluminous footage we gathered on HD of the performance. Excerpts (and interview footage of Gary Sandy and the Velda and Pat Chambers actors) will be included in the new version of my 1999 Spillane documentary, in progress. And I am hopeful we will have a complete feature version of the recorded play as well. I haven’t spent much time in editing suites in recent years and can’t wait to get back in there with Phil Dingeldein and our new buddy Chad Bishop.

* * *

Finally, Craig Zablo gives The Big Bundle a big boost here!

M.A.C.

New Mike Hammer Book Giveaway & Encore For Murder

September 20th, 2022 by Max Allan Collins
Kill Me If You Can cover
Hardcover: Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Google Play Kobo
Digital Audiobook: Google Play Audiobook Store
Audiobook MP3 CD:
Audiobook CD:

As our celebration of 75 years of Mike Hammer rolls on, the new Hammer novel, Kill Me If You Can, is about to be published by Titan today (September 20).

We have ten copies of the book for the first ten who write me in exchange for a review on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and other review-friendly sites. Kill Me If You Can comes chronologically after Velda’s disappearance and charts (among much else) Hammer’s descent into depression and the bottle…and yet it’s a rousing good time! I promise. As a bonus I have included five short stories (two of them Hammer tales, significant additions to the canon) taking place in the “Hammer-verse.”

[All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support! –Nate]

* * *

I’m involved in many things to celebrate this 75th anniversary of the publication of the novel I, the Jury (1947), including this December the ClassicFlix release of the film I, the Jury (1953), with a 4K Disc as well as a regular and a 3-D Blu-ray. I’ve done a commentary for the film and also included a remaster of the Brian Keith/Blake Edwards 1954 Mike Hammer pilot film (with an on-camera wraparound). Wolfpack has already published The Menace by Mickey and me (a novelization of an unproduced horror screenplay), a collection of his three Young Adult adventure novels, including the previously unpublished title yarn, The Shrinking Island; and a terrific anthology of novelettes and short stories, Stand Up and Die!, which includes a Spillane/Collins “Hammer” story.

Still to come are an expanded, updated version of my 1999 documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and the definitive biography, Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me coming out from Mysterious Press in January 2023.

The most quirky and (for me at least) particularly fun iteration of the Hammer celebration has been the local (Muscatine, Iowa) presentation of my Hammer play (from a one-page Spillane synopsis), Encore for Murder. We presented the one-time only performance on Saturday, September 17.

A generous array of photos accompany this update, and I will share some thoughts and memories about it. However, first I’ll mention that we recorded the production and will, at the least, be excerpting scenes (and a few cast interviews) from it in the expanded Spillane documentary.

Noted radio announcer Max Allan Collins introduces the play.
Noted radio announcer Max Allan Collins introduces the play.

It began with a phone call from local theater maven Karen Cooney, who wanted to mount a play in the style of an old radio show as a fund-raiser for the local Art Center. She thought doing a Dick Tracy radio show would be fun and I, of course, was the logical person to provide the script and participate generally. I turned her down flat, saying I had no interest in promoting Dick Tracy, a property I was fired off of in 1993.

A few days later I called Karen back and said, “However – I have an existing Mike Hammer script in the radio style that you could use.” I explained that this was the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer’s debut and I was looking for ways to promote that – particularly fun ways.

I told her that Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame had played Hammer in this play, Encore for Murder, at a mystery festival in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2012, and again in 2018 at the prestigious Ruth Ekherd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. Gary’s involvement, and mine, grew out of his co-starring with Patty McCormack in my indie feature, Mommy’s Day.

Encore for Murder was originally recorded in 2011 for Blackstone Audio (in a longer version) by the great Stacy Keach and a full cast including Mike Cornelison and Tim Kazurinsky.

Rene Mauck as Velda with Gary Sandy as Mike.
Rene Mauck as Velda with Gary Sandy as Mike.

Initially for this local presentation, I was going to read Hammer, and the production would be much like the Owensboro one, which was strictly actors at microphones with a sound-effects table in the orchestra pit. Karen wondered if Gary Sandy might consider coming to Muscatine to appear in our production. Somewhat reluctantly, not wanting to put a friend on the spot, I agreed to ask Gary and find out what it might cost to bring him in, because that would be a fund-raising effort unto itself.

