John D. MacDonald

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John D. MacDonald
BornJohn Dann MacDonald
(1916-07-24)July 24, 1916
Sharon, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedDecember 28, 1986(1986-12-28) (aged 70)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story writer
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
Syracuse University
Harvard University
GenreDetective fiction

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

MacDonald was a prolific author of crime and suspense novels, many set in his adopted home of Florida. One of the most successful American novelists of his time, MacDonald sold an estimated 70 million books.[1] His best-known works include the popular and critically acclaimed Travis McGee series and his 1957 novel The Executioners, which was filmed twice as Cape Fear, once in 1962 and again in 1991.

Early life[edit]

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, his father becoming treasurer of the Utica office of Savage Arms. In 1934, MacDonald was given a choice by his father: spend another year in school as a post-graduate, or go to Europe for several weeks. He chose Europe and this began an interest in travel and 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, then was admitted to Syracuse University, where he met his future wife, Dorothy Prentiss. They married secretly in Pennsylvania in 1937, and had a public ceremony in Utica later that year. He graduated from Syracuse University the next year. The couple had one son, Maynard.

In 1939, MacDonald received an MBA from Harvard University. MacDonald later used his education in business and economics in crafting his fiction. Several of his novels are either set in the business world or involve shady financial or real estate deals.

In 1940, MacDonald accepted a direct commission as a first lieutenant of the United States 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. "Dear Dordo: The World War II Letters of Dorothy and John D. MacDonald" was published by Peppertree Press in 2022.

In 1951 he moved his family from Utica, New York to Florida, eventually settling in Sarasota.[2]

Writing career[edit]

Early fiction[edit]

MacDonald's first published short story, "G-Robot," appeared in the July 1936 Double Action Gang magazine.[3] Following his 1945 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.[3] He would eventually sell nearly 500 short stories to various mystery and adventure fiction magazines.[4] Selections from MacDonald's early magazine fiction, somewhat revised, were later republished in two collections, The Good Old Stuff (1982) and More Good Old Stuff (1984),

Starting with The Brass Cupcake in 1950, McDonald wrote more than forty standalone crime thrillers and domestic dramas, most published as paperback originals and many of them set in Florida. Among them was The Executioners (1957), which was filmed twice as Cape Fear and later republished under that title. MacDonald also wrote three science fiction novels, including The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything (1962), which was filmed for television. After introducing his series character Travis McGee in 1964, MacDonald concentrated mostly on that series, although he did publish four additional standalone novels.

Travis McGee[edit]

In 1964, MacDonald published The Deep Blue Good-by, the first of 21 novels starring Travis McGee, a self-described "salvage consultant" who recovers stolen property for a fee of 50 percent, and who narrates his adventures in the first person. McGee originally was to be called Dallas McGee, but MacDonald dropped that name after the Kennedy assassination, borrowing instead the name of Travis Air Force Base.[5] The McGee adventures, each of which has a color in the title, mostly play out in Florida (where McGee lives a hedonistic bachelor life on a houseboat), the Caribbean, or Mexico, and many of them feature his friend and sidekick Dr. Meyer ("Just 'Meyer', please") Meyer, a renowned economist who helps Travis deconstruct elaborate swindles and cases of business corruption.


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 28, in St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[6] He is buried in Poland, New York.[7] He was survived by his wife Dorothy (1911-1989) and a son, Maynard.

Media adaptations[edit]


Most current Floridian mystery writers acknowledge a debt to MacDonald, including Randy Wayne White, James Hall, Les Standiford, Jonathon King and Tim Dorsey.[11] In 1972, the Mystery Writers of America bestowed upon MacDonald its highest honor, the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement and consistent quality. Stephen King praised MacDonald as "the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller."[12] 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."[13]

In a May 2016 The New York Times interview, author Nathaniel Philbrick 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."[14]

In the novels, McGee had his lodgings on his 52-foot (16 m) houseboat, the Busted Flush, docked at Slip F-18, marina Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In 1987, the Friends of Libraries U.S.A. installed a "literary landmark plaque" around what would be Slip F-18 in Bahia Mar. After the docks were remodeled, the plaque was moved to the Dockmaster's office.[15]


Travis McGee series[edit]

Non-series novels (excluding science fiction)[edit]

  • (1950) The Brass Cupcake
  • (1951) Murder for the Bride
  • (1951) Judge Me Not
  • (1951) Weep for Me
  • (1952) The Damned
  • (1953) Dead Low Tide
  • (1953) The Neon Jungle
  • (1953) Cancel All Our Vows
  • (1954) All These Condemned
  • (1954) Area of Suspicion
  • (1954) Contrary Pleasure
  • (1955) A Bullet for Cinderella (reprinted as On the Make)
  • (1956) Cry Hard, Cry Fast
  • (1956) April Evil
  • (1956) Border Town Girl (reprinted as Five Star Fugitive)/ Linda
  • (1956) Murder in the Wind (reprinted as Hurricane)
  • (1956) You Live Once (reprinted as You Kill Me)
  • (1957) Death Trap
  • (1957) The Price of Murder
  • (1957) The Empty Trap
  • (1957) A Man of Affairs
  • (1957) The Executioners (reprinted as Cape Fear)
  • (1958) The Deceivers
  • (1958) Clemmie
  • (1958) Soft Touch
  • (1959) Deadly Welcome
  • (1959) The Beach Girls
  • (1959) Please Write for Details
  • (1959) The Crossroads
  • (1960) Slam the Big Door
  • (1960) The Only Girl in the Game
  • (1960) The End of the Night
  • (1961) Where is Janice Gantry?
  • (1961) One Monday We Killed Them All
  • (1962) A Key to the Suite
  • (1962) A Flash of Green
  • (1963) I Could Go On Singing (screenplay novelization)
  • (1963) On the Run
  • (1963) The Drowner
  • (1966) The Last One Left
  • (1977) Condominium
  • (1984) One More Sunday
  • (1986) Barrier Island


