Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today….

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

I have been wanting to share this with you for ages, but couldn’t figure out how to do so – all I have is a VHS tape of it. What is it? Seduction of the Innocents’ video of “The Truth Hurts” from our CD, The Golden Age. I love this video, and how well it displays Miguel Ferrer’s charisma, and Bill Mumy’s acting. Also there for the video shoot, and perhaps glimpsed here, was Brandon Lee, who was (believe it or not) a kind of camp follower of the band – a wonderful guy.

Time passes and things happen, and along the way we meet – if we are very lucky and I have been – some remarkable people, and that includes those mentioned above, but also my bandmates Steve Leialoha and Chris Christensen. Chris in 1990 had not joined the band yet, but he released “The Golden Age” on CD on his Beat Brothers label (also the label that released the various Crusin’ CDs).

Thirty years ago? Really?

Also thirty years ago was the release of the Dick Tracy film, and it’s getting some Thirtieth Anniversary play right now.

So here is a long excerpt from an article I wrote for Lee Goldberg’s Tied In – The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing. It is the behind-the-scenes amusing and horrorifying story of my writing of the movie tie-in novelization of Dick Tracy.

I wanted to write the Dick Tracy tie-in novel because I‘d been the writer of the syndicated strip since 1977, plus I was a mystery novelist. Landing the Dick Tracy strip was my first really big career break. I got the job after trying out for it, writing a sample continuity. I got the opportunity to try out chiefly because of some mystery novels I‘d written as a kid that had a strong comics element (Bait Money and Blood Money, both 1973).

My re-boot of the strip got a lot of positive attention, and I loved the job, having been a stone Dick Tracy fanatic since childhood. Before getting the strip, I had even developed a friendship with creator Chester Gould – a rarity, because he was very private – although Chet played no role in my landing this plum assignment.

Some time in the ‘80s, I was shown a potential screenplay for Dick Tracy, shared with me by my Chicago Tribune Syndicate editor. I thought it was lousy, and told him so, and he agreed. I figured that was the end of it.

But the Dick Tracy film was a project that wouldn‘t die – Clint Eastwood was going to be the square-jawed dick for a while, which was exciting, and then finally Warren Beatty got obsessed with it, and it became a Disney project and a very big deal. I offered to do the novel version and, thanks to my credentials as the writer of the strip, got the gig. I was thrilled.

Then they sent me the screenplay – it was virtually the same lousy one I‘d read seven or eight years before! I was
shocked and dismayed. Lots of the classic characters, villains and good guys alike, some good situations…but no story. Not really.

I asked my agent what to do about it, wondering what kind of novel I could fashion from such weak material, and he said, “Just do whatever you want with it. Nobody‘s going to read it at Disney – this is just small change to them.” Did I mention that my usually very savvy agent had never sold a tie-in before? And that this was the worst advice he ever gave me?

So I wrote a novel very loosely based on the screenplay. I added more characters from the strip, provided a story, even replaced what seemed to me to be unimaginative death traps with my own better ones. It was a terrific little novel, designed by and for a Dick Tracy fan like me.

I sent it in, went on about my business, and several months later my wife Barb and I were preparing to go on a research trip to Nassau (for my Nate Heller novel Carnal Hours) when my agent called with bad news. The Disney people hadn‘t even made it through my book – got maybe a third of the way – before saying a faithful-to-the-screenplay page one rewrite was needed.

In seven days.

Dick Tracy is legendarily a movie that Warren Beatty micro-managed. Every tie-in aspect was overseen by Beatty and his top people. The novel I‘d written was inappropriate for any film. To have taken these liberties on Dick Tracy was a blundering piece of farcical arrogance on my part that makes Fawlty Towers look like a documentary.

So with a 1989-era laptop (think about it), I went to Nassau and spent 70% of my time in the hotel room salvaging what little I could from my first version. Maybe 25% of it was workable. Actually, some of my non-screenplay stuff made it in, because it didn‘t contradict anything (Vitamin Flintheart is in my novel, for instance, but not in the film, not even deleted scenes).