I thought getting Gary to do this was a very long shot, but he not only immediately said yes, he refused any compensation (beyond expenses and lodging, which I insisted upon). This began to get me thinking about the more hybrid presentation we’d done in Clearwater, with costumes and more stage action, as well as a giant screen with scene-setting slides and musical cues, and a foley table right on stage to invoke the feel for a studio audience in the days of Golden Age radio.

Still, with a local amateur cast, I didn’t want to get carried away.

My role was co-director, basically letting co-director Cooney cast it (she knew local dramatic talent and I didn’t) and get the play on its feet. When Gary arrived, I would step in and fine-tune. When I went to the first table read of the script, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of the cast.

I went home and said to Barb, who was keeping her distance from this project, “Am I crazy, or could this cast actually be pretty good?” Her answers were “Yes…and maybe.” I begged her to go the second table read and give me her opinion. I read Hammer myself. Afterward, Barb said, “Yes, they’re good.”

From then on I went to all the rehearsals and read the Hammer role, to give the cast a sense of pace and tone. Karen wanted a table read with Gary on the phone, a conference call. Again, somewhat reluctantly as I hated to impose on him, I asked….and Gary wound up doing two table reads.

Gary Sandy does not do anything half-way.

We rehearsed initially in a small black-box theater at Muscatine Community College (where Barb and I had gone in 1966 – 1968, and I taught from 1972 – 1977). We were not able to get into the rather impressive Muscatine High School auditorium until the Tuesday before the Saturday show. Five days to mount and perform it.

Oh…kay….

Gary was coming in Wednesday, traveling during that day, and might stop by and say hi to the cast (all our rehearsals began at 6 p.m. as the school was using the theater till then – we would have to strike the set every time). We’d only have him Thursday and Friday before the Saturday performance. Making this truly problematic was our foley artist, Chad Bishop – studio manager of Muscatine Access Channel Nine – would be controlling the live action sound effects and the prerecorded ones too, as well as the audio mix and musical cues…all from on stage!

(I provided the Stan Purdy music from Mickey’s 1954 Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Story LP, and from Chris Christensen’s score for the 1999 documentary.)

The pre-recorded sound-effect cues included things like tire squeals, crashing glass through a skylight, and a plethora of gun shots. Gary would have to conform to these prerecorded cues or unintentional hilarity would ensue.

Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer. Foley artist Chad Bishop at right, the full cast on stage throughout.
Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer. Foley artist Chad Bishop at right, the full cast on stage throughout.

So I got very involved in the directing that first Tuesday night in the real theater space. I was on stage talking to Chad about his foley work and the difficulties they created, when I turned and found myself nose to nose with a grinning Gary Sandy.

After a six-hour drive, the unannounced Gary stepped right in and we ran the full first act, sound effects and music cues and all. The next night we ran the second act the same way. Much of this had to do with Gary coordinating with Chad. But it was thrilling, really was, to see this already very good cast get pulled up at least a notch by Gary’s performance level. I was already impressed by the way every single cast member took direction – because my experience is in features, I work on tweaks not broad strokes, and you might think local talent would have difficulty with nuance. In this case, at least, you’d be wrong.

Gary was not happy with the fedoras we had for him, and neither was I. I decided to try something very special. I have one of Mickey’s Miller Lite-era porkpie Stetsons that his wife Jane gave me – in a hat box with Mickey’s own writing on it. Gary’s mouth dropped open when I presented it to him in his dressing room and said, “If this fits, it’s yours…until after the performance.” Each time he wore it at rehearsal, he returned it to me in the hat box and I brought it again the next day. He only wears it at the open and close of the show…but for the play’s final lines, when he steps out very close to the audience, he looked amazingly like Mickey.

Mike Hammer (Gary Sandy) about to make his exit.
Mike Hammer (Gary Sandy) about to make his exit.

We had two dress rehearsals – Friday night and Saturday afternoon, with only a couple of hours between dress and the Saturday night performance. These were intense and I was tweaking the cast performances and my script throughout it all – some changes were made after the final dress rehearsal!

That dress rehearsal had gone well but not flawlessly, and I left wondering whether this was going to be a bullet train or just a train wreck. I was also concerned because we were up against a televised University of Iowa football game. I knew, from playing band jobs on such nights, audience size would be negatively impacted.

