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Winter Park Library Archive

John D. MacDonald

The collection of signed books and letters written to Mary Frailey Lamberson and her husband, Dr. Frank A. Lamberson were given to Library Trustee, David Wilson. Mr. Wilson graciously donated the collection to the Winter Park Public Library's History and Archives Department. Following is a little background on John D. MacDonald.

By the time John D. MacDonald died in 1986, he had published 80 novels - an average of 1.15 novels every year for his 69 years. Over his lifetime he sold more than 77 million copies of his books and some 600 short stories. The novels sell handsomely still and even now you might find 78 of the 80 titles in bookshops and libraries. Despite his ability to crank out plots, MacDonald had his standards, and two of his novels, Weep for Me, and I Could Go on Singing, so bothered him, he bought back their rights from the publisher. The two books never saw the dark of ink again. They are now desperately hard to find and are considered treasures among MacDonald officianados.

Indeed, MacDonald had, and has, many fans. A number of conferences dedicated to his works and memory followed his death. Crime writers James W. Hall, Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen as well as novelists Kurt Vonnegut and Kingsley Amis attest to his mastery.

Much of MacDonald's abiding following is due to his popular, color-titled (The Quick Red Fox, Dress Her in Indigo, The Lonely Silver Rain...,) Travis McGee detective series. Spanning 21 novels, MacDonald's antihero, McGee, a "salvage expert," is not your ordinary gumshoe but a hardboiled Everyman philosopher with a decisive moral compass. "MacDonald was a mature writer when he created McGee in 1964," states Carl Rollyson in Critical Survey of Mystery and Detective Fiction," so he knew how to create the detective as a full-fledged character interacting in complex ways with other characters....He was not overly concerned with the whodunit form, or with the mysteries the detective solves, but instead stressed the detective's moral nature and intelligence." A knight-errant, McGee champions the underdog, the powerless, and the abused against corporate rapiciousness and individual greed. MacDonald's novels, the Travis McGees and otherwise, while busy with murder, sex, and intrigue, also address questions of ethics and a strong vein of environmental concern runs throughout.

Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, MacDonald received a good education, eventually earning an MBA from Harvard. During the War he served in the Far East with the OSS, a precursor to the CIA. In order to avoid the wartime censoring of letters MacDonald sent his wife Dorothy a short story which she in turn submitted to Story Magazine. Its publication catalyzed his writing career. Establishing himself first as a science fiction author, MacDonald also wrote adventure, sports, mystery, and nonfiction, sometimes using pseudonyms to disguise his multiple appearances in the same issue of a magazine. Like his hero McGee, MacDonald lived in Florida, a convenient base for the world cruises he and Dorothy often took. "You never know how insular you are," said MacDonald, "until you get a good look at how people live and work and die in faraway lands." He spent the last 37 years of his life in Clearwater (from 1949 to 1951) and then Sarasota where he served on several committees dedicated to protecting the environment. "Greed, indifference and political opportunism has eroded our lives," said MacDonald in 1986 lamenting Florida's ecological deterioration. He died later that year on December 28th of heart surgery complications leaving his 22nd Travis McGee novel unfinished.

This article was written by former archivist, Barbara White, MLIS.