Born September 27, 1906, James Meyer Thompson grew up in Oklahoma to become one of the finest pulp novelists of The Cold War era. His life during the Depression and his up and down family history of working the wildcat oil fields of Texas seeped into Jim's dirt-under-the-nails writing as he created characters at once both brutal and sympathetic.
Thompson began his career as a more "traditional" writer, publishing his first two novels, Now and on Earth and Heed the Thunder as hardbacks. After these books failed to find wide audiences, Thompson found his voice in crime fiction, grinding out hellish tales for paperback mills such as Lion Books and Gold Medal. Encouraged by Lion Books' Arnold Hano (one of the few to attend Thompson's funeral in 1977), Thompson produced an amazing 12 books in 2 years!
Thompson's best known novel is The Killer Inside Me, the story of a doomed smalltown sheriff unable to control his bloodlust as circumstances force him to kill and kill again. This was made into an inferior film starring Stacy Keach in 1979. Other notable books include Savage Night, The Getaway, and his often-overlooked novella masterpiece, The Criminal.
A good number of Thompson's works have been put on screen by American filmmakers with varying degrees of success. These include The Getaway (twice, three times if you include the first half of the Rodriguez/Tarantino B-movie rave-up From Dusk 'til Dawn), The Grifters (nominated for four Oscars),and After Dark, My Sweet. The latest, This World, Then the Fireworks (w/ Billy Zane and Gina Gershon), was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997 to a positive audience.
Two biographies of Thompson have been published. The first, Sleep With the Devil, by Michael McCauley, was published in 1991. Savage Art: a Biography of Jim Thompson by Robert Polito, was published by Knopf in 1995. Polito's book won both the Edgar and National Book Critics Circle awards.
Thompson died on April 7, 1977, and had his ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean. As he himself predicted, Thompson did not live to enjoy his own success. (Biography excerpted from the excellent Jim Thompson Resource Page kept by Leslie J. Furlong.)
Read also the excellent account of Jim Thompson's Lost Hollywood Years by David Geffner in Movie Maker magazine!...and an iteresting article by Charles Waring of Crime Time Publishers.