Posts Tagged ‘Passings’

R.I.P. Emma Peel…and a Wolfpack Spy Revealed

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

I am, obviously, at that age when the icons of my youth are going on ahead of me into whatever lies ahead. Emma Peel is gone. Not at all forgotten.

Still, losing Diana Rigg at 82 sounds much too soon – she was still displaying her considerable acting skills and powers of personality in Victoria and the forthcoming Black Narcissus.

The British Invasion was the Big Thing when I was in high school, and that of course immediately brings to mind the Beatles and their fellow rock ‘n’ roll invaders. But the British Invasion was also James Bond, and the Spy Craze – even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an Ian Fleming brainchild (thought that fact has been lost in the shuffle a bit). Sometimes the rock aspect collided with the spy craze, as when Johnny Rivers did the theme song for Secret Agent (as the Brit Danger Man was retitled for USA consumption). And would Michael Caine’s career have gotten its jump start if Harry Palmer hadn’t brought John Lennon to mind in The Ipcress File (1965)?

From the UK came the greatest of Spy Craze TV series, The Avengers (well, let’s call it a tie with The Prisoner). Emma Peel’s predecessor – as the black catsuit-clad partner of bowler-and-bumbershoot-sporting John Steed, portrayed by urbane Patrick Macnee – was Cathy Gale. The original distaff martial-arts Avenger (to “boys” my age, those Marvel Avengers should be called the Pretenders) was Honor Blackman, whose final curtain call preceded Diana Rigg’s by just a few months.

The Bond connections are many. Honor Blackman was (could anyone reading this really not know) Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964); and Patrick Macnee was James Bond’s Lordly sidekick in the Roger Moore entry, View to a Kill (1985). Macnee was not, as some would have, the cousin of (sort of) James Bond, David Niven (Casino Royale, 1965), though the two actors did appear together in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950).

Most significantly, Diana Rigg portrayed Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and became not just the love of Bond’s life but his wife, albeit briefly. The former Emma Peel was, not surprisingly, appealing in the role and her presence shored up the place-holder presence of George Lazenby as Bond in what was the greatest James Bond movie Sean Connery never made.

Diana Rigg was an accomplished and much-lauded screen actress, and I won’t go into all of her remarkable list of credits here. I’ll mention only my favorite performance by her, after Emma Peel and Tracy di Vicenzo, which is Arlena Stuart Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982), the best of the big screen Poirot movies (feel free to disagree, but do so knowing I’m not listening).

What is significant about Diana Rigg, it seems to me, is how she managed to be an actress of incredible sex appeal and at the same time convey an undeniable, even intimidating intelligence, at a time (the first Bond era, remember) when “birds” were mostly mini-skirts, eye make-up, and lots of teased hair. She could even smirk with intelligence, and the way she and The Avengers spoofed the inherently absurd spy fad gave the series its special zing. Her range as an actress is astonishing. I always had a sense that she wanted to give the audience her best, but if they didn’t like it, that was their problem.

So it is with a bittersweet smile, and a gathering sense of my own mortality, that I blow a kiss goodbye to Emma Peel, knowing that she and Diana Rigg will live forever.

Now, hoping it’s not a display of bad taste, I will segue into finally announcing the series that Matt Clemens and I are doing for Wolfpack. You’ll see the connection in a moment, or perhaps as soon as you hear the title of the first novel: Come Spy With Me.

Matt and I created the lead characters and developed the premise for the series twenty years ago in a couple of little seen short stories. John Sand is a recently retired British secret agent whose cover was blown world-wide when a famous series of novels by an ex-spy colleague of his became best sellers. The stories – at least the trilogy we have agreed to produce – take place in the, shall we say, Swinging Sixties.

John Sand has married a wealthy young woman named Stacey and, in Come Spy With Me, we join them on their honeymoon, where if we had any sense of propriety we wouldn’t witness their carnal conduct. I’ll leave it to you to decide how much propriety Matt Clemens and I have.

But not to worry. The mushy stuff is temporary – carnal gives way to carnage soon enough, and John Sand is as hard-edged a man of action as, well, the famous fictional spy that was based on him.

The name “Sand,” by the way, is a very much conscious tip of the jaunty ‘60s cap to the mono-named lead of Ennis Willie’s series of novels written in that era, which influenced me almost as much as Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark, and Ian Fleming.

You will hear more about this series as the weeks progress – the first book will, as I’ve indicated, be out well before the end of the year. We’ll have a cover to show you before too very long.