  • (1959) The Lethal Sex (an anthology of mystery stories by women, edited by MacDonald)

Short story collections[edit]

  • (1966) End of the Tiger and Other Stories
  • (1971) S*E*V*E*N
  • (1982) The Good Old Stuff – A collection of select pulp magazine short stories from the beginning of his career, with technology and pop culture references frequently updated to bring the stories into the 1980s
    • "Murder for Money" – Detective Tales, April 1952 as "All That Blood Money Can Buy"
    • "Death Writes the Answer" – New Detective Magazine, May 1950 as "This One Will Kill You"
    • "Miranda" – Fifteen Mystery Stories, October 1950
    • "They Let Me Live" – Doc Savage Magazine, July–August 1947
    • "Breathe No More" – Detective Tales, May 1950 as "Breathe No More, My Lovely"
    • "Some Hidden Grave" – Detective Tales, September 1950 as "The Lady is a Corpse"
    • "A Time for Dying" – New Detective Magazine, September 1948 as "Tune In on Station Homicide"
    • "Noose for a Tigress" – Dime Detective, August 1952
    • "Murder in Mind" – Mystery Book Magazine, Winter 1949
    • "Check Out at Dawn" – Detective Tales, May 1950 as "Night Watch"
    • "She Cannot Die" – Doc Savage Magazine, May–June 1948 as "The Tin Suitcase"
    • "Dead on the Pin" – Mystery Book Magazine, Summer 1950
    • "A Trap for the Careless" – Detective Tales, March 1950
  • (1983) Two
  • (1984) More Good Old Stuff
    • Deadly Damsel ("Killing All Men!", Black Mask, March 1949)
    • State Police Report That... ("You'll Never Escape", Dime Detective, May 1949)
    • Death for Sale ("My Mission Is Murder", Dime Detective, November 1947)
    • A Corpse in His Dreams (Mystery Book Magazine, Spring 1949)
    • I Accuse Myself ("The Scarred Hand", Doc Savage, November 1946)
    • A Place to Live ("Oh, Give Me a Hearse!", Dime Detective, October 1947)
    • Neighborly Interest ("Killers’ Nest", Detective Tales, February 1949)
    • The Night Is Over ("You've Got to Be Cold", The Shadow, April–May 1947)
    • Secret Stain ("Heritage of Hate", Black Mask, July 1949)
    • Even up the Odds (Detective Story Magazine, January 1948)
    • Verdict ("Three's a Shroud", New Detective, January 1949)
    • The High Gray Walls of Hate ("The High Walls of Hate", Dime Detective, February 1948)
    • Unmarried Widow ("A Corpse-Maker Goes Courting", Dime Detective, July 1949)
    • You Remember Jeanie (Crack Detective, May 1949)
  • (1987) The Annex and Other Stories – A very limited edition of 350 printed in Finland containing MacDonald's favorite short stories[16]

Science fiction[edit]

MacDonald's 1952 novel Ballroom of the Skies was reprinted in Two Complete Science-Adventure Books in 1953, but no paperback edition appeared until 1968.



  1. ^ Merrill, Hugh (2000). The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Minotaur. ISBN 978-0-312-20905-6.
  2. ^ "John D. MacDonald - Division of Arts and Culture - Florida Department of State". Retrieved March 17, 2024.
  3. ^ a b Chomko, Mike. "100 Years of Pulp Fictioneer John D. MacDonald". Pulpfest. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  4. ^ Jonathan Yardley, "John D. MacDonald's Lush Landscape of Crime", Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2003
  5. ^ Cassuto, Leonard. Hard-boiled sentimentality: the secret history of American crime stories (Columbia University Press, 2009), page 170; MacDonald, John D. "How to Live With a Hero", The Writer (Combat Publishing, Waukesha, Wisconsin), 7/2008, pages 22-23.
  6. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald (December 29, 1986). "John D. Macdonald, Novelist, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  7. ^ "John D. MacDonald". IMDb.
  8. ^ "Television Scout: Carnegie Hall Hour Called Borge at His Very Best; Best Bets". The Pittsburgh Press. January 2, 1964. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  9. ^ Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media 2010
  10. ^ The Hollywood Reporter Fox Scraps Christian Bale’s ‘Deep Blue Goodbye’ Due to Knee Injury, April 24, 2015
  11. ^ Mystery Readers International: Florida Mysteries, Volume 15, Number 4, Winter 1999-2000
  12. ^ King, Stephen. On Writing (Hodder and Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0-340-76996-3)
  13. ^ Amis, Kingsley (1971). "A New James Bond". What Became of Jane Austen? And Other Questions. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 69. ISBN 9780151958603.
  14. ^ "Nathaniel Philbrick: By the Book". The New York Times Book Review. May 29, 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  15. ^ Literary Landmarks factsheet Archived 2009-01-31 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Scott, Steve (October 20, 2014). "The Trap of Solid Gold: "The Annex"". The Trap of Solid Gold. Retrieved January 5, 2017.

External links[edit]