Not sure why but author MICHAEL AVALLONE caught my eye…

posted by Jule Selbo

Michael Avallone was active in Mystery Writers of America. He left this earth in 1999. Who knew him?

For lovers of 1950s – 80s “pulp” mysteries, Michael Avallone might be a familiar name.  I, however, first came across his name when I was researching Maine spy/thriller writer Gayle Lynds’ work for a Crime Wave panel – and Gayle’s history writing for the Nick Carter series surfaced.  Avallone was a “regular” “co-writer” for the Killmaster books that used the long-running house name (Nick Carter). For some reason I clicked on his name – and found he was a guy who boasted of authoring 1,000 books. He said “(I’d) rather write than sleep or eat” and believed “…a professional writer should be able to write anything from the Bible to a garden seed catalog and everything there is that lies in between. . . ” More philosophically, he wrote: “…writing is the last frontier of individualism in the world – the one art a man can do alone that basically resists collaboration.”  (Take that, A.I.!)

The deeper dive in Avallone began.

I found out that in actuality Avallone, writing under 17 pseudonyms (male and female), and in multiple genres, has a book count closer to 223. (But, giving him a break, he may have included his novellas, articles and short stories in that 1000 work total.) 223 or 1000?  Choose one of the other, the output is amazing.

Avallone was born in 1924 in New York, he had 17 siblings, his dad was a stonemason, his formative years were spent during the Great Depression. He often talked about spending as much time as he could at the movies and reading pulp fiction as well as reading and re-reading Dumas’ D’Artagnan/Musketeers series. (Dumas wrote in lots of different genres too, I was reminded of that when I was making sure I spelled “D’Artagnan” correctly.) While in the Army (1943 – 1946), Avallone wrote a diary, penned love letters for his buddies, authored an Army News column. Post war, in 1953, he published his first novel, The Tall Dolores, starring private investigator Ed Noon.

“I’ve been writing since I discovered pencils,” Avallone explained. Genres he dabbled in: horror (his Satan Sleuth series I have to check out – it included The Werewolf Walks Tonight, and Devil Devil), westerns, gothic romances, soft-core porn, sci-fi.

He also wrote essays, short stories, liner notes for albums, poetry, movie reviews, mysteries for children and novelizations of television series like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Partridge Family, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan and of movies like Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Shock Corridor and Cannonball Run.

Under the pseudonym Troy Conway he wrote The Coxeman, spy/mysteries that parodied the Man from U.N.C.L.E tv show, using “tongue-in-cheek porn”.  Titles included: The Blow-Your-Mind JobThe Cunning Linguist and A Stiff Proposition. What were most publishers at the time paying for these novelizations? About $1,000 a book.

(Avallone also did a ‘higher-brow’ novelization: A Woman Called Golda.”, based on an 8 part mini-series on Golda Meir.)

But predominantly, Avallone stayed with his favorite protagonist, Ed Noon, in the crime/mystery genre. He even wrote radio serials based on his Ed Noon character – a series called The Wind Up.

Did the man ever sleep?

David Avallone, a filmmaker and one of the author’s two sons wrote in his blog:  My father got up every morning around seven a.m. He would walk to the local coffee shop and have a cup or two with the hoi polloi. He would return home before 9:30 a.m. and sit at “the machine.” The late industrial revolution sound effect of a manual typewriter would then start up. It would go, with very few pauses longer than a minute, until someone brought him a sandwich, or reminded him to eat. When I would come home from school, he would finish whatever sentence he was in the middle of, and we’d play catch for an hour. Then back at the machine. Until dinner. If he was enjoying himself a lot, or had a deadline, he would go back to the machine and write until nine, ten at night. He did this five or six days a week for something like fifty years. The result was not always literature, but sometimes it was.

If he didn’t have a book or a story to write, he’d knock out essays or spend the day writing letters. Hundreds of thousands of letters.

(Avallone had a reputation for being a tireless self -promoter and letter writer and being his own greatest fan.)

Avallone said he became a writer out of love of the English language – the ability to make people conjure images by mentioning single words and further holding their attention by stringing the words together into a sentence. He said he wrote for the pleasure, rather than the gain of fame or money. Asked if he ever considered writing to be a painful exercise, he said: “Writing is my religion.” He once completed a novel in a day and a half. Another time, he wrote a 1,500-word short story in 20 minutes while dining in a New York restaurant. In his all-time-record year, he churned out 27 books.