Barb and I were in Nassau four or five days, and I came home and wrote the rest of it, just blazing. What I came up with was pretty good. I was as happy with it as possible, considering the weak screenplay that was my source. But that, as they say, was just the beginning….

I spent many, many hours on the phone with the producer of the film, Barry Osborne (later involved in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy), a gracious, intelligent man, and way too far up the food chain to be giving a lowly tie-in writer such instructions as, “The chair on page 223? It‘s green not red,” and, “You have 88 Keyes standing up from the piano too soon on page 187.” Most of the changes I was asked to make had to do with such surface things, and many substantial changes I had made in character motivation and dialogue were overlooked.

This was perhaps the most instructive thing I learned from the experience – if you follow the screenplay out the door, and do the surface of it accurately, you can slip in all kinds of substance where characterization and fleshing out of scenes are concerned.

Osborne actually liked the novel a lot, and he told me on several occasions that I had solved plot problems for them, which they had fixed by way of dialogue looping – and indeed the film has five or six lines I wrote.

Also, he asked me about a scene involving Tracy‘s girl friend Tess and her mother, where Mrs. Trueheart says a lot of negative stuff about Dick, how she is delighted that Tess and Dick have broken up and how selfish the detective is, etc. I had softened this scene, making Tess‘s mother much more positive about her potential son-in-law. The producer asked me why I‘d done that.

“Because,” I said, “Tracy joined the police force to avenge the death of Mrs. Trueheart‘s husband – Tess‘s father, who ran a deli and got shot by robbers. Mrs. Trueheart adores Dick Tracy. Every Dick Tracy fan knows that.”

And they re-shot the scene along my lines.

So I take a certain pride in knowing that Dick Tracy is a film in part based upon its own novelization. The final battle, however, reached new heights of absurdity, and involved phone calls with high-level folks at Disney. How high level? How about Jeffrey Katzenberg? The “surprise” ending of Dick Tracy is that the mysterious masked bad guy called the Blank is actually Breathless Mahoney. Sorry to ruin it for you, but, yes, Madonna did it.

This surprise seemed painfully obvious to me, the kind of shocker you can damn near figure out in the opening credits. But Beatty, Disney and all associated were convinced they had a surprise on the level of The Sixth Sense (I figured that out, too, about five minutes in). So I was instructed to remove it from the novel.

Wait a minute, you‘re saying. Remove what? The identity of the masked bad guy. The solution to the mystery. You know…who the killer is.

This surprise ending, the Disney folks told me, had to be guarded like the Coca Cola recipe or the unretouched Zapruder film. And when I pointed out that Dick Tracy was a mystery story, and that leaving the ending off a mystery story just might disappoint a few readers, this seemed of no particular import.

I did half a dozen rewrites of the ending, sneaking in hints of the Blank‘s identity, such as, “Why, look who it is under the mask…” said Tess, breathlessly. No sale. About a page was cut from the book.

I won only one small concession – that any printings after the film came out would include the full ending. Only one small print run represents the complete novel (the sixth, distributed to school book clubs).

There can be no doubt that I hold a singular honor among mystery writers – I wrote a bestselling whodunit… without revealing whodunit.

Perhaps by way of apology, the Disney people flew my wife, son, mother and father and me to the film‘s premiere at Disneyworld in Florida. They treated us great. Everybody attached to the movie treated us great, including Warren Beatty. We did a big press get-together with many of the stars. I was doing a Mumbles continuity in the Dick Tracy strip at the time, and Dustin Hoffman (who played Mumbles in the film) read me that day‘s strip from a local paper, doing Mumbles’ dialogue in character. Doesn‘t get much better than that.

Two postscripts: in our Disneyworld hotel, a coloring book on sale – an item that (it turned out) had been available to the public for several weeks – included the Breathless-is-the-Blank ending. As we say in the funnies, “Sigh….”

