Friday, January 14, 2005

Avallone

Here's Ed Gorman, in his comment below on Mike Avallone:

" . . . no matter what he wrote, you could spot that style after three or four paragraphs. If nothing else, his voice was unique, almost psychotically so. I don't say any of this in a demeaning way believe it or not. I had an inexplicable affection for him as a guy, though he constantly whacked Marty Greenberg and me in print for not publishing his various rants. He frequently addressed his letters to us as "The Boys From Brazail," which was hilarious at first but got tiresome after a couple of years. I wish his later years would have been happier. He seemed aggrieved 24/7. He faced the same kind of perils and snubs that most of us mid-listers do but I can't say he handed them terribly well. He dealt with them in letter columns in a sad and frenzied way that always made me wish--and as a lifelong depressive, I know whereof I speak--that somebody had gotten him to a doc and gotten him medicated."

As somebody who knew and corresponded off and on with Mike for fifteen years, all I can do is agree with Ed. Mike was a talented but often sloppy writer who aggravated most of the editors he worked with to the point of utter frustration, according to the stories I've heard from those editors. And yet, many of them still speak of him with affection. They say things like, "Mike was . . . a real character." And it's not just a matter of them not wanting to speak ill of the dead, because they talked about him that way while he was still alive. He could be very generous and big-hearted. I was just starting out in the business when I started corresponding with him, and he was always encouraging in those days. Later, the doom and gloom set in, and he made a lot of predictions about how there were too many mergers in the publishing business and how it was going to damage the mid-list, and darned if he wasn't right about that, at least. He burned enough bridges that some people probably hated him, but I never could.

During the last few years of his life, after he moved to Los Angeles, he found some work as an extra on various TV shows. I used to look for him in episodes that he'd told me he worked on, but I was never able to spot him. I do, however, have a videotape of his appearance as a guest on the syndicated version of TO TELL THE TRUTH in 1981. Only one TV station in Texas ran that show, and it was in Austin. So the day Mike's appearance ran, I loaded up my VCR (no small feat in those days when VCRs were large and heavy), drove to Austin, rented a motel room, and taped the blasted thing. Seems like an awful lot of trouble now, but I was willing to do it then, for the guy who wrote that Man From U.N.C.L.E. book I loved so much.

5 comments:

Lee Goldberg said...

I remember reading a book of his when I was a kid -- I think it was called THE SATAN SLEUTH. Wild stuff. I met him once at a paperback show and, as I recall, he was very nice to me. I've met into his daughter a few times. For a while she was a development exec for screenwriter Jeffrey Boam. She's married to Carr D'Angelo, who was an editor at STARLOG magazine, where I worked as a freelancer when I was in college. He's gone on to become a big movie executive.

Bill said...

I also corresponded with Avallone for years. He finally wrote me off when I said something good about Sisters in Crime, and the letters I got after that were far different from the ones I'd received previously. Even at that I could never bring myself to dislike him. He was nuts, but I didn't care. The world needs a few nuts around. I was sorry to see him lose his markets, and for the fact that his last few years weren't happy ones.

Lee Goldberg said...

I meant to write "I've run into his daughter" not "I've met into his daughter." This is what happens when you leave comments on a blog after writing all day...your mind is mush.

James Reasoner said...

Lee -- Yep, THE SATAN SLEUTH was an Avallone book. I think there were three in that series, and not bad books, if I recall correctly. Over the top, of course, but pretty entertaining.

And I know all too well that mind-mush feeling. I have it nearly every day.

Bill -- Avo got mad at me for a while, too, for reasons I never understood, but we patched things up and I heard from him fairly regularly after he moved to L.A.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I went from Avallone's fearless editor (for running his letters in MDM) to one of THEM (the cabal of people trying to destroy his career) when I refused to condemn Bill Pronzini for the Avallone chapter in GUN IN CHEEK. For years I got the most vile and psychotic mail from him, but he finally went away and left me alone. I felt sorry for him because I thought he was mentally unbalanced, but when I was getting his hate mail I wanted to pop him one.