Avallone also liked to talk about writing, he lectured in high school and college writing classes – at places such as Columbia to Rutgers. His encouragement: “The best advice any writer can give to another writer or someone who wants to write, which cannot be taught, is to write, write, write.”

Certainly, he took his own advice. And, perhaps, in writing writing writing, he got a reputation for more than a few off/weird/not-thought-through turns of phrase. The Independent noted that Avallone caused “grievous bodily harm” to the English language; the magazine highlighted a few examples of “sketchy prose styling and mangled or downright weird metaphors”. From Avallone’s Assassins Don’t Die in Bed (1968): “His thin mustache was neatly placed between a peaked nose and two eyes like black marbles.” From The Horrible Man (1968): “She … unearthed one of her fantastic breasts from the folds of her sheath skirt.” The New York Times cited this gem: “The footsteps didn’t walk right in. They stopped outside the door and knocked…” as well as “The whites of his eyes came up in their sockets like moons over an oasis lined with palm trees.” (Not sure if the editors were top-notch.)

But he also got a few kudos (and a 1989 Anthony Award for his last Ed Noon novel, High Noon at Midnight.) Author Bill Pronzini, who reviewed a few of Avallone’s books, wrote “Ed Noon is the least sexually arrogant private eye in the mystery history. When the heroine tells him she finds him attractive, he is almost pathetically grateful. He goes on to share with the reader his almost unbearable loneliness… This human quality is extremely refreshing. It is part of the way Avallone’s characters talk about fundamental human needs.”

I’m sure there are people reading this blog who know Bill Pronzini, another author with a very large number of titles, (40+ Nameless Detective books, 300+ short stories, lots of crime/mystery awards, also the Carpenter and Quincannon Series written with Marcia Muller (his wife)). Who’s met him?

Pronzini also wrote this of Avallone’s work: “On the one hand, Noon is a standard tough, wisecracking op with a taste for copious bloodletting and a Spillane-type hatred of Communists, dissidents, hippies, pacifists, militant blacks, liberated women, and anyone or anything else of a liberal cant. On the other hand, he is a distinctly if eccentrically drawn character who loves baseball, old movies, and dumb jokes, and who gets himself mixed up with some of the most improbable individuals ever committed to paper.”

Despite Pronzini’s observations about Avallone’s ability to relay fundamental human needs, it’s clear (to me) Avallone often embraced a heightened, imaginative reality in choosing his characters and plots. The client Dolores, in The Tall Dolores, is the tallest burlesque queen in the world, the “shapeliest Amazon”, a regular Empire State Building of female feminine dame. Dolores hires Noon to find her missing lover, who is even taller than she is. He’s disappeared under mysterious circumstances and then he is found, dead, on the Museum of Natural History’s steps.

In The Case of the Bouncing Betty (1956) a 440-pound female mattress tester becomes Noon’s client. Private Investigator Noon was originally a rather straightforward variation on the classic pulp private eye. But as the series developed, it became increasingly original and eccentric, with unique characters and plot devices.

Noon even became an unlikely sometime-operative for the President of the United States and was sent off on top secret assignments (in The Hot Body (1973) Noon has to stop an ex-First Lady (a Jackie Kennedy-type) from defecting to Castro’s Cuba.

Supporters refer to Avallone as “a fertile pro who delivered a good read and never condescended to any assignment no matter how unpromising—in fact, Avallone’s vibrant self-regard tended to elevate all of his work, and in conversation he could discuss his artistic intentions in one of his Partridge Family novels with the detail and fervor of a Shakespeare scholar annotating Hamlet.”

Some point to Avallone’s sometimes hilarious prose style – and the “Noonisms” (similes, metaphors, and descriptive passages): “Her hips were beautifully arched and her breasts were like proud flags waving triumphantly. She carried them high and mighty.” And: “I flung a quick glance through the soot-stained windows. A mountain range and a dark night sky peppered with salty-looking stars winked at me.”

