Birthday: July 24, 1916
Short Story Writers
Died At Age: 70
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: John D. MacDonald
Born in: Sharon, Pennysylvania
Famous as: Novelist, Short Story Writer
Spouse/Ex-: Dorothy Prentiss
father: Eugene Macdonald
mother: Marguerite Macdonald
Died on: December 28, 1986
place of death: Milwaukee
education: Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University
awards: Edgar Grand Master Award
National Book Award for Mystery
Grand Prix de Littérature Policière - International Category
John Dann MacDonald was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for his thrillers. Even as a child, MacDonald wanted to become a writer but he believed that writing is an inherent skill and he was far beyond it. He tried his hand at several jobs but he became a writer only by accident when his first story was published in the magazine, ‘Story’ that triggered him to write. Eventually he became one of the greatest writers in the genre of ‘thrillers’. He had a large and respectable repertoire of 78 novels and 500 short stories. He was also an environmentalist who was worried about the destruction of the natural environment of his home state, Florida, which induced him to write ‘Travis McGee’. In his novel, ‘Condominium’, he wrote about the impact of hurricanes that upset the living condition of people in Florida. Apart from thrillers, he also dabbled in science fiction, short stories, non-fiction and romantic novels. His prolific writing skills won him a number of awards including ‘The Grandmaster Award’ and the ‘Ben Franklin Award’. Many of his novels like ‘The Executioners’ and ‘The Empty Copper Sea’ were also adapted for the silver screen. Even after two decades of his death, his works still rule the world of paperback with more than 75 million copies of his works available in print.
Childhood & Early Life
John Dann MacDonald was born on 24 July 1916 in Sharon, Pennsylvania, to Eugene and Marguerite Macdonald. His father Eugene, was a business executive.
His father began work as a treasurer for Savage Arms Corporate and so the family moved to Utica where young Macdonald was educated at local schools and at Utica Free Academy.
While he was twelve years old, he became sick due to scarlet fever and mastoiditis. This d kept him away from school for many months.
He spent his time reading books and admired the writers for their writing skills. He perceived that writers were born by birth and thought that he was not lucky enough to become one.
After graduating from the Utica Free Academy in 1933, he enrolled at Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. He discontinued his education and did a number of odd jobs.
However, he decided to continue his education at the Syracuse University and graduated in 1938 with a B.S in Business. It was during his stay at the Syracuse, he married Dorothy Mary Prentiss.
In 1939, he entered Harvard University and earned his MBA degree. His studies in business and economics helped him weave plots for a number of his novels.
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After completing his graduation in 1939, he took up the job of an insurance salesman and later, as a repossession agent for a bank. He was of outspoken temperament as a result of which he lost many of his jobs.
In 1940, he joined the the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps. He served in the Burma-China-India theatre and rose to the position of lieutenant colonel.
During his leisure time, he engaged himself in writing and once sent his wife a story titled, ‘Interlude in India’. Without his knowledge, his wife got it published in the magazine ‘Story’ for $25.
When MacDonald came to know about this publication, he decided to embark on a career as a writer. In 1945, he was discharged from the army and he started writing stories.
Within four months of his return, he was able to write around 800,000 words of short stories. Almost every week, he sent them to numerous publishers but became dejected with their rejection.
However, by 1949 he was able to establish himself as a short-story writer. Along with his family, he settled at Sarasota in Florida.
In 1950, his first detective novel, ‘The Brass Cupcake’, based in Florida was published. He made use of the business knowledge gained through his Harvard education and applied it in his mystery novels.
He began to establish himself as a successful mystery writer in the next 15 years. He was acclaimed as the ‘king’ of pulp fiction.
His novel, ‘The Executioners’ gained the attention of Hollywood. In 1961, the book was adapted for the film ‘Cape Fear’; the film was a commercial success.
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He was distressed over the rapid development in Florida and the resultant ecological imbalance. In 1964, he started writing a series of detective novels and voiced his opinions through the protagonist ‘Travis McGee’.
His 1977 novel ‘Condominium’, detailed the destructive outcome of hurricanes in Florida. The novel became a hit and was ranked on top for 27 weeks in the New York Times’ best-seller list.
He published the last of the ‘Travis McGee’ novels titled, ‘The Lonely Silver Rain’, in 1985. The book was also nominated for the Anthony Award for ‘Best Novel’.
In 1986, he authored, ‘Barrier Island’, which was one of his last works before his death.
‘The Executioners’, written in 1957, is a psychological thriller about a convicted rapist’s oath to avenge the lawyer who put him behind the bars. The novel became the best seller and was adapted for a film titled, ‘Cape Fear’.
His ‘Travis McGee’ detective series, written from 1964 to 1985 was critically acclaimed and earned him the reputation of the undisputable writer of thrillers. The 21 novels in this series were published in 44 languages and were also adapted for films.
Awards & Achievements
In 1980, he won the National Book Award for his novel ‘The Green Ripper’, a Travis McGee novel. He is the only mystery writer ever to be honored with a National Book Award.
He was also awarded with an honorary doctorate degree from the University of South Florida.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Dorothy Prentiss in 1937 and they had a son named John Prentiss.
He died on 28 December 1986, at the age of 70, when he went to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he died of heart attack at a hospital. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee.
His legacy continues till today with 70 million copies of his works printed. His novels have been acclaimed as the greatest thrillers and conferences on his novels have been conducted ever since 1978.
This American mystery writer often characterized his villains as sexual psychopaths who wait for their turn to prey on feeble women. Most of this writer’s novels are based on the plot of drug smuggling.