John D. MacDonald: Writer from the United States (1916 - 1986) | Biography, Filmography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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John D. MacDonald
Writer from the United States

John D. MacDonald

John D. MacDonald
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Writer from the United States
Was Writer Short story writer Novelist Screenwriter Science fiction writer Essayist Translator
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature
Gender male
Birth 24 July 1916, Sharon, USA
Death 28 December 1986, Milwaukee, USA (aged 70 years)
Star sign Leo
Harvard Business School
Syracuse University
Harvard University
The Wharton School
National Book Award  
Edgar Award  
Florida Artists Hall of Fame  
Detective fiction
The details (from wikipedia)


John Dann MacDonald (July 24, 1916 – December 28, 1986) was an American writer of novels and short stories, known for his thrillers.

MacDonald was a prolific author of crime and suspense novels, many of them set in his adopted home of Florida. One of the most successful American novelists of his time, MacDonald sold an estimated 70 million books in his career. His best-known works include the popular and critically acclaimed Travis McGee series, and his novel The Executioners, which was filmed as Cape Fear (1962) and remade in 1991.

In 1972, the Mystery Writers of America bestowed upon MacDonald its very highest honor, the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement and consistent quality. When the U.S. book publishing industry responded to criticism of the National Book Awards as run by insiders by replacing them in 1980 with a voting academy of 2,000, it honored MacDonald during its elaborate television production entitled The American Book Awards in that only year containing the Mystery category. Stephen King praised MacDonald as "the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller." Kingsley Amis said, MacDonald "is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only MacDonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human-heart chap, so guess who wears the top-grade laurels."

Early life

MacDonald was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, where his father, Eugene Macdonald, worked for the Savage Arms Corporation. The family relocated to Utica, New York in 1926, with his father becoming treasurer of the Utica office of Savage Arms. In 1934, MacDonald was sent to Europe for several weeks, which began a desire for travel and for photography.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but he quit during his sophomore year. MacDonald worked at menial jobs in New York City for a brief time, then was admitted to Syracuse University, where he met his future wife, Dorothy Prentiss. They married in 1937, and he graduated from Syracuse University the next year. The couple would have one child, a son.

In 1939, MacDonald received an MBA from Harvard University. (MacDonald later made good use of his education in business and economics in crafting his fiction. Quite a few of his novels are either set in the business world or involve shady financial or real estate deals. When Travis McGee must unravel such schemes, he often seeks advice from his friend Meyer, a renowned economist.)

In 1940, MacDonald accepted a direct commission as a first lieutenant of the Army Ordnance Corps. During World War II, he served in the Office of Strategic Services in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations; this region featured in many of his earlier short stories and novels. He was discharged in September 1945 as a lieutenant colonel. In 1949, he moved his family to Florida, eventually settling in Sarasota.

Writing career

Early pulp stories

MacDonald's first short story, "G-Robot," appeared in the July 1936 Double Action Gang magazine.

After his discharge from the army, MacDonald spent four months writing short stories, generating some 800,000 words and losing 20 pounds (9.1 kg) while typing 14 hours a day, seven days a week. He received hundreds of rejection slips, but "Cash on the Coffin!" appeared in the May 1946 pulp magazine Detective Tales. He would eventually sell nearly 500 short stories to detective, mystery, adventure, sports, Western, and science fiction magazines. Several times, MacDonald's stories were the only ones in an issue of a magazine, but this was hidden by using pseudonyms. Between 1946 and 1951, in addition to publishing over 200 short stories under his own name, MacDonald published stories as Peter Reed, John Farrell (sometimes John Wade Farrell), Scott O'Hara, Robert Henry, Harry Reiser, and John Lane. These pseudonyms were all retired by the end of 1951, and MacDonald thereafter published all his work under his real name.

Hardboiled thrillers

As the boom in paperback novels expanded, MacDonald successfully made the change to longer fiction with his first novel, The Brass Cupcake, published in 1950, by Fawcett Publications' Gold Medal Books.

His science fiction included the stories "Cosmetics" in Astounding (1948) and "Common Denominator" in Galaxy Science Fiction (1951), and the three novels, Wine of the Dreamers (1951), Ballroom of the Skies (1952), and The Girl, the Gold Watch, & Everything (1962), which were collected as an omnibus edition named Time and Tomorrow (1980).

Between 1953 and 1964, MacDonald specialized in crime thrillers, mainly of the so-called "hardboiled" genre. Most of these novels were published as paperback originals, although some were later republished as hardbound editions. Many, such as Dead Low Tide (1953) and Murder in the Wind (1956), were set in his adopted home of Florida. Novels such as The Executioners (1957) (which was twice filmed as Cape Fear, first in 1962 and again in 1991), The End of the Night (1960) and One Monday We Killed Them All (1962) concerned psychopathic killers. Occasionally, he moved out of the crime lane to try his hand at suburban domestic drama, as in Contrary Pleasure (1954) and The Deceivers (1958).

MacDonald is credited with being one of the earliest to write on the effect of real estate booms on the environment, and his novel A Flash Of Green (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962) is a good example of this. Many later Florida crime, detective and mystery writers, such as Paul Levine, Randy Wayne White, James Hall and Jonathon King, have followed suit.

