Stacy Keach Interview by Grover Gardner
GROVER GARDNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Grover Gardner, and today it’s my pleasure to be talking with film, radio, theater, television actor Stacy Keach—who is down in our beautiful Palos Verdes studios, amidst the screaming peacocks, recording a brand-new Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer adventure called Kiss Her Goodbye, and this is one of three that have come out recently, over the past couple of years. The first one was The Goliath Bone, the second was The Big Bang, and now Kiss Her Goodbye. These are based on stories and ideas by Mickey Spillane and completed by Max Allan Collins. Stacy, your association with Mike Hammer and Mickey Spillane goes back quite a ways. In fact, it might be fair to say that Mike Hammer made you famous.
SK: I think that’s fair to say, absolutely. We go back to the 1980s when we did the series for CBS.
GG: You knew Mickey?
SK: I did, I had the great pleasure of meeting him and Max at the same time. The first time I met Max, as a matter of fact, was with Mickey celebrating his eightieth birthday down in Murrells Inlet where he spent his remaining days and spent a lot of time there even before that because that’s where he wrote many of his books. And he was quite a character. He was a wonderful man, I loved him, I just loved him. We spent many, many hours together subsequent to that particular meeting. And the great thing about Mickey is, I always love the story where he says “I’m not an author, I’m a writer.”
SK: He always, I think, was intimidated by critics who constantly wanted to compare him to Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway and he had his own style, his own way of expressing himself, and certainly Mike Hammer was his vehicle.
GG: There’s also a series of radio dramas, we would call them, that Blackstone also distributes—and these are produced by Carl Amari.
SK: That’s correct.
GG: And called The New Adventures of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and these are fully produced radio dramas with sound effects, music. How did you get involved in those?
SK: Well, Carl and I go way back. I narrate The Twilight Zone for him, that’s when I first met Carl. And we discussed the possibility of doing Mike Hammer for audio. When the idea emerged we decided we would try it to a new forum, actually. A “radio novel,” is how we termed them. It’s like a book on tape set in a radio-show format. And, our most recent edition just came out. It’s called Encore for Murder, and it’s about Mike Hammer in New York with the whole Broadway scene. Blackstone just released it and it’s a little over two and a half—well, about two hours long. It’s about the same length as a book on tape, but it has other actors, other characters, and all the effects and music of a radio show.
GG: You also contributed something in terms of the music to these, am I right?
SK: I did. Back in the day when we were first doing the series on television, I became very close friends with Earle Hagen, who wrote the theme song “Harlem Nocturne.” He had written that some years prior to Mike Hammer, but Lew Gallo, who was the producer, thought that that particular piece of music would be the perfect theme for Mike Hammer. As it turned out, it is. I think it’s an amazing piece of music. So I, being a musician myself—I play keyboard and synthesizer—I took “Harlem Nocturne” and various permutations of it and composed a background score for both. The Little Death, which was our second radio novel, which also, I am very proud to say, was recently nominated for an Audie Award for best original work ...
SK: I’m very, very honored by that, that’s wonderful. And I’m hoping that Encore for Murder will follow in its footsteps.
GG: I’m sure it will. Now, you met your wife …
GG: … on the set of the television series, right?
SK: I did the original Mike Hammer. Yeah, she was playing a Russian agent and we fell in love and we are—I’m very proud to say—celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this year. And in the last incarnation of the television series that we did, twelve years after—I think it was 1999 or 2000, we did twenty-six other episodes of Mike Hammer, and we created a character for my wife, Maya, who is the yoga teacher who lives next door to Mike Hammer in his office. She has a yoga studio next door to his office, and it was a great source of comedy, and I enjoy working with her, and theopportunity to do that.
GG: Has she joined you in the radio-drama series?
SK: She has. Maya is alive and well and in all three of the radio shows.
GG: Now, your experience with radio goes back to your dad.
GG: Who was a famous radio producer.
