"Friendships, like marriages, are dependent on avoiding the unforgivable." -- John D. MacDonald
John Dann MacDonald (July 24, 1916 – December 28, 1986) was an American author.
MacDonald was a prolific writer of crime and suspense novels, many of them set in his adopted home of Florida. His best-known works include the popular and critically acclaimed Travis McGee series, and his novel The Executioners, which was adapted into the film Cape Fear. In 1962, MacDonald was named a grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America, and he won the American Book Award in 1980. Stephen KingKing, Stephen. On Writing (Hodder and Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 0340769963) praised MacDonald as "the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller."
"Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will."
He was born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, where his father worked for Savage Arms. The family moved to Utica, N.Y. in 1926 where his father was now Treasurer of the Utica branch of the Savage Arms Corporation. In 1934 young John was sent to Europe for several weeks and this whetted his appetite for travel, and for photography.
MacDonald enrolled at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out during his sophomore year, where he was not doing well. He worked menial jobs in New York City for a short time, and then was accepted at Syracuse University. While there he met Dorothy Prentiss. They married in 1937.
He graduated from Syracuse the following year. In 1939, he received an MBA from Harvard University. MacDonald was later able to make good use of his education in business and economics by incorporating elaborate business swindles into the plots of a number of his novels.
In 1940 MacDonald accepted a direct commission as a First Lieutenant in the Army Ordnance Corps. He later served in the OSS in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations during World War II. He was discharged in September 1945 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
MacDonald literary career began accidentally; in 1945, while in military service, he wrote a short story and mailed it home to his wife. He had grown tired of trying to write when everything had to pass the military censors. She submitted it to Esquire magazine, where it was rejected, and then she submitted it to Story magazine. It was accepted for $25.00. He was informed of this just after disembarking from the ship home.
After his discharge from service, he spent the next four months writing short stories, generating some 800,000 words and losing 20 pounds while typing during 14-hour daily sessions seven days a week. This effort netted him only hundreds of rejection slips, but in the fifth month, a $40 sale to the pulp magazine Dime Detective set his career in motion, and he continued to sell close to 500 stories to the detective, mystery, adventure, sports, western and science fiction pulps. It is true that in a couple of instances MacDonald's stories were the only ones in the magazine, but hidden via pseudonyms.
As the boom in paperback novels expanded, MacDonald successfully made the jump to longer fiction with his first novel, The Brass Cupcake, published in 1950 by Fawcett Publications' Gold Medal Books.
His science fiction included the story "Cosmetics" in Astounding (1948) 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 in Time and Tomorrow (1980).
Between 1953 and 1964, MacDonald specialized in crime thrillers, many of which are now considered masterpieces of the hardboiled genre. Most of these novels were published as paperback originals, although some were later republished in hardbound editions. Many, such as Dead Low Tide (1953), were set in his adopted home of Florida, and were effective in suggesting a sinister aura lurking beneath the glittery surface of that state. Novels such as The Executioners (1957) (which was twice filmed as Cape Fear, first in 1962 and again in 1991) and One Monday We Killed them All (1962) penetrated the minds of psychopathic killers. As Macdonald honed his craft, he developed his narrative "voice," one of the most distinctive in the suspense fiction field.
He is credited with writing about the effect of the building boom on the environment, and his novel, A Flash of Green, is a good example of this effort. Many later Florida crime, detective, and mystery writers, such as Randy Wayne White, James Hall, and Jonathon King, have followed suit.
MacDonald's protagonists were often intelligent and introspective men, sometimes with a hard cynical streak. Travis McGee, the "salvage consultant" and "knight in rusting armor," 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 pieces as he went along. He first appeared in the 1964 novel The Deep Blue Good-by and was last seen in The Lonely Silver Rain in 1985. All titles in the 21-volume series include a color, a mnemonic device which was suggested by his publisher so that when harried travelers looked to buy a book they could at once see those MacDonald titles they had not 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," a retired economist. As Sherlock Holmes had his well-known address on Baker Street, McGee had his trademark lodgings on his 52-foot houseboat, the Busted Flush, named for the poker hand that started the run of luck in which he won her. She is docked at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
MacDonald's novel Soft Touch was the basis for the 1961 film Man-Trap.
His 1957 novel The Executioners was filmed in 1962 as Cape Fear, a dark thriller of strong suspense and menace starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Martin Scorsese directed the 1991 remake of Cape Fear.
The novel Cry Hard, Cry Fast was adapted as a two-part episode of the TV series Run for Your Life in November of 1967.
The novella "Linda" was filmed twice for television, in 1973 (with Stella Stevens in the title role) and 1993 (with Virginia Madsen).
The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything was adapted for a 1980 TV movie. It led to a 1981 sequel, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Dynamite.
The 1980 TV movie Condominium, based on MacDonald's novel, starred Dan Haggerty and Barbara Eden.
The 1984 A Flash of Green with Ed Harris.
When Travis McGee arrived on the big screen in 1970 with Darker Than Amber, starring Rod Taylor, the film received favorable reviews from Roger Ebert and other critics, but there was no follow-up into a series. The 1983 TV movie Travis McGee: The Empty Copper Sea starred Sam Elliott.
Various writers have acknowledged the trail that MacDonald and McGee blazed, 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."
Most of the current crop of Florida-based mystery writers acknowledge a debt to MacDonald, including Randy Wayne White, James Hall, Les Standiford, Jonathon King, Tim Dorsey to name just a few. And Lawrence Block's New York-based 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 cut.
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."
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 recent 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 move 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 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 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."
(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)
(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
(1958) The Deceivers
(1958) The Executioners (reprinted as Cape Fear)
(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
(1984) One More Sunday
(1986) Barrier Island
(1959) The Lethal Sex
(1978) Other Times, Other Worlds
(1980) Time and Tomorrow
Short story collections
(1966) End of the Tiger and Other Stories
(1982) The Good Old Stuff
(1984) More Good Old Stuff
(1951) Wine of the Dreamers (reprinted as Planet of the Dreamers)
(1952) Ballroom of the Skies
(1962) The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything
(1965) The House Guests
(1968) No Deadly Drug
(1981) Nothing Can Go Wrong (with Captain John H. Kilpack) [This is an account of the last voyage of one of the last American liners (the S.S. Mariposa, if memory serves) before it was sold to a foreign flag. MacDonald apparently wrote the whole book, collaborating with its captain for factual information.]
(1986) The Letters of Dan Rowan and John D. MacDonald 1967-1974