Travis McGee

MacDonald's protagonists were often intelligent, introspective, and (sometimes) cynical men. Travis McGee, the "salvage consultant" and "knight-errant," was all of that. McGee made his living by recovering the loot from thefts and swindles, keeping half to finance his "retirement," which he took in segments as he went along. He first appeared in the 1964 novel The Deep Blue Good-by and starred in 21 novels through to the series' final release, 1985's The Lonely Silver Rain. All titles in the series include a color, a mnemonic device which was suggested by his publisher so that when harried travelers in airports looked to buy a book, they could at once see those MacDonald titles they had not yet read.

The McGee novels feature an ever-changing array of female companions; some particularly nasty villains; exotic locales in Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean; and appearances by a sidekick known only as "Meyer," an economist of international renown and a Ph.D. As Sherlock Holmes had his well-known address on Baker Street, McGee had his lodgings on his 52-foot (16 m) houseboat, the Busted Flush, named for the poker hand that started the run of luck which enabled him to win the boat. She is docked at Slip F-18, marina Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


Following complications of coronary artery bypass surgery, MacDonald slipped into a coma on December 10, 1986. He died at the age of seventy, on December 28th, in St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is buried in Milwaukee, at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum. He was survived by his wife Dorothy (1911-1989) and a son, Maynard.

Media adaptations

  • MacDonald's novel Soft Touch was the basis for the 1961 movie Man-Trap.
  • His 1957 novel The Executioners was filmed during 1962 as Cape Fear featuring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Martin Scorsese directed the 1991 remake of Cape Fear starring Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte. Because of the success of the films, The Executioners has been republished under the Cape Fear title, even though the novel is set in Florida and does not mention Cape Fear, North Carolina.
  • The novel Cry Hard, Cry Fast was adapted as a two-part episode of the television series Run for Your Life during November 1967.
  • A 1970 movie adaptation of the novel Darker Than Amber was directed by Robert Clouse from a screenplay by MacDonald and Ed Waters. It featured Rod Taylor as series character Travis McGee.
  • The novella Linda was filmed twice for television, in 1973 (with Stella Stevens in the title role) and in 1993 (with Virginia Madsen).
  • The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything was adapted for a 1980 TV movie. It resulted in a 1981 sequel, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Dynamite.
  • The 1980 TV movie Condominium, based on MacDonald's novel, featured Dan Haggerty and Barbara Eden.
  • Sam Elliott played Travis McGee in the TV adaptation of The Empty Copper Sea, titled Travis McGee (1983). It relocated McGee to California, eliminating the Florida locales basic to the novel.
  • The 1984 movie A Flash of Green featured Ed Harris. Victor Nuñez, who wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, was nominated for Grand Jury Prize at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival.


Various writers have acknowledged MacDonald's work, including Carl Hiaasen in an introduction to a 1990s edition of The Deep Blue Good-by: "Most readers loved MacDonald's work because he told a rip-roaring yarn. I loved it because he was the first modern writer to nail Florida dead-center, to capture all its languid sleaze, racy sense of promise, and breath-grabbing beauty." Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., wrote another memorable tribute: "To diggers a thousand years from now . . . the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen."

Most current Floridian mystery writers acknowledge a debt to MacDonald, including Randy Wayne White, James Hall, Les Standiford, Jonathon King and Tim Dorsey. Lawrence Block's New York fictional hero, Matthew Scudder, is a character who makes his living doing just what McGee does—favors for friends who have no other recourse, then taking his share.

Homage to MacDonald was evident in the 1981-88 CBS-TV series Simon & Simon with scenes showing Rick Simon's boat docked at Slip F-18 in San Diego.

Stephen King stated in the book Faces of Fear: "John D. MacDonald has written a novel called The End of the Night which I would argue is one of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century. It ranks with Death of a Salesman, it ranks with An American Tragedy." He also dedicated the novella The Sun Dog to MacDonald, writing, "I miss you, old friend...and you were right about the tigers," and began the novel Finder's Keepers with "Thinking about John D. MacDonald."

The science fiction writer Spider Robinson has made it clear that he is also among MacDonald's admirers. The bartender in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, Mike Callahan, is married to Lady Sally McGee, whose last name is almost certainly a tribute to Travis. In a sequel to the Callahan's series, Callahan's Key, a group of regulars from the former saloon decide they've had enough of Long Island, so they relocate to Key West, Florida, in a colorful caravan of modified school buses. On their way to Key West, they stop at a marina near Fort Lauderdale specifically to visit Slip F-18 (where The Busted Flush was usually moored) and meet a local who was the prototype for McGee's sidekick Meyer. The slip is empty, with a small plaque mentioning The Busted Flush.

The popular mystery writer Dean Koontz has also acknowledged in an interview with Bookreporter.com's Marlene Taylor that MacDonald is his "favorite author of all time... I've read everything he wrote four or five times." His character Odd Thomas in Odd Apocalypse finds himself in the 1920s, and worries about being stuck "in a world with no penicillin, no polio vaccine, no Teflon cookware, no John D. MacDonald novels".

In a May 2016 New York Times interview, Nathaniel Philbrick—author of In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower—said: "I recently discovered John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. Every time I finish one of those slender books, I tell myself it’s time to take a break and return to the pile on the night stand but then find myself deep into another McGee novel. Before there were Lee Child and Carl Hiaasen, there was MacDonald — as prescient and verbally precise as anyone writing today can possibly hope to be."

Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett respectfully alludes to MacDonald in the songs "Prince Of Tides" of the album Hot Water and "Incommunicado" on Coconut Telegraph.

Winners of the John D. MacDonald Award for Excellence in Florida Fiction, presented by the JDM Bibliophile, include James W. Hall, Elmore Leonard, Paul Levine, and Charles Willeford.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 01 Apr 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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