SK: Right, back in the fifties, he did a show for NBC called Tales of the Texas Rangers. And I remember I was twelve years old going down to the studio to watch them perform these shows live, and it was amazing. I mean, all the Foleyand all the effects were right there and these wonderful actors; Joel McCrea played Jayce Pearson, who was the head of the Texas Ranger force and wonderful actors like William Conrad and David Bruce were part of the team. For me, radio has always been a way of—I mean, it stimulates and inspires the imagination. And I’ve always felt that as a form of expression of drama, it’s probably one of the best … I just recently, as a matter of fact, completed a radio broadcast, or a CD broadcast of Death of a Salesman. I played Willy Loman, for LA Theatre Works, of which I’ve been a charter member for the last twenty-some-odd years, I think even longer. But, we do plays in front of a live audience, for radio, with the effects, as a matter of fact, live as well. So, radio has been a part of my life from the beginning, and I’m happy to say that ’cause I love it.
GG: The Goliath Bone and The Big Bang, were those the first audiobooks—full-length audiobooks—that you ever did, or had you done something before that?
SK: I’d done many others before that. In fact, it was some, I guess, oh, twenty years ago, and we did all the original Mike Hammer novels, Mickey Spillane …
SK: … we did Kiss Me Deadly, I, the Jury. We did lots of Mickey’s earlier work. No, I’ve done lots of books on tape over the years.
GG: What’s the difference between doing the audio drama, and the full-length, one narrator, one voice—what’s the experience like?
SK: Well, the difference is—you’re really inside the head of the author when you do a book on tape. And it’s one voice, as you say, one voice that sort of modulates in pitch and tone to differentiate between the characters. But with a radio drama, with a radio novel drama, it’s more like you’re listening to the soundtrack of a movie. Or listening to a movie. Because it has other actors, it has effects, and I think it really puts you inside the story in a different way. I don’t know how else to describe it.
GG: I think that does it very nicely.
SK: Oh good, thank you.
GG: I lived in Washington, DC, for many years before I came out here to work with Blackstone, and I remember your stage work very well.
GG: King Lear, and …
GG: … some of the other beautiful things that you did there. Are you going to be doing some more?
SK: Well, I hope to be. I don’t have any immediate plans at the moment. The King Lear that we did down there last year, I guess it was the year before last—there’s a real possibility of it coming into New York. Not next year, but in the near future. It’s the same production that we started in Chicago, in 2006, directed by Robert Falls. We started at the Goodman Theatre, then we took that same production to Washington, DC. As you say, I’ve done a lot of theater in Washington. I love Washington, it’s a great theater town, and I’ve done most of my Shakespearean work in Washington over the years.
GG: You also have a TV series.
SK: Yes—Lights Out. It’s about a boxing family, and I play the dad-trainer of two boxing sons. It’s on FX on Tuesday night. It’s on tonight as a matter of fact. I don’t know when this runs but … every Tuesday at ten o’clock be sure to watch Lights Out! (laughs)
GG: (laughs) Well this is terrific. Thank you so much.
SK: Oh, Grover, thank you.
GG: I appreciate your time.
SK: It was nice talking to you.
GG: And we’re so excited to have the third Mickey Spillane/Max Allan Collins Mike Hammer novel coming out shortly—Kiss Her Goodbye. Thank you for joining us for this exclusive interview. You can find all of Blackstone Audio’s titles and more at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in March 2011.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
Kiss Her Goodbye
Mike Hammer has been away from New York for too long. Recuperating in Florida after the mob shoot-out that nearly claimed his life, he learns that an old mentor on the New York police force has committed suicide. Hammer returns for the funeral—and because he knows that Inspector Doolan would never have killed himself. But Manhattan in the seventies no longer feels like home. Hammer’s longtime partner, Velda, disappeared after he broke it off for her own safety, and his office is shut down.
When a woman is murdered practically on the funeral’s doorstep, Hammer is drawn into the hunt for a cache of Nazi diamonds that makes the Maltese Falcon seem like a knickknack and for the mysterious woman who had been close to Doolan in his final days. But drug racketeers, who had it in for Doolan, attract Hammer’s attention as well. Soon he is hobnobbing with coke-snorting celebrities at the notorious disco, Club 52, and playing footsie with a sleek lady DA, a modern woman on the make for old-fashioned Hammer. Everything leads to a Mafia social club where Hammer and his .45 come calling, initiating the wildest showdown since Spillane’s classic One Lonely Night.