But the turnout was very good – three-hundred souls when we’d been under two hundred on advance sales. The silver lining was a V.I.P. After Party, meet-and-greet/Q and A at the great Merrill Hotel, which had sold out at fifty bucks a pop.

My longtime film/video collaborator Phil Dingeldein joined with Chad and his assistant Jeremy Ferguson in positioning stationary cameras around unobtrusively. Phil shot the dress rehearsals (often roving) and the live performance. He had not been to any of the other rehearsals and he, like Barb, was surprised by the cast and the level of this local production, done under tight, unforgiving circumstances, not to mention a nonexistent budget.

The audience loved it, laughing in the right places, drawing in breath at the tough action – our record was a standing ovation, or I should say Gary and the cast (including hilarious on-stage foley artist Chad Bishop) received a standing ovation.

Where do we go from here? I know we obtained footage that will give us some interesting new moments for the expanded documentary. Having Gary and his Velda (Rene Mauck) and Pat Chambers (Chris Causey) talking about playing these iconic roles alone is a big plus.

Phil, Chad and I will edit the performance together and then there will be hard thinking to do. On the positive side, we have a lot of footage, or “coverage” as we say in the feature film game. I would love to share Gary’s charismatic performance as Hammer, as to date he’s the only actor to perform as the character in a stage play; his take in Encore is amusing without being campy, able to spoof one moment and slide into genuine tough-guy menace the next. One thing I’m considering, if Gary gives his blessing, is including it as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray of the expanded Spillane documentary.

Obviously we have to see how well it comes together as a video presentation (it’s high-def and I already know Phil shot it well). Perhaps if people understand the context, and the small miracle of this local production (Muscatine is a town of 24,000 after all), they will find the experience entertaining and even worthwhile…particularly with a pro like Gary Sandy at its center.

Phil Dingeledin on the camera at ENCORE FOR MURDER, with Max looking on.
Phil Dingeledin on the camera at ENCORE FOR MURDER, with Max looking on.

But can we, as filmmakers, capture the excitement and enjoyment of those in the theater that night?

Stay, as they say, tuned.

M.A.C.

* * *
Fans who made the trip to Muscatine for ENCORE FOR MURDER: Mike and Jackie White.
Fans who made the trip to Muscatine for ENCORE FOR MURDER: Mike and Jackie White.
Max, co-director Karen Cooney, and Gary Sandy at the V.I.P. after party.
Max, co-director Karen Cooney, and Gary Sandy at the V.I.P. after party.
The cast of ENCORE FOR MURDER hams it up at the after party.
The cast of ENCORE FOR MURDER hams it up at the after party.
Max, Gary and filmmaker Phil Dingeldein at the after party.
Max, Gary and filmmaker Phil Dingeldein at the after party.

Mike Hammer And Gary Sandy Come To Iowa

September 13th, 2022 by Max Allan Collins
Encore for Murder, Muscatine poster
Purchase tickets here: https://macfriends.booktix.com/

Saturday, September 17, will be the one-time only performance of Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder starring Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame as Mike Hammer. The radio-style play will be presented at the Muscatine High School Theater, 2705 Cedar Street in Muscatine, Iowa. General admissions tickets are $15 apiece, plus a $3 processing fee for online ordering (tickets will also be available at the door).

Co-director Karen Cooney and I have been working with the cast for over a month, and now we go into a full week of rehearsals, with Gary joining us this Wednesday. By “radio-style” what I mean is a presentation in the manner of a Golden Age radio program with a studio audience. That means the actors, though in costume, will use scripts at microphones. A big-screen slide show presentation (40 images) will set the scenes.

A major highlight is the sound effects table, manned by filmmaker Chad Bishop, who also handles the music cues (and selected the slides). Chad brings humor and imagination to the on-stage creation of sound effects (a “foley artist,” in movie terms).

Speaking of movies, my longtime collaborator on film and video projects, Phil Dingeldein of Rock Island’s dphilms, will be shooting the Saturday evening performance (and two dress rehearsals). We will be using footage – both performance and behind-the-scenes – in the coming expansion of my 1999 documentary about Mickey Spillane. We may be doing a shorter documentary on the production itself, and there’s a long shot chance we might be able to put the entire production together as a video program.

As Phil says, “We’ll see what we get.”