When Matt and I discussed getting an advance blurb from an appropriate author, only one name came to mind: Raymond Benson, author of officially licensed James Bond novels (and short stories and video games) and the landmark The James Bond Bedside Companion. Raymond is also the author of the Black Stiletto novels and Hotel Destiny – A Ghost Noir.

Raymond was gracious enough to look at Come Spy With Me in manuscript, and this is what he says:

Come Spy With Me is a heck of a ride! The characters are smooth, the real-world cameos are fun, the action is electric, and the sex is rightly retro. This homage to Mr. Fleming, Mr. Bond, and all the other pulp spy thrillers of the 1960s will leave you craving for the next installment!”

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This is a lovely review of the forthcoming second Ms. Tree collection from Titan – Skeleton in the Closet.

Here is a compendium of reviews of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, mostly very good.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I, will be discussing Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher next Sunday, September 20, at 1 pm Central. Join us with your own questions.

M.A.C.

Book Giveaway, an Award Nomination, and Three Fond Farewells

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

I have ten finished copies each of the new Nate Heller, Do No Harm, and the second Krista Larson, Girl Can’t Help It, available first-come-first-served, in return for Amazon and or other reviews, including blogs.

[Note from Nate: The giveaway is over. Thank you for your participation! Keep an eye out for more to come.]

I am counting on your support because, as I mentioned last week, I am in the unhappy situation of having three books published by three publishers simultaneously. This may sound like an embarrassment of riches, but really it limits buyers and reviewers for all three titles.

If you have a blog or review site of some kind, you can request a book without being part of the giveaway. Just state that you are a reviewer.

I can’t emphasize enough how much reviews at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and elsewhere – including blogs – impact sales. So if you have purchased either of these books, please consider reviewing them. Reviews at booksellers like Amazon do not have to be lengthy. The number of stars you give a book is as important as the review itself.

And this doesn’t apply just to me, obviously, but to any author whose book you enjoy, particularly authors you follow regularly.

Keep in mind, too, that the latest book in a mystery series – like Heller – seldom gets much publisher promo. Thomas & Mercer gave The Girl Most Likely a big push, just as they did Supreme Justice. But after a series has been launched, books depend on authors for D.I.Y. promotion.

I don’t have copies of the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder, yet; but hope to have enough on hand to do a giveaway for that one, as well, in the next few weeks.

* * *

I’m pleased and honored to say Killing Quarry has been nominated for a Barry Award for Best Paperback. You can see the complete nomination lists here. The Barry Awards are presented by the editors of Deadly Pleasures, and is named after fan/reviewer, the late Barry Gardner.

It’s been very gratifying to see Killing Quarry so warmly received – the reviews have been flattering, to say the least.

By the way, for those keeping track: I have completed the first Nolan in 33 years – Skim Deep – and it will go out to Hard Case Crime by Wednesday at the latest. All that remains is one last read and the minor tweaking that will entail…unless I screwed something up, in which case all bets are off.

* * *

I will be 72 in March, and one of the bad things about surviving this long is having to see friends and heroes go on ahead of you. Three passings this week were especially hard to take.

Mary Higgins Clark, in addition to being a hugely successful author and the creator of a whole style of thriller focusing on female protagonists, was a kind, sweet, generous human being. Barb and I were on a cruise with her – one of those mystery cruises with a whodunit game part of the activities – and she and her daughter Carol made wonderful company. Mary was warm and displayed a lovely sense of humor. Carol, who was also a delight, has gone on to her own great success as a suspense novelist.

Orson Bean died at 91, hit by a car (two cars actually) jaywalking to get to a play. The absurdity of that – and that theater was a part of it – shows fate in a fitting but cruel mood. Bean was a whimsical, wry stand-up comic early on, a comic actor of charm and skill on stage and (large and small) screen, and a particularly popular, adept and (of course) funny game show participant. He also has a small but key role in Anatomy of a Murder. Bean had a searching mind as several of his books display – Me and the Orgone, Too Much Is Not Enough, and M@il for Mikey (not a typo).

He was also the star of an obscure but wonderful shot-on-video version of the time-travel play The Star Wagon by Maxwell Anderson, with a pre-Graduate Dustin Hoffman as his sidekick. It was shot in 1967 for PBS and is available at Amazon on DVD.

In January a man few of you have heard of passed away in Muscatine. Howard Rowe was a chiropractor, my chiro for many years. He and I disagreed on much – he was conservative, very religious, and a home-schooler, none of which I am, and yet we never argued. He supported my work, and was an enthusiastic fan of the movies we made here in Muscatine. His life was a reminder of how to be individualistic with strong opinions and yet still be a pleasure to be around. When I picture him, he’s smiling. Always. Most of you never met him, and some who did meet him considered him an oddball. He was, I suppose. But a glorious one.

