Lost in the 50’s

It was about 1965, in Jimmy Dengate’s “club” in Charleston, when I got my first clue to what the 50’s had been all about.  I met an unusual sportswriter.  Let us call him Jack, if only because it was his real name.  Jack was unusual, because he could write decent prose, knew something about sports, and did not hate athletes—three of the rarest qualities in sports writing and hardly ever encountered in the same person.  When Jack learned that I had “literary interests,” he told me about an old friend of his youth, Mickey Spillane, who now lived some two hours up Highway 17 in Murrells Inlet.  Spillane had not always been a comic-book and thriller writer, interested only in broads and bullets.  As a young man, so Jack claimed, he was a great fan of James Joyce and aspired to literary greatness.

At the time I thought nothing of the story, though years later, living in McClellanville, I several times thought of trying to arrange a meeting with South Carolina’s most famous resident novelist.  But it is a curious fact—if it is indeed a fact—that the gruff and violent creator of Mike Hammer was really a disgruntled modernist.  Like so much that went on in the 1950’s, a good deal of what we had taken for granted simply was not so.

It was a difficult decade—more like 17 or 18 years, stretching from the conclusion of World...

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