Also, the wonderful actress Estelle Parsons (who played Mrs. Truehart in the film) wandered into a bookstore at Disneyworld, where I was signing copies of my open-ended novel. We spoke, and she was very sweet, and I said to her, “You had to re-shoot your big scene, didn‘t you?”

She looked at me, amazed. “How did you know that?”

And I told her.

* * *

Here is a look at the Thirtieth Anniversary of Dick Tracy in which my role is dealt with somewhat.

And here, as well, my part touched on somewhat more extensively. (If this link requires you to subscribe to the Telegraph, note that a free subscription is available.)

As for the Seduction of the Innocent CD, “The Golden Age,” it’s possible Chris has a few copies left; write him at Jchris3227@aol.com. I have a few cassette copies and also Seduction’s live CD. You know where to find me.

M.A.C.

Both Girls Are on Sale, Plus the Perdition Saga

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

Some great deals on Kindle this week.


First, Brash Books is offering the complete Perdition saga (novels, not graphic novels), which includes the long suppressed full-length novelization of Road to Perdition, plus my two sequels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise. The fine folks at Brash are offering this through Amazon for a mere $9.99.



Girl Can’t Help It is on sale for $1.99 as a Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deal from now through June 30. And Girl Most Likely is just $0.99 in that same sale.




All three Reeder and Rogers novels are, too – $1.99 each as Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals through the end of the month – Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order. [Note from Nate: if you purchase or own any of the Girl or Reeder and Rogers books on Kindle, the audiobooks might also be available at a significant discount — I’m seeing them for $1.99.]

Speaking of political intrigue….

This is going to be a little tricky to write, so forgive me.

I belong to a number of writers’ and screenwriters’ organizations. They vary from quite active, guilds for example, to others that serve mainly to be a means of presenting awards in a chosen genre, with all the stops between. All of these approaches seem valid to me.

One of these organizations – please don’t try to guess which, because I do not wish to embarrass or criticize anyone, really – briefly became embroiled in the current, understandably heated conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement and the police in America.

I think “Black lives matter” gets fuzzy, because there’s an organized group but also the phrase itself. I can see how someone might have an issue with the group, but not how anyone could really thoughtfully object to the phrase. The “all lives matter” response is glib – of course all lives matter. But pointing out that black lives matter reflects the undeniable reality that a minority has literally been on the firing line for as long as any of us can remember, and a lot longer than that.

Here’s where it gets tricky. A member of the writers group in question is a retired police officer. He objected to some of what was said (or at least implied) about the police, and pointed out that police are also on the firing line and have been stabbed and spit upon in the aftermath of the horrific crime that took the life of George Floyd. He specifically objected to a pro-Black Lives Matter statement from our organization because, as a member, he wasn’t in full agreement with it. (I should say that this exchange took place before the disturbing footage emerged of a seventy-five-year-old man being shoved to the pavement and left to bleed there.)

Many members of our organization responded negatively, a very few getting personal. I tried to pour some water on the fire, but may have inadvertently poured gasoline instead, when I suggested we add a line pointing out that most police officers, a good number of whom are African-Americans, are dedicated public servants.

No one liked that suggestion, and I quickly withdrew it.

Within perhaps an hour and a half of the discussion between members (on line) beginning, the former police officer resigned from our organization.

I have frankly been trying to process this. Part of me thinks, as a writers organization, we should not have waded into politics. And yet is racism really politics? Isn’t it the sin that has stained America from day one, and goes way beyond politics? Doesn’t it go past left and right and into simple humanity?

Of the various writing and filmmaking organizations I belong to, I share membership with writers whose work I admire, but others whose work I dislike. As artists, we don’t always agree – in fact, we often don’t. For me, it’s about storytelling and creativity. I can respect a fellow writer whose writing I don’t admire because that writer is living the writer’s life that I am, with the rewards but also the problems that come with it – chasing the next gig, for example. On a basic level, we’re all just trying to make a living. Professional writers, no matter what they think of each other’s work, have that in common.