The talented cast is entirely local, with several actors veterans of Bishop’s indie film The Man in Purple (it’s on You Tube), about Norman Baker, the Muscatine Depression-era cancer quack who I fictionalized in the Mallory novel, No Cure for Death (1983).

Gary’s tough, wry take on Hammer was first presented in productions of Encore for Murder in Owensboro, Kentucky, and Clearwater, Florida.

Everyone involved has worked hard to make this a special production. My weekly update goes out all across the country (and beyond), so this local production may seem a little esoteric for those of you too far away to consider going. But it’s a fun part of the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer and, with luck, will play nicely into the expanded Spillane documentary (and possibly other forms).

Short update this week! Lots to do getting ready for Mike Hammer and Gary Sandy coming to town.


M.A.C. and co-director Karen Cooney on Muscatine in Focus

M.A.C.

Encore For Paula

September 6th, 2022 by Max Allan Collins

Last Thursday (Sept. 1) I appeared on the Paula Sands Live at KWQC TV in Davenport. Paula’s hour-long Monday-thru-Friday show is extremely high-rated in the Quad Cities market, and she herself – also the nightly news anchor – is celebrating an astonishing forty years at the station. (I accuse her regularly of having an aging portrait in the attic.) This was my first TV shot post-Covid lockdown, and it felt like coming home.

Paula Sands and M.A.C.

As some of you may recall, Paula Sands Live (or a satirized version thereof) appeared with Paula as herself in my movie Mommy’s Day. She was a major character in the film and did a terrific job. Also in that film was Gary Sandy, co-starring with Patty McCormack of course; Gary’s upcoming appearance in Encore for Murder as Mike Hammer on September 17 at the Muscatine High School Theater grows out of my friendship with him when he shot his scenes right here in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1996.

Gary is generously donating his time, reprising his performance as Hammer in the radio-style play Encore for Murder (we originally presented it several years back in Owensboro, Kentucky, and later at Clearwater, Florida), in this one-night-only benefit for the Muscatine Art Center.

Here’s the info, in case you missed it, for those of you close enough to this area (or crazed enough to drive or fly here).

We had our second table read via phone with Gary and the full cast on the evening of the day I appeared on Paula Sands Live. It went very well and the production is really coming together. The cast assembled by co-director Karen Cooney is excellent, and we have Chad Bishop (himself a filmmaker among his many talents) as the foley artist, which is a big, entertaining part of the play, as old-fashioned radio sound effects (and some newfangled computer effects) are generated right on stage.

We are planning to shoot footage at several rehearsals and the performance itself for use in the expansion of my 1999 Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer documentary, which is part of what I’m planning for the ongoing 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer celebration. We already have a video distributor lined up (which will include streaming).

And speaking of Mommy’s Day, my filmmaking partner Phil Dingeldein and I are remastering Mommy and its sequel for another Blu-Ray release. We have vastly improved visuals and will return to the original 4:3 format as intended. For those of you who have bought the movies before, well, uh…thanks! But we are just trying to get the best versions out there so that we can appeal to more streaming services and make the physical media as doggone good as we can.

Mommy Before and After upscale/deinterlace.

And speaking of physical media….

So, all of you film and TV fans, remember when we were told that physical media – that journey from Betamax and VHS to laser disc and DVD, and more recently Blu-Ray to 4K discs – would soon be a thing of the past. Would die a much deserved death, because after all everything we could ever want to see will be permanently available in the “cloud.” It’ll all be out there, childishly simple to access, thanks to the wonder of (drum roll please) streaming services.

This is where you are free to either (a), laugh derisively, (b), laugh maniacally, (c), swear and pound a fist on a table or desk, (d), sit morosely staring into space, or (e), find a quiet corner to sit in and weep. (“All of the above” doesn’t seem a practical option, but attempt if you wish.)

After all, we now know several things about this Brave New Streaming World. Well, first it sucks. Sucks money from each of us and just plain sucks. But admittedly it offers a lot of options, if mostly taking the old So Many Channels and Nothing Is On paradigm to ridiculous heights/lows. But all of these streaming services offer their selection options for a limited time. Sometimes, as with HBO Max, they break promises to subscribers like a popular girl in junior high in 1960 (but I am not bitter).

Yes, movies and TV shows are out there somewhere in the ether, just not where you can access them.