* * *

Rue Morgue, the major newsstand magazine on horror films, interviewed me online not long ago, and did a very good, gracious job of it. Now a Rue Morgue review of the Mommy/Mommy2 Blu-ray has appeared and it, too, is positive.

The Flick Attack website has given Mommy’s Day (as part of the above-mentioned Blu-ray) a very nice write-up. Check it out.

Earlier Flick Attack talked about Mommy, in a mostly favorable manner, here.

With the release of Girl Can’t Help It imminent, seeing a favorable review of Girl Most Likely by Ron Fortier feels like a good omen.

So does this solid Girl Most Likely review.

Ask Not with Nate Heller is still on sale as an e-book for $2.99 right here.

Finally, my old friend Rick Marschall writes about the creators he worked with as an editor in the newspaper comics field, and I’m pleased to say his role in landing me the Dick Tracy job is something he’s proud of.

M.A.C.

Not Just Yet, Bobby

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Actor Robert Forster died last Friday at age 78. He was a terrific actor, probably best known for Jackie Brown (for which he received an Oscar nomination), but more recently he appeared in both Breaking Bad and the latest iteration of Twin Peaks. I met him once and got to spend a little time with him.

I ask your patience while I establish a little context for what follows.

Some of you may know I wrote a movie called The Expert (1994), which wound up an HBO World Premiere. How I came to write it (and the slings and arrows that followed) is worth its own entry here. But suffice to say I made several trips to L.A. to work with director William Lustig on what was, initially, meant to be a remake of Jules Dassin’s great prison picture, Brute Force.

I got this opportunity because Lustig and his producing partner, Andy Garoni, optioned my Nolan and Quarry novels with an eye on having me do the screenplays. They knew I had never written for the screen before but they liked the books, found me knowledgeable about film, and I talked a good game. So I was invited onto their latest project, then still called Brute Force. As it happened, I needed a lot of help, and Lustig became my teacher, with Garoni assisting.

Lustig, who I got along with very well, was a brutal taskmaster but also a coddling parent. I would put in several hours at Lustig’s place; between sessions, he would take me to either a deli-style restaurant for a meal (corn beef, pastrami, swiss cheese, Russian dressing and cole slaw on rye please) or to somewhere I could slake my laser disc addiction. Bill had the same laser disc jones, and once took me to a laser disc store famously frequented by film directors (Lustig being one, but also people like Brian DePalma and Joe Dante). I didn’t buy much there because it was full retail, but Lustig also helped me hit several Tower Records (R.I.P.) and I scored mightily.

Bill was friends with Forster, who had appeared in several Lustig-directed pictures, including Vigilante and Maniac Cop 3, and – as a treat for me – he invited his pal Bob to have lunch with us at an excellent deli, the name of which escapes me.

I was a fan. Robert Forster had been a big-league movie star out of the gate (Reflections in a Golden Eye and Medium Cool) and then became a TV lead on Nakia and Banyon – the latter was a pioneering period private eye show, with Forster’s Banyon inhabiting a Bradbury Building office prior to both Jake Axminster and Nate Heller (but not Mike Hammer). And for several decades Forster was a top network TV guest star.

To say Robert Forster was warm and down-to-earth, at our luncheon, would be an understatement. He was appearing in a play and, as I recall, he had to drive a distance to the theater – he was doing a friend a favor when another actor had to drop out. But he lingered with us, chatting as long as he dared without risking being late for curtain. He came prepared to meet a fan, bringing gifts for me – a lovely black globe-shaped paperweight, which I still have and display, and a VHS copy of his private eye movie, Hollywood Harry.

What I remember most vividly from the lunch is an anecdote Forster shared, clearly intended to help me on my own learning adventure in film, which I was attempting under Lustig’s guidance.

The actor told me how intimidated he was, when he landed his first film role in a very big-time production, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). He’d be co-starring with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, and directed by John Huston. He’d been spotted on Broadway, and Huston gave him the role after an audition.

Thus began, over several months, a process in which Forster asked the director, “Mr. Huston, do you have any special instructions for me?” Huston would always reply, “Not just yet, Bobby. Not just yet.” At every encounter with the crustily friendly legendary director, Forster would ask again. Not just yet, Bobby. After the table read of the script – not just yet, Bobby. After the wardrobe fitting – not just yet, Bobby. After make-up tests – not just yet. Half a dozen times or more – any special instructions? Not just yet, Bobby.

