What really bugs Mickey Spillane, he says, is that after sitting for five days in a Las Vegas courtroom, he's losing his tan. "Where we are," he says, referring to his home base in Murrells Inlet, S.C., "if you don't build up some protection, the sun will ruin you."

Spillane has built up some protection. After 39 years of writing about the toughest of the tough guys, he seems to have picked up some of the toughness himself. Being tough means not talking about what's hurting you the most. Instead, he tells the story of the Universal Studios tour he took with his third wife, Jane, and her 14-year-old daughter, Britt, the other day. Spillane's assessment: The new King Kong was fine, but "they've let the blood fade on the shark's mouth."

If pressed about the matter at hand, Spillane's first reaction is still tough-guy, albeit not that of a Mike Hammer, who tended to solve his problems with sharks, the human variety, male or female, with a .45. "I don't think about these things," he shrugs. "This is nothing. To me, it's a stupidity that came out of the woodwork. I look at it and I say, 'This is litigation, for Pete's sake.' I don't ignore it. I just let it be taken care of as a legal matter."

Tough spoken, but highly unlikely. For, as anybody who has read the tabloids lately knows, the piece of litigation being decided last week in Las Vegas District Court was hardly a routine matter. Rather, it was the effort of Spillane's second wife, Sherri Malinou, 45, to raise the $20,000 settlement she got in their 1983 divorce. Claiming that he had hidden his potential earnings from her, she now wanted half of everything. Given the sales of his books and the success of TV's Mike Hammer, that could be a lot of money, and mud was being slung accordingly. She testified about all manner of irregularities in the marriage, including her sexual relationships with various other men; about a note Spillane allegedly wrote encouraging her in extramarital pursuits ("I must have been pretty smashed to write such a thing," said he); and about her relationship with Sammy Davis Jr., which Spillane allegedly did not consider part of any bargain. She said her ex's "perversion" (and the stresses of her next marriage) contributed to a depression that required lengthy stays in psychiatric hospitals. (The last ended just seven weeks before the trial began.)

Judge Myron E. Leavitt's decision must have seemed a heartening vindication to Spillane. "I expected to win," he said. "It was the case of the missing case—a frivolous lawsuit by a former wife trying to get back into my pocket." Still, it could not have been either side's idea of a good time.

As the trial progressed, Spillane tried not to add fuel to the fire, stating "I don't want to dignify her allegations" by talking about them. Then, of course, he couldn't help himself: "If I'm a pervert, I'm a pretty poor pervert. That woman made mention in court that we went together for two years before we got married. And her brother the lawyer [Malinou was being represented in the case by her brother, Martin] wanted to know, 'Was she a virgin?' when we got married. She was. Not the usual way of a pervert...when I married my lovely wife, Jane, we went together for six months before we married, and only then did we take advantage of our marital opportunities. Again, not the way of a pervert. As far as I know, anyhow."

Judge Leavitt apparently agreed. Certainly he indicated that Sherri was ill-positioned to cast the first stone. Referring to her affairs and to the fact that she lived clandestinely with writer Michael Standing in the last three years of her marriage to Spillane, he noted dryly, "Such actions are not those of a caring, faithful, loving spouse."

All of which left the 68-year-old author free to return to Murrells Inlet and the embrace of wife No. 3, who, he plainly believes, is all of the above. The former Jane Rogers Johnson, 28 years his junior, grew up spending summers down the road from his sunny South Carolina sanctuary. "I used to chase her out of the yard when she was a little kid," he says. "She was very noisy, and she's still just as noisy, but I don't chase her away."

Johnson had been away from Murrells Inlet for 14 years. She came back in the fall of 1982, after a failed marriage of her own, and met Spillane the next spring. He remembers looking and thinking, "Gee whiz, little Jane." They married in October.

Now, since Johnson brought along Britt and another daughter, Lisa, 18, Spillane is plunged once more into the comforting, fatherly mysteries he thought he had left behind when the last of his four children by his first wife left home. "The first thing that hit me," he says, "was where does all the toilet paper go? I used to buy two rolls a week. Now I'm buying it by the box."

He has given up the skydiving and stock car racing that embellished his reputation as a young writer. "Now I'm into the slower motion of things—boats, I love boats." He will spend plenty of time on them during the Mickey Spillane Celebrity Fishing Tournament this August, joined by several of his companions from the Miller Lite ads.

They will be fishing for billfish, king mackerel and sharks. The piscene kind. And for the first time in 16 years, he will sit down to write another Mike Hammer tale. "I have felt my fingers getting itchy again for a typewriter," he says. "Writing is easy for me because I like it. And I can handle it."

  • Contributors:
  • Jack Kelley.