Meanwhile, Blu-ray and 4K chug somewhat expensively along, and break the backs (or anyway banks) of film and TV buffs trying to build their non-cyber library. And yet what a wonderful thing a non-cyber library is. For me, my collection of DVDs, Blu-Rays and 4Ks are (nearly) as important to me as the thousands of books I’ve accumulated in my lifetime.

Now I am not against Kindle and Nook and other methods of reading books on little monitor screens. Some people even read books on their phones, probably the same troubled souls who watch 4K movies on those tiny screens, unless they are carrying large flat screens in their pockets and purses in the pursuit of making their lives seem even more absurd.

I am tolerant of Kindle especially because I have made much more money in recent years from e-books than from what I like to call real books. God bless people for utilizing that tool. And I am obviously berating the streaming services even as I seek to sell my wares to them. But here is a wonderful irony – several of the generations younger than mine (actually, that’s more than several) prefer to buy, read and collect physical books. Kindle use is much, much more predominant among older people, the kind of people still wondering when those flying cars are going to get here.

Listen, Kindle has its place. If I were in a big city commuting, I would be using the one that is gathering dust somewhere in this house (it was given to me by the Thomas & Mercer folks). But I like media in physical object form. I like to hold a book in my hands. I like to study a book’s cover (not the covers of most recent books, which are by and large cold and hideous beyond belief) and delight at how it reflects the book at hand (or bitch about how it doesn’t). I even like the smell of books. And I like the way DVDs and Blu-Rays and 4Ks have pictorial jackets and can be lined up on shelves like books with spines and everything. I am resolutely old-fashioned in that regard, and delighted that so many people younger than me are reading books not on glowing screens.

But glowing screens played an interesting role in all this. Yes, it’s annoying that people have their faces in their phones, and it will serve them right in thirty years when their radioactive noses fall off and they have to go searching for them in the dark (the detached noses will glow, so will be easy to find, don’t worry).

But it was Harry Potter, thanks to the now reviled J.K. Rowling, and the much criticized cell phone that taught several generations to read again. They read those Potter books, actual physical books, and on their phones they read (“read” both past and present tense here) e-mails and texts, and they write them, too. Like people used to write letters.

When I hear people of my generation say, “These kids don’t read today,” I think: that’s what old people were saying when I was a kid; and statistically more old people are reading on Kindles rather than actual books, so what are they talking about?

I find the return to vinyl interesting if odd, since I have loved CDs for their lacks of skips and crackles for decades now. But the CD is old-school physical media that truly is dying, because downloadable music is more closely infinite than the very not infinite “availability” of film and TV from the streamers. Downloadable music is the enemy because it has people creating their own play lists and the art of the album is damaged and maybe dying (you know, like most of Sinatra’s Capitol catalogue and Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds and My Aim Is True and the first Vanilla Fudge album and Weezer’s green album).

So it’s a mixed bag, and it will not sort itself out (if it does) while I am still here.

My son Nate – who is selling a lot more books with his Jo Jo translations than I could ever dream of – has a wonderful idea that I hope he carries through on. He wants to write a blog where each week or maybe day he plucks a random disc from my endless DVD and Blu-Ray collection and watches (and then reviews) it. These will be things he did not watch with me while I was on the planet. I will now walk across the room to a bookcase of Blu-rays, and a spinner of DVDs, and pluck five things at eyes-closed random.

Here are Nate’s first five columns. He will discuss:

The Bowery Boys Volume Four (okay, I cheated on this one); The Halliday Brand (a western directed by Gun Crazy’s Joseph Lewis; An Angel for Satan (with Barbara Steele); Haunt from Scott Beck & Bryan Woods (the Quad Cities boys who made good with A Quiet Place, and unlike the Bowery Boys a genuine chance selection); and Ernest Scared Stupid.

Man would I like to read that column.

M.A.C. with JoJo's Bizarre Adventure shelves at BAM!
THAT’S MY BOY! Translator Nate Collins’ shelves of Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure at the Davenport BAM!
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Here’s a nice write-up on the upcoming Encore for Murder.

Ms. Tree is on this cool list from Punk Noir (great name); but there’s an inaccurate suggestion that I’ve written more than just the one Ms. Tree prose novel for Hard Case Crime.

Finally, this Wealth of Geeks essay discusses the merits of ignoring canon in films from a book (or comic book) series, and uses Mike Hammer to demonstrate. Good piece.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.