Finally the time came to shoot the first scene, the lighting ready, the camera in place, Forster about to make his on-screen debut in the company of Taylor and Brando. This time Forster didn’t ask, but Huston said, “Bobby? Now.” Yes, Mr. Huston. The director walked him over to the big 35mm camera aimed at the empty set, slipped an arm around his young star and eased him close, so that Forster could look right into the viewfinder at the Panavision rectangle.

“Fill that with something interesting,” Huston said.

Great advice.

My pal Leonard Maltin wrote his own reminiscence about his good friend and you should check it out.

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Road to Perdition is one of Paul Newman’s best films, it says here.

Here’s a lovely Ms. Tree piece.

Road to Perdition is featured in this dubious list which names ten crime movie masterpieces that you’ve probably seen (except you’ve probably seen them all, if you’re reading this).

Here’s a nice review of Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market.

A good Ms. Tree review here.

Finally, my brief Batman comic strip run is discussed here. I didn’t really “ghost-write” it though – my name was forced off the strip (like me!) by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

M.A.C.

An Anniversary and a Passing

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

I celebrated 51 years of marriage to Barbara Jane (Mull) Collins this weekend. The weather was lovely and we had a wonderful time together, which included delicious meals, walks in the sun, the new Godzilla movie, and a successful search for a summer wardrobe for yrs truly. Other details are too intimate to share, but let me say…if I could marry this woman a second time, I would.

I am burying the lede (I hate spelling it that way!), but Barb and I, in our Barbara Allan mode, will be appearing for Antiques Ravin’ at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park, Illinois, at 2 pm on Sunday June 9. That’s at 7419 Madison St, Forest Park, IL 60130. The phone there is 708-771-7243. Centuries and Sleuths specializes in history and mystery, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we love it.

* * *

The great portrait artist, Everett Raymond Kinstler, had died at 92 – a long life well-lived. To me, and many others in the world of comics, his portraiture is overshadowed by his early work for the pulps, paperback covers and comic books.

Some of what follows is drawn from my introduction to the Hermes Press collection of pre-Disney Zorro comics.

Several decades ago, when I was just beginning to write the Dick Tracy comic strip, I wrote Everett Raymond Kinstler a fan letter about his Zorro comics. He wrote back, astonished that anyone was still interested in such ancient work, and invited me to join him in his studio at the fabled Player’s Club on my next visit to New York.

I did. He was gracious and friendly, the studio exactly what you’d expect, a high-ceilinged, sunlight-streaming space. He was working on a John Wayne portrait, and I was just becoming aware of what a very big deal this artist was, painter of movie stars and presidents. But what pleased me most was how fond he was – how enthusiastic he remained – about his brief tenure on Zorro. He clearly felt it was his best work in comics.

He was warm and lively and not at all patronizing. He gave me a lovely original that still hangs in my office – the inside front cover of a ‘50s crime comic book (he also gave me a signed copy of his book on painting portraits with a drawing on the flyleaf). I also have a Classics Illustrated page that I bought from Heritage for a relative song a few years ago (pictured here).

As the years have passed, this much-respected artist never shied away from or downplayed his formative years in the pulps and in comics, and that in itself makes him a remarkable man.

I spoke with him maybe ten years ago at a San Diego Comic Con and we caught up. I’ve received lovely Christmas cards from him over the years, and he was very happy that I had managed to get his Zorro art collected in book form by Hermes Press.

Look, this guy encountered – and painted – many of the great figures of the Twentieth Century. And yet he had not a particle of snobbery in his make-up. He loved having worked in the comics.

The book to get about this great man and great artist is Everett Raymond Kinstler: The Artist’s Journey Through Popular Culture – 1942-1962. It’s a hundred bucks at Amazon but Bud’s Art Books has it at bargain prices ($30 for the hardcover, $15 for the trade paperback!). Order it here, but move quickly.

But you should also track down Zorro: The Complete Dell Pre-Code Comics from Hermes Press, which I introduced and edited. It’s out of print and somewhat pricey, but ebay has a couple of copies for around fifty bucks.

Read about Ray Kinstler and see some examples of his work here.

Read one of his great Zorro stories here.

I’ve lost another hero, but if I could live that long, and continue to work at my peak as Ray did, I would be content.

* * *

Here’s an interesting, insightful review of my 1976 novel, Quarry (actually written around 1972).

And, finally, Ron Fortier has reviewed the splendid trade paperback from Brash Books of Black Hats.

M.A.C.