I feel our organization should have respected this member and his right to disagree. And if he objected to the statement the organization made, he should have had a better option other than to resign. Anyway, I’m not sure an organization should make a statement that all of its members haven’t signed off on. That statement should probably have included only the names of those members who did. I would have gladly signed. Proudly signed.

This (now ex-)member was a work horse, a dedicated member of the organization, and an award winner. It makes me sad and a little sick that we have lost him. Part of me knows that creative people have to take a stand against something as major as racism, and yet I admit to keeping (mostly) quiet about political figures who seem to me to be blatantly racist because I don’t want to offend any of my readers. That’s probably cowardly, but I have a living to make, and maybe there’s a subversive aspect to my fiction that might make somebody’s thinking change or at least shift a little over time. I don’t know. Really don’t. Maybe I’m just a coward.

On the other hand, Quarry setting fire to a Ku Klux Klan rally in Quarry in the Black may have indicated where I’m coming from.

Limiting freedom of speech within our writing and screenwriting organizations to those who agree with us is antithetical to everything those of us who create for a living are about. And this ex-member’s objections did not reflect racism, but in fact spoke of years of effort to battle against it within the system.

An organization’s mission statement can spell out certain things that won’t be tolerated – racist bile would seem high on that list – but to be intolerant of a reasoned position from another point of view is dangerous. Someone in power whose name I won’t mention is pretty cavalier about the Constitution. Maybe the writing and screenwriting communities should take better care of the First Amendment.

M.A.C.

52 Cards and a Joker

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

Today, as I write this (June 1, 2020), is the 52nd wedding anniversary of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Jane Mull, aka Al and Barb Collins, aka Barbara Allan.

Fifty-two cards in the deck and one joker.

We are celebrating almost not at all, as we continue to shelter in place. Our splurge is a bottle of champagne, some wine-cheese spread, and crackers. This evening we plan to watch The Billion-Dollar Brain (a film we saw together on its initial release) as the third entry in our Michael Caine as Harry Palmer Blu-ray festival, having watched The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin on the preceding two evenings.

In recent years we’ve spent our anniversary in Galena, Illinois, at the Irish Cottage hotel, with two days of dining and shopping and doing touristy stuff. It’s something we enjoy very much and hope to do again one day. But going on such an excursion before there’s a Covid-19 vaccine is highly doubtful.

I try to stay away from politics here, though it does creep in. Forgive me, but it’s going to be unavoidable today.

You see, fifty-two years ago was 1968. Barb and I went to Chicago on our honeymoon. We ate at George Diamond’s and Augustino’s, restaurants that would eventually find their way into Nate Heller novels. We saw a bunch of movies, including (if memory serves and it often doesn’t) 2001: A Space Odyssey and a re-release of Gone With the Wind. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry. I also somehow got Barb to accompany me to countless old bookstores, all around the city, looking for the two Richard Stark “Parker” books I lacked, one of which was The Mourner. Not sure what the other one was. All I know for sure is I probably endangered our lives.

At the tail end of the honeymoon, we watched in our room at the Bismarck Hotel the coverage of the murder of Bobby Kennedy. We were both Bobby supporters and it hit us hard. The rest of the trip had been so much fun that even this tragedy wasn’t enough to taint the experience. But it was certainly a strange, haunting way to complete it.

But the year itself brings so much to mind. Barb was working fulltime at the First National Bank, where she would rise to an officer’s position. I was playing in the Daybreakers – our record “Psychedelic Siren” came out early in 1968 and we did many gigs promoting it – and starting at the University of Iowa where Richard Yates became my mentor at the Writers Workshop. I had several hard years of rejection slips ahead, but would sell both Bait Money and No Cure For Death before graduating with my MFA.

That lay ahead. In 1968 assassinations and racial turmoil and general political turbulence had the country by the throat. June 1, 2020, seems uncomfortably familiar. We seem to have made precious little progress, and it’s disheartening.

The only good thing about this familiarity is the woman I’m married to, who remains lovely in just about every way imaginable.

