Sidewalks by Tom Deignan
Remembering a True Hell's Kitchen ‘Gentleman’
Posted on Friday, July 16, 2010 at 02:15 PM
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I never met Mickey Spillane, the so-called "gentleman" gangster who ran the infamous Westies for decades. But I did have the privilege and pleasure of knowing his son, Bobby Spillane, who died this past weekend following what by most accounts was a terrible accident on the Hell's Kitchen Manhattan streets he knew so well.
According to police, Bobby had been leaning out the sixth floor window of an apartment building, perhaps calling after his brother Michael, when the screen gave way. Family members have noted that Bobby had been wearing a sling. This may have prevented him from properly balancing himself.
Spillane fell out of the window and was later pronounced dead. He was just 45 years old.
Looking at this unjust turn of events, there is a temptation to simply note that another member of one of the most infamous Irish clans in New York history is gone. There is a temptation to note that another slice of Irish Hell's kitchen has been lost.
There is even, for me, a great sense of exasperation because some people have confused Bobby's crime boss dad with the famous crime writer Mickey Spillane.
But what must be said, first and foremost, is that Bobby Spillane was as much of a gentleman as anyone else you will ever meet. This even though it was not always easy growing up in the Spillane household.
"I was born in 1964," Spillane wrote in a 2002 Daily News front page article about his father. "My father, Michael John Spillane, a man the papers would later refer to as the last Gentleman Gangster, was at this time boss of the Midtown rackets. Dark Irish and movie-star handsome, he had already been shot and stabbed and had served three years at Sing Sing by the time I arrived."
Bobby recalled playing in a park with his dad when he got into an argument with another boy. In the end, Bobby's father confronted the boy's dad, who himself was left laying on the ground.
When Bobby later wondered about his Dad's job, all Mickey Spillane said was, "Son, I'll answer all your questions when you get older."
That day never came. The Westies -- the gangsters who claimed they had to be crazier than everyone else because they were Irish -- had ruled the West Side for decades, but the times were a'changing.
Rival gangsters with a stake in the West Side declared Mickey Spillane's day had come and gone. One evening, Bobby has recalled, the intercom box in his apartment buzzed.
Mickey Spillane went out into the Hell's Kitchen night and was later gunned down by a killer who is still unknown. Bobby was 12 years old.
He could have spent the following years struggling to match his father's exploits, injuring himself and others along the way. He could have exploited the political connections on his mother's side of the family, the famous West Side McManus political clan.
But Bobby Spillane became a Teamster and also was bitten by the writing and acting bug.
He appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, from The Thomas Crown Affair to Rescue Me. He also wrote an off-Broadway farce entitled All Dolled Up about a cross-dressing mobster.
“You have to keep it wild," Spillane told me when we talked about the play a few years back.
Most importantly, along the way, Spillane made friends. Among them, fellow New York Irish comic and actor Colin Quinn, with whom Spillane was working on another show at the time of his death.
The show's status is up in the air now. Which is sad because we need personal New York stories like these now more than ever.
Why? Because some people are so ignorant of New York's recent past they confused Bobby's Dad with the famous writer of the Mike Hammer crime stories.
One L.A. Times reader commented: "Identifying author Mickey Spillane...as a notorious New York mobster is like calling James Joyce a famous Irish terrorist."
Then again, as Spillane friend and Westies historian T.J. English noted in his book Paddy Whacked, Bobby himself once excitedly ran home with a copy of a Mickey Spillane book.
"Hey Pop...Have you read his stuff?" Bobby asked.
"I tried," Bobby's Dad replied. "Too much sex."
With Bobby's death, we have been robbed of so many more memories as funny, poignant, ironic and tragic as these.
(Contact at email@example.com or facebook.com/tomdeignan)