Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, John D. MacDonald!

My flickr set of JMD paperback covers is here.

The Writer's Almanac from American Public Media: "It's the birthday of mystery novelist John D. MacDonald (books by this author), born in Sharon, Pennsylvania (1916). He wrote a series of novels, including The Deep Blue Good-By (1964) and Nightmare in Pink (1964), featuring Travis McGee, a beach bum detective who lives on a houseboat that he won in a poker game.

While he was serving in the army during World War II, MacDonald entertained his wife by writing her fictionalized stories in his letters. She liked one story so much that she typed it up and sent it to the magazine Story, where it was published. MacDonald was so surprised and happy that he devoted himself to writing.

He had four months of severance pay when he came home from the Army, so he spent those four months writing seven days a week, 14 hours a day. Everyone but his wife thought he was shell-shocked. By the end of the year, he was making a living selling short stories to pulp fiction magazines. He published 73 stories in 1949 alone.

He used his mystery novels to criticize what he called American junk culture: fast food, bad TV, and land development. He wrote, 'I am wary of a lot of things, such as ... time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants ... pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.'"


  1. He was one of the primary influences on my generation of crime fiction writers. Those early Gold Medal novels (pre-1963) are not only brilliantly told stories but also cultural maps of his era.

  2. And the Dell First Editions, too.

  3. I'm a fan of the Travis McGee novels and have read some of the other Gold Medal novels, as well as his two science fiction books.

  4. Todd Mason9:45 AM

    Well, Randy, you have some short stories to get to, too...Clearly, July is rich in CF birthdays.

    Still like THE EXECUTIONERS best, perhaps because I was surprised that it was so much better than the films, but he come close on a regular basis.

  5. Mongo say, he come close. Well, he does.

  6. I made my first trip of the summer to our cottage on Lake Winnipeg on the weekend. I don't usually stop at yard/garage sales, but occasionally think some old PBs might show up at lake sales. On Saturday I decided to stop at one and asked about books. The lady quickly took me over to a couple of shelves and when she saw that I was looking through some Nick Carters, she started pulling out a bunch of Brett Hallidays. I have them all but three, but did find one of the missing, Framed in Blood. Then I found a second printing of MacDonald's The Damned with the same cover you have. The only difference is that my copy has a .35 price on the cover. Now I was getting excited and the haul included Shoot To Kill - Wade Miller, Old Lover's Ghost - Leslie Ford, Escape To Love and The Net - Edward S. Aarons and Call Me Deadly - Hal Graham. To complete the 5 for $1.00 deals, I took another JDM and a Brett Halliday with a McGinnis cover. I couldn't resist #10 titled Case of the Brazen Beauty by Jonathan Craig. It's a Gold Medal featuring detectives Pete Selby and Stan Rayder who find a beautiful and naked and dead girl in a Greenwich Village apartment. The cover blurb states "A night with Bonnie was like a weeks with LSD."

    Kent Morgan

  7. I like the Pete Selby series quite a bit. It's a first-person riff on the 87th Precinct. You made quite a haul.

  8. I just finished THE BRASS CUPCAKE a couple of weeks ago. Typical sharp MacDonald.

    I haven't read many of his early short stories, only those I've found reprinted in various anthologies, so I may have to hunt up his GOOD OLD STUFF collections.

  9. Those are the stories he "updated."

  10. Richard Heft1:54 PM

    Even though JDM came the closest of any writer to achieving the status of Author Who Never Burned Me, I'm voting for the following three as the best among his amazingly high output:


    I quite like DEADLY WELCOME and THE ONLY GIRL IN THE GAME as well. However, even the most devoted fan can wisely sidestep I CAN GO ON SINGING. The book of letters to and from Dan Rowan is both rare and fascinating -- especially as Rowan's success starts to destroy both his marriage and his friendship with JDM.

  11. I've read the letters, and while "enjoy" probably isn't the right word, they were certainly interesting. I've never read his true-crime book or the one about the cruise ship.

  12. Richard Heft3:17 PM

    I found NO DEADLY DRUG (the true crime book about Dr. Carl Coppolino) to be rather dry and overlong, and an example of the deification of F. Lee Bailey that went on in the early Sixties, only to crash and burn in later trials; it doesn't help that Coppolino looks pretty damn guilty to me. I never read either THE HOUSE GUESTS or the cruise ship book, and I honestly can't remember if I ever read BARRIER ISLAND; other than that, I think I devoured the full corpus of JDM's works -- call me a paper cannibal, go ahead.

  13. I'm a cat kind of a guy, so I liked THE HOUSE GUESTS. I believe MacDonald said at one point that he wasted a couple of years of his life on the Coppolino book.

  14. Anonymous3:07 PM

    Thanks for the JDM cover display. I'd never heard of Two. Interesting backstory on the illegal publication. Now I've found a cheap copy on the internet (LOTS of collectors have heard that backstory and jacked the price sky high.), and I'll get a look at it.

  15. Congrats on scoring a cheap copy. I didn't know there was such a thing. I bought mine off the rack. Should have bought several.