Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer

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Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer is the title used for two syndicated television series that followed the adventures of fictional private detective Mike Hammer. The gritty, crime fighting detective—created by American crime author Mickey Spillane—has also inspired several feature films and television films.

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (Darren McGavin)[edit]

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer
Starring Darren McGavin
Bart Burns
Theme music composer Dave Kahn
Melvyn Lenard Gordon
Opening theme "Riff Blues"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 78 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Richard Irving
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Revue Productions
Distributor Universal Television
NBCUniversal Television Distribution
Original network Syndication
Picture format Black-and-white; NTSC
Audio format Monaural sound
Original release January 7, 1958 (1958-01-07) – September 18, 1959 (1959-09-18)

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, with Darren McGavin in the title role, is the first syndicated television series based on Spillane's hard-boiled private detective. The series (produced from 1957 to 1959) had a run of 78 episodes over two seasons. Episodes were filmed in black and white and filled a half-hour time slot.

Reaction to the show[edit]

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer Diamond Studio City Walk of Fame

Public and critical reaction to the show was mixed. While TV Guide referred to it as "easily the worst series on TV",[1] McGavin said that the show was "instantly successful".[2] Some reviewers[who?] were critical of the show for its use of excessive and gratuitous violence. However, McGavin made a point of playing the role of Hammer with a hint of tongue-in-cheek satire – against the wishes of Universal Studios executives.[2] Unlike the series that appeared in the 1980s, Mickey Spillane had minimal involvement in the production of the 1950s program. "I just took the money and went home," Spillane said of the show. "Believe me, I had bigger fish to fry, namely, that darn elusive Batmanfish."[3]


Darren McGavin played the title role. McGavin would go on to play another hard-boiled private detective in the short-lived 1968 series The Outsider. He is perhaps best known as Carl Kolchak in the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the curmudgeonly father in A Christmas Story.

Bart Burns played the role of Hammer's trustworthy ally in the Police department Captain Pat Chambers. Pat was the only other character to appear in every one of Spillane's Hammer novels. Burns would later go on to guest star in several television series, such as Dragnet, Columbo and The Rockford Files.


DVD release[edit]

On September 20, 2011, A&E Home Video released Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer: The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1 for the first time.[4] The 12-disc set featured all 78 episodes of the series.

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (Stacy Keach)[edit]

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer
Msmh title card.jpg
Starring Stacy Keach
Lindsay Bloom
Don Stroud
Kent Williams
Opening theme Harlem Nocturne
Country of origin United States
No. of episodes 24 (list of episodes)
Running time 60 minutes (with commercials)
Production company(s) Jay Bernstein Productions
Columbia Pictures Television
Distributor Sony Pictures Television
Original network CBS
Picture format Color; NTSC
Audio format Monaural sound
Original release January 28, 1984 – January 12, 1985

Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, with Stacy Keach in the title role, is a television series that originally aired on CBS from January 28, 1984 to January 12, 1985. The series consisted of 24 60 minute episodes and was preceded by two made-for-TV movies Murder Me, Murder You (April 9, 1983) and More Than Murder (January 26, 1984). Murder Me, Murder You was initially envisioned as a stand alone TV movie, but ultimately became a backdoor pilot for the series when it was received positively by audiences.[5]

The movies and series (and subsequent series The New Mike Hammer) were produced under the guidance of Executive Producer Jay Bernstein, who acquired the television rights from his close friend Mickey Spillane for one dollar.[5]


The show follows the adventures of Mike Hammer, the fictitious private detective created by crime novelist Mickey Spillane, as he hunts down criminals on the mean streets of New York City. Keach was familiar with the tough and insensitive novelized version of Hammer and worked to make his version more palatable to a television audience. "We've softened him up a little bit," Keach told the New York Times. "To sustain a series on television, I think you need a certain humor, charm and vulnerability. Toughness is probably the least important factor."[6]

While firmly situated in the 1980s, the tone of the show also incorporated elements of classic film noir detective films, such as The Maltese Falcon. For example, each show featured the protagonist's narrative voice-over and, much like the archetypal hard-boiled detectives of years gone by, Hammer would rarely be seen without his wrinkled suit, fedora and trench coat. While his get-up made a particularly awkward fashion statement for the time, the juxtaposition of old and new was a central theme in the show. Indeed, Keach's Mike Hammer left the viewer with the impression that this detective had been somehow transported from a 1940s film set to 1980s New York City. The show's theme song "Harlem Nocturne" by Earle Hagen, a jazz tune featuring a deeply melancholy saxophone, set a gritty tone for each episode. The song proved to be one of the most popular elements of the program.