Since I’ve always enjoyed reading overly “pulpy” turns of phrase in 1940s, 50s 60s mysteries (but never try to emulate Spillane, Chandler, Woolrich, Frederik Brown etc.), I was interested to see how Avallone might have introduced the “beautiful African American Melissa Mercer” that Ed Noon hired as his secretary once he had gained some success and his bank account was flush.

She is introduced in Bedroom Bolero (1963); this was the 13th book in the Ed Noon series. I was surprised that he held back in this section, and chose to deal with a “social issue” (in a way)…

She was a slight, miniature doll of a girl, with large eyes and a mouth that didn’t need paint. Her clothes were plain but tasteful, fully advertising she knew what to do with her hard-earned money. But there was a flash of disbelief in her eyes when I told her the job was hers.

“Why are you giving me the job? Think I’ll be easy?”

“I don’t pinch, flirt or rub noses in the office.”

“Sorry, it’s just that I’ve been had by white men. I’ve worn myself out trying to convince them being a colored girl is not a cliché.”

“I’m enlightened, Miss Mercer.”

I’ve done some research on Avallone now, I’m ready to read a few of his Ed Noon books. Another Avallone book I’m ready to check out: 5 MINUTE MYSTERES.

It contains a group of small stories, written to be brain-teasers. Each is supposed to have an “aha” that the reader needs to pick up on to solve the mystery.  GoodReads reviewers find most of the stories successful.

Avallone was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame (Arts and Letters category) and was awarded a Literary Luminary of New Jersey in 1977. He was editor of the MWA newsletter for three years (1962-65) and also served on its board.

On February 26, 1999, the acclaimed “pulpmeister” suffered a heart attack. He’s probably on a typewriter – somewhere – typing away – if you believe there is a somewhere out there.

About jselbo

Jule Selbo's latest book, 10 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery, the first in a mystery/crime series, received a starred review on Kirkus and just landed on Kirkus Top Five List of Crime/Mystery books from independent publishers. It's also a finalist in the best of Foreword Review and Maine Literary Award. She absconded from Hollywood (and her work there as a produced screenwriter)to Portland Maine to write novels. Other books include Find Me in Florence, Dreams of Discovery -The John Cabot Story and Breaking Barriers - Based on the Life of Laura Bassi. The next book in the Dee Rommel series: 9 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery was released in September 2022 and is nominated for a Clue Award and received a starred Kirkus Review. 8 DAYS, the third in the series, is scheduled for release November 2023 and Jule is now working in 7 DAYS.
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13 Responses to Not sure why but author MICHAEL AVALLONE caught my eye…

  1. Kate Flora says:

    What fun, Jule. I am still laughing over the man with the mustache between his nose and his eyes.


  2. John Clark says:

    Sooo cool. We should have a life like this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Outstanding article!

  4. Brenda Buchanan says:

    Fascinating post, Jule! Thanks for the deep dig on a one of a kind writer.

  5. kaitcarson says:

    Fantastic! Wonder if he ever transitioned to computers. What fun, wish I could have met him.

    • jselbo says:

      Wonder if he did ever use computer? Yeah, I wonder. As I researched him, I wondered if he ever “rewrote”. Or if the first draft was all he needed to please himself –

      • kaitcarson says:

        My brother’s first father-in-law was Bob Considine. It was not unusual for him to have three different stories in three different typewriters and to work on them while entertaining guests. At the time – this is the mid/late 1960s – he had a syndicated column, a radio show, and was a reporter. He’d plunk from one to the other typewriter, chat, and sip the odd cocktail. Before the end of the party, the news runner would appear at the door, Bob would pull all three stories from his typewriters and turn over the day’s work. I don’t know how much editing went on at the other end, but I don’t think he had more than one draft. Maybe for the books. I guess being a former war correspondent helped!

  6. Alice says:

    Thanks for a wonderful essay about an author who sounds amazing. Who knew?

  7. Alice says:

    P.S. Amazon is selling a used copy of Tall Dolores for $399.

  8. matthewcost says:

    I am currently reading “The Best American Noir of the Century” edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. Michael Avallone would fit in the pages perfectly. Fun stuff.

  9. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    What a guy. And he still played catch with his kid. Great blog!

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