I never dreamed another time as troubling as the one we lived through would come around for Barb and me to experience. I am hopeful, guardedly, that things will change in November. That the cruelty and stupidity around us lessens, and that the partisan divide decreases in intensity. That the absurdity of white supremacy and racial prejudice can finally be overcome. And that Americans, politicians included, will learn the lesson that a pandemic is not red versus blue. That a virus doesn’t give a good goddamn who you voted for.

* * *

The excellent book review podcast, The Inside Flap, has nice things to say about Girl Can’t Help It and includes a long interview with me on that novel and on Nate Heller, as well as excursions into Dick Tracy, Nolan and the Antiques series. The Girl/MAC stuff starts at the 24-minute point.

Jerry’s House of Everything is a wonderful blog by Jerry House, who has been a big booster of my work. As a generous postscript to a look at the IAMTW, the organization for writers of tie-ins that Lee Goldberg and I founded, he has written a very nice piece on Girl Can’t Help It, with You Tube links to performances by the Daybreakers, Crusin’ and Seduction of the Innocent.

I’m taking the liberty of reprinting the Girl Can’t Help It review here.

MAC ‘n’ Roll: Mention of Max Allan Collins above allows me to segue ever so briefly to one of his latest novels, Girl Can’t Help It, the second in his series about Galena, Iowa, sheriff Krista Larson (a highly recommended book; pick it up now!). {I’ve made no secret that I am a Max Allan Collins fan-boy; well, fan-geezer, really.) In addition to having a number of best-selling and award-winning series, Collins has had a long career as a comic strip/book writer (Dick Tracy, Batman, Road to Perdition), tie-in writer (CSI, Bones, Saving Private Ryan), film writer/director (Mommy, Mommy’s Day, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life), and cultural historian (The History of Mystery, Men’s Adventure Magazines, For the Boys: The Racy Pin-Ups of World War II). Collins has also authored trading card sets, video games, mystery jigsaw puzzles, and Lord knows what else. If all this wasn’t enough, he has also been a professional rock and roll musician since 1966. His bands the Daybreakers and Crusin’ have both been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He also was part of a “comic con band,” Seduction of the Innocent, with actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer, comics artist Steve Leialoha, and comics fan John Christensen.

Girl Can’t Help It is the first novel by Collins that made use of his rock and roll background. Regional band Hot Rod & the Pistons is inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and murder begins striking the band members. It’s a well-crafted mystery that seamlessly blends a lot of that state’s rock and roll history — something I was not fully aware of until now.

Here’s some of Collins’ music, beginning with the Daybreakers’ regional hit “Psychedelic Siren”:

And here’s 60’s retro band Crusin’ playing “Incense and Peppermints” at the St. Louis Bouchercon:

And here’s Seduction of the Innocent doing a set at the 1988 San Diego Comic Con:

For those of you who’d like to read Jerry’s piece on the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers, it’s right here.

* * *

Yet another of these movies-you-didn’t-know-were-based-on-comic-books articles features Road to Perdition.

Finally, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop blog has a nice write-up by “JB” on Do No Harm. The reviewer, like several others looking at this novel, suggests I leave certain things unresolved that the novel really does clarify at least in terms of what happens in Heller’s world. I think the problem (and this is on me) is that part of what I wanted to do was examine every major theory about what happened in the Sam Sheppard case, and that seems to have muddied the waters for some readers. This is a long blog entry about a lot of things, so you may want to scroll down till you come to the Do No Harm cover image.

M.A.C.

Sidekicks

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

The day this update appears (May 26) is the pub date for the new Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Unlike the other Spillane co-bylined books in the Mike Hammer series (and other crime novels), these westerns are mostly by me, working with characters and situations from Mickey’s various drafts of his screenplay, The Saga of Calli York, written for John Wayne but never produced. I have endeavored in these novels – I just completed another – to bring either a strong mystery or crime novel element into the proceedings. Even if you don’t usually read westerns, I think you will have a good time – assuming you are reading my other work, in particular the Spillane material.

