Quote Origin: Those Big-Shot Writers Could Never Dig the Fact That There Are More Salted Peanuts Consumed Than Caviar

Mickey Spillane? Hy Gardner? Frank Smikel? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: Popular writers endure a litany of complaints directed at their prose, e.g., mediocre, clumsy, crude, uninteresting, and undemanding. A bestselling writer once employed a clever analogy to explain this antagonism.

The writer contended that literary darlings were trying to market caviar, whereas popular writers were peddling salted peanuts. Jealousy occurred because the latter always pleased the crowd more than the former. Would you help me to find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1961 syndicated columnist Hy Gardner of the “New York Herald Tribune” interviewed top-selling U.S. crime novelist Mickey Spillane who was best known for creating the hard-boiled detective character Mike Hammer. Gardner asked Spillane about the prominent author Ernest Hemingway who had died recently:1

We wondered if Spillane and Hemingway had ever met face-to-face. “No, I never met Hemingway. And from the nasty cracks he was quoted as making about me I doubt if either of us missed anything.”

Spillane commented on the barbs aimed at him by fellow authors. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:

“Funny thing. Those big-shot writers—pardon me, authors—never could understand why the Mike Hammer books outsold their works. They could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar.

Additional details and citations are available in the article on the Medium platform which is located here.

Image Notes: Black and red caviar from Olga Pukhalskaya at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to James Scott Bell who mentioned this quotation in his course “How to Write Best-Selling Fiction” within lesson number 3 titled “Developing Ideas”. Bell’s work is part of “The Great Courses” from The Teaching Company. This mention inspired QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Gary K. McCormick who mentioned the inadvisability of serving caviar with a metallic utensil which led to a change of the picture accompanying the article.

[1] 1961 August 18, New York Herald Tribune, Hy Gardner Calling: The Case of Hemingway Vs. Spillane, Quote Page 6, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)