In contrast to the charming male leads in other popular detective shows of the day (e.g., Remington Steele, Thomas Magnum), Mike Hammer was unapologetically masculine with little concern for political correctness. A prominent feature of most episodes was the inclusion of a number of female characters (known in casting sessions "Hammer-ettes") who would exchange a double entendre or two with Hammer while wearing very low tops and push-up bras emphasizing their ample cleavage. Hammer would regularly wind up in bed with the highly sexualized female characters in the show, who would never fail to melt once they had fixed their eyes upon the brawny detective. The show's writers latched on to this element of clashing eras and often used it as a comic relief in the show. Examples of this include Hammer's love for cigarettes being at odds with the growing social disdain for smoking and the detective's humorous inability to comprehend the youth trends of the decade. Like its 1950s predecessor, Keach's Mike Hammer never shied away from violence. Whether it was with his fists or his trusty gun, "Betsy," a Colt Model 1911A1 .45 ACP semi-automatic pistol, which was always tucked neatly inside a leather shoulder holster worn under his suit jacket, Hammer would never fail to stop a criminal dead in his tracks. Mickey Spillane insisted that Stacy Keach carry the .45 caliber pistol in the show because that was the weapon Mike Hammer carried in all of Spillane's "Mike Hammer" mystery novels. Unlike most detective shows of the decade, the bad guys on Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer were usually killed by the protagonist by the time the closing credits rolled.


Recurring characters[edit]

  • Ozzie "The Answer" – A know-it-all barfly at the Lite N Easy Bar (played by Danny Goldman); his knowledge of facts and rumors often helps Hammer solve cases he is working on
  • Moochie – A likeable pimp with links to New York's underworld, played by Ben Powers
  • "The Face" – A beautiful and mysterious woman (played by Donna Denton) who Hammer would see briefly in each episode but would then vanish before he had a chance to meet her
  • Jenny – The head barmaid at Mike's local watering hole the Lite N Easy Bar (played by Lee Benton)
  • Detective Hennessey – A police detective (played by Eddie Egan) who would often work alongside Captain Pat Chambers
  • Ritchie – A newsstand salesman in Hammer's neighborhood (played by Eddie Barth)

Guest stars[edit]

The following notable actors (including some future stars) and musicians appeared on the show:

Production interruption[edit]

Production of the show was interrupted in December 1984 when Stacy Keach was sentenced to nine months prison time for drug smuggling. Keach was arrested with his secretary Deborah Steele on April 4 at London's Heathrow Airport for smuggling 36 grams (1¼ ounces) of cocaine.[7][8] He had arrived in London from France—where he was filming the TV miniseries Mistral's Daughter—when he and Steele were picked out at random to be searched.[8] Keach was in London to record voiceover for Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.[9]

On December 7 1984, Keach plead guilty to the charge and immediately began serving a nine month sentence in Reading Prison.[9] His unexpected jail term caught producers of the show off guard and with three episodes filmed but unfinished, impersonator Rich Little was called in to mimic Keach's narrative voiceover.[10] The second season still had eight unmade episodes that were not able to be filmed with Keach behind bars and CBS and Columbia Pictures TV paid the rest of the cast for half of those episodes.[10] Keach was released after six months with time off for good behaviour and soon began work on reviving the Mike Hammer franchise.[7]

Succeeding TV movie and series[edit]

A year later, Stacy Keach returned to his role as Hammer in the made-for-TV movie The Return of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, which aired on April 18, 1986. Thanks to the positive reception of the movie and the tenacity of Jay Bernstein, a new Mike Hammer series, The New Mike Hammer, went to air on CBS on September 27, 1986. In the new series, several recurring characters were absent and elements previously criticized as sexist were significantly downplayed—although the violence was not. The show was canceled after one season with the final episode airing on May 21, 1987.

Two years later, this series had a television film spin-off known as Mike Hammer: Murder Takes All featuring Lynda Carter, Michelle Phillips, and Jim Carrey in his pre-stardom.

Keach's version of Hammer was revived with 26 more syndicated episodes produced in 1997–1998 under the title Mike Hammer, Private Eye. The revived version failed to establish wide distribution or much of an audience and was cancelled after one season.

Critical response and ratings[edit]

The series won top spot for its 10 pm time slot on Saturday nights and surveys showed it to be particularly popular among male audiences.[11] John J. O'Connor of the New York Times called Keach's portrayal of Mike Hammer "one of the best in a long history of dramatizing this particular private eye, is nearly all manner and mannerism, steeped in the accents and rhythms of New York."[12]

Season Episodes Timeslot
Originally aired Nielsen Ratings
First aired Last aired Viewers
1 (1984) 10 Saturday at 10:00–11:00 pm January 28, 1984 (1984-01-28) April 14, 1984 (1984-04-14)
2 (1984–85) 14 Saturday at 9:00–10:00 pm September 29, 1984 (1984-09-29) January 12, 1985 (1985-01-12) 55[13]



  1. ^ The Complete Guide to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
  2. ^ a b "Mike Hammer". www.darrenmcgavin.net. 
  3. ^ The Complete Guide to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh
  4. ^ "Mike Hammer DVD news: Announcement for Mike Hammer - The Complete Series". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 
  5. ^ a b "Stacy Keach on Mike Hammer, John Huston, and his one irredeemable character". A.V. Club. 
  6. ^ "Keach Successful in 'Hammer' Role". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b "Stacy Keach Out of Prison, Promises War on Drug Use". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ a b "Actor Stacy Keach, who plays detective Mike Hammer on...". UPI. 
  9. ^ a b "Stacy Keach Sentenced In British Cocaine Case". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ a b "Rich Little rescued three 'Mike Hammer' episodes". UPI. 
  11. ^ "Keach Successful in 'Hammer' Role". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "TV Weekend; Keach Returns as Mike Hammer". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ "1984–85 nielsen ratings". Sitcoms Online. 

External links[edit]