I am not a voluminous reader of westerns myself, though I have long been a fan of western films. I can talk John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy with the best of ‘em; same goes for directors like Sam Peckinpah, Budd Boeticher, Anthony Mann, John Ford and Howard Hawks. The early seasons of Maverick are mid-century TV at its best. Probably my favorite western novel (and there’s a certain irony about this – see if you can catch it) is the novelization of Howard Hawks’ movie Rio Bravo by its screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, the woman who shared screenplay credit with William Faulkner on the same director’s film of The Big Sleep.

I’ve never been a big Faulkner fan, but there are two stories about him that I love.

One is that a frustrated reader told him how much trouble he was having understanding what Faulkner had written in The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner told him, “Have you tried reading it drunk? That’s how I wrote the thing.”

Another is that Faulkner was paid big money to fly to a college campus to talk to a creative writing seminar as their keynote speaker. When his turn came, Faulkner went to the dias and asked how many of the college students wanted to be writers. They all raised their hands. Then Faulkner said, “Then why the hell aren’t you home writing?” And sat back down.

I don’t know if either of those stories are true, and I don’t care. Somebody already mentioned here once said, “Print the legend,” and I agree with that.

Getting back to Hot Lead, Cold Justice – a title I suggested as a joke that was immediately embraced (mine was The Big Die-up) – a lovely review has appeared at that great book review site, Bookgasm, and rather than put you to the trouble of chasing a link, here it is (written by Mark Rose):

Max Allan Collins has entered my reading list once again, this time in a genre with which I’m mostly unfamiliar: the Western. Hot Lead, Cold Justice is listed as by Mickey Spillane and Collins, and this is the fifth book in the series featuring Spillane’s character Caleb York.

For those who don’t know, Spillane and Collins were friends, and upon the former’s death, he entrusted his literary property such as his characters (Mike Hammer) and unpublished screenplays (where the character Caleb York originated) to Collins. So Collins has written a number of Mike Hammer stories and now explores the world of late 19th-century New Mexico.

It’s a tough frontier world but the little oasis of Trinidad, New Mexico seems just fine for Sheriff Caleb York. Until his deputy is shot twice and left to die. York had just given the man his long coat and hat, and he’s convinced that the gunmen were aiming for York and not the deputy. Luckily, the deputy survives. But York knows he’s got men after him now.

These men are a rough and brutal lot. Their leader rode with Quantrill, the notorious Missouri raider who massacred the men in the free state town of Lawrence, Kansas during the Civil War. They’ll stop at nothing as they attempt to rob banks in the area in order to set up a stake for themselves and eventually go live on a beach in Mexico. And while they do that, they can find time to ambush York and bring his do-gooder life to an end.

This is a short (just over 200 pages), rip-roaring read with the fast pacing and smooth style that characterizes all of Collins’ work. Characters are simply described, but set up with credible backstories and behaviors. The scenery is all well-described. Dialogue is spot-on, except perhaps for the unfortunate dialect awarded to the deputy’s voice.

If you want a movie-style Western and you’ve read all your Louis L’Amours, I think it would be a place to start with Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane’s books featuring Caleb York. Here are the titles in order: The Legend of Caleb York, The Big Showdown, The Bloody Spur, Last Stage to Hell Junction, and Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Wow. That’s an overwhelmingly positive review, huh? But of course that doesn’t stop me from having a bone to pick.

Well, not really. I get it – I understand how somebody entering the serious, relatively realistic world of Caleb York could have difficulty with Deputy Jonathan P. Tulley’s “dialect.” But the thing is, Tulley isn’t speaking a dialect at all. Nobody ever spoke like that. I have no idea where I’m pulling that patois out of, unless I’m sitting on it.

We are in the territory of a character who is great fun to write because he can say or do just about anything, and I don’t have to apologize (even though I seem to be right now.)

Tulley has much in common with Mother (aka Vivian Borne) in the Antiques novels, because there doesn’t seem to be any behavior or train of thought or speech that she can’t get away with. Whenever I think I’ve gone too far with Mother, I run it past Barb and she always says the same thing, “There’s no way you can go too far with Mother.”

