Hammer on Stage!

January 23rd, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

Barb and I are back in Iowa after a lovely sojourn to Florida for five days, where my play Mickey Spillane’s Encore for Murder was produced at the Murray Theater of Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. The roster of name artists who have appeared at this venue is mind-boggling – Encore premiered the same night that another stage at the complex featured Jackson Browne. We had a full house of 200. So did Jackson – of 4200.

The mastermind of this event is legendary Broadway producer Zev Buffman. He is the President and CEO of Ruth Eckerd Hall, and has produced more than 40 Broadway shows. He partnered with Elizabeth Taylor to present her in her Broadway debut, The Little Foxes. He’s also the co-founding General Partner of the NBA Champion Basketball team the Miami Heat.

The set of Encore for Murder with the radio sound effects table and the looming screen that set the scenes — here showing the play’s poster.

In addition to all that and much more, Zev is a wonderful guy with impeccable theater instincts. Encore for Murder was designed to be a play presented in the “old radio” format. But Zev got the idea (which I frankly was not sold on) to open the play up by having the central character (named Mike Hammer – ring a bell?) be played more theatrically, with Hammer off script, a full music score, a looming projector with dozens of scene-setting images somewhat in Sin City style, and with even the radio actors in costume and participating in theatrical blocking and action. Zev’s hybrid – beautifully executed by director Richard Rice with his son Devin providing noir-ish music and a solid mostly local cast supporting consummate pro Gary Sandy – made me a believer. Yes, you heard it here first – I was wrong. The preview and opening night audiences loved it.

Barb was amused and probably a little appalled that within the first fifteen minutes of us arriving at the theater, I began “directing” director Richard Rice.

Gary – who was Lt. Anderson in my film Mommy’s Day (1995) – was a bundle of energy, the engine of the piece, perfectly playing Hammer for tongue-in-cheek humor where appropriate but turning on a dime into tough-guy brutality. This didn’t occur to anybody till I pointed it out, but Gary is the first and only actor to date to play Hammer on stage – all previous Hammer actor portrayals have been in the movies or on radio and TV. (Gary was star of the radio-style production of Encore for Murder in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2010).

Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer at the start of the play — the trenchcoat and hat go quickly on a coat tree, returning in full only at the close, with the hat returning now and then during the proceedings.

There’s serious talk of the other Hammer radio-style play, The Little Death (which won the Audie), being presented later this year.

What a wonderful way to kick off Mickey’s centenary!

M.A.C. and Gary Sandy (center) and the entire cast of Encore for Murder at the post-preview night panel.

M.A.C. finding Gary Sandy an easy audience at the panel.

The reviews and press coverage in Florida for Encore were terrific. A sample follows, starting with this behind the scenes article.

And here is the same paper’s rave review of opening night.

Producer Zev Buffman, M.A.C., Gary Sandy, director Richard Rice.

Meanwhile, in the rest of my career….

A cry goes out for DC to reprint the comic strip Batman continuity written by me and drawn by Marshall Rogers. I hope this happens, and I hope I get billing – at the time, the warm and wonderful folks at the Tribune syndicate made me take my name off, threatening to sue me if I didn’t and also to fire me (which they anyway a little while later).

This column talks (favorably) about the Quarry comic book mini-series and The Last Stand.

Here’s a nice Quarry write-up.

And finally this piece presents a Spillane cover gallery that even J. Kingston Pierce would envy. (I own one of these covers. Guess which one and win absolutely nothing.)


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6 Responses to “Hammer on Stage!”

  1. Paul.Griffith says:

    Congratulations M.A.C.!!Would love to catch the play! Looking forward to the upcoming releases and hope you, Barb, Nathan and his family are well.

  2. Devin Rice says:

    Hi Max,
    A real honor to meet you and Barb! Also an honor and a delight to get to write music for this great script. I hope we have the opportunity to work together again soon!

    Very best from Seattle,
    Devin Rice

  3. radens says:

    Thanks. It is a handsome production and it’s a pleasure to see the folks and the photos.

  4. Mary Stone says:

    I started reading this script in September & fell in love with it! I had my own visions as to how it would look “on stage”. Finally, I got to see it Live for both shows on Saturday Jan 20th! Honest to God, it brought tears to actually see it unfold! I loved the backgrounds & music! The actors that played several roles were awesome! Gary IS Hammer! How perfect, believable. Velda was very dynamic! Rita really was a “kitten”! Total Diva! My 3rd show was Sunday Jan 21, which I felt was even better than the 2 Saturday shows. The audience for the 3 shows I attended were older. I felt that I helped get them to laugh at the lines/scenes that were funny because I knew which ones deserved the chuckles. My ears were listening for audience comments. I’m happy to report that all were positive! They enjoyed the show. I wish I could have stayed in Florida to see EVERY show! The 3 I saw will always be a great memory! Thank you for writing a great script! I want more!

  5. Thanks so much, everyone — with special nods and thank you’s to Devin Rice (the talented composer of the ENCORE FOR MURDER score) and to Mary Stone, for her lovely, lovely post.

  6. Mary Stone says:

    Thank you for your kind reply. I’ve been reading various show reviews and all are positive! I haven’t seen one single negative review. So glad they recognize good writing, talent, effects, etc. No “fake news” in their articles! Ha ha! Kudos to all involved!