That’s because, at least in part, Vivian Borne was conceived as the comedy relief – the sidekick to her amateur sleuth daughter, Brandy. The problem is that Vivian (not surprisingly) didn’t behave. She insisted on having equal footing with Brandy, and began pushing for first-person chapters of her own. She has also developed into a hell of a detective, or (as we say in the cozy world) a heck of a detective. For a long time the girls argued over who was Holmes and who was Watson. But, really, it didn’t take long for Brandy to realize she was Archie Goodwin to Mother’s Nero Wolfe – only Mother is not at all a stay at home detective.

By the way, Antiques Fire Sale was published just a month ago, and is a good place to see what it is I’m talking about.

Sidekicks often become more popular than the more recognizably human heroes they hang around with. Does anyone really think Roy Rogers, for all his charm and his lovely singing voice, was more memorable than Gabby Hayes? What was Marshal Dillon without Chester? When Dennis Weaver left his Good name behind to be a full-fledged hero himself, Festus had to be called in off the bench.

It’s the Kirk and Spock effect.

As for that pesky dialect of Tulley’s, I have written him in a long tradition of characters like Dick Tracy cast members B.O. Plenty and Vitamin Flintheart. No hillbilly ever spoke like B.O., but that didn’t stop Chester Gould from letting him talk, or me from letting him devolve into a babbling source of malapropisms. And John Barrymore, the model for Vitamin, never spoke in the bewildering flowery way of the great Flintheart.

Speaking of hillbillies, no real hillbilly ever had a thing to do with Al Capp’s creations, either. As a kid, I was a Li’l Abner fan for years before somebody pointed out to me that Capp was doing hillbillies. In my college days, a leftist pal of mine complained that Capp was ridiculing poverty-stricken Appalachian mountaineers. I replied that the last time I looked, Capp was ridiculing everybody (just not as well, in his later years, as in his heyday).

Mickey created the way Tulley talks and I ran with it. I realize for some a cartoonish character like Tulley, in the midst of an otherwise straight story, may be bewildering or off-putting. But beyond his peculiar way of speaking, Tulley has grown and evolved from town drunk to sheriff’s deputy, and revealed himself as a good man to have at your side in a gunfight.

I think it was the late, great Bill Crider who said, “Every western ought to have a character in it that could be played by Gabby Hayes.” Or maybe it was the great but not late James Reasoner. Sure, there are loners without sidekicks – Shane, Paladin, late-period Randolph Scott, probably a bunch of others. For many a hero, though, a Pat Buttram or Fuzzy Knight or Walter Brennan is de rigueur. For the more serious-minded, Jay Silverheels or (in The Searchers) Jeffrey Hunter would have to do.

But, goldurnit, even Hondo had a dog. And I think Gabby Hayes could have played that hound right fine.

* * *

Speaking of sidekicks, I am happy to play Gabby Hayes to my lovely wife, Barbara Collins, to whom I was married on June 1, 1968. She would probably prefer Jeffrey Hunter, though.

Fifty-two years, and it really does seem like yesterday. Anyone who doubts that I am a very lucky man just isn’t paying attention.

* * *

Digital Audiobook: Google Play

Somebody in Australia (home of Wentworth!) put together a list of my “oeuvre.” Check it out.

This list of Memorial Day mysteries includes my story, “Flowers for Bill O’Reilly.” I wrote it long ago, before I knew who the ex-Fox commentator was. I’ll change the name next time it’s reprinted.

Journalstone has put out an audio of The Last Stand, the last book Mickey completed in his lifetime, edited by me and with a novella I co-wrote, also included on the audio. I haven’t heard it yet, but it’s read by that wonderful narrator, Dan John Miller.

This is an insightful review of my Batman prose short story, “What is The Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

And, finally, here’s a smart review of Mickey’s novel The Girl Hunters, from the anthology of three Hammer novels I edited and introduced. Complex 90, of course, is the sequel.

M.A.C.