Last week’s piece on The Executioners was one of the longest blog postings I have ever done on The Trap of Solid Gold, an essay that took me over a month to research and write. Logging in at nearly 7,000 words, it would have been even longer had I not done some last minute editing. One of the sections I cut was a discussion on MacDonald’s author bio in the October issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, where the novel was serialized before being published in book form. After some reconsideration, I thought that these comments may prove interesting to the readers of John D MacDonald, so I dug them up and present them here, in a more digestible form that won’t even come close to 7,000 words.
In the magazine’s “Journalities” section -- that portion of the issue where brief background bits on some of that particular issue’s contributors are given -- MacDonald is at the top of the list. It contains a few factoids that bear scrutiny. First is the author’s contention that “he has written thirty books and nearly 500 short stories,” a statement that is clearly wrong. By October 1957 he had published only 24 books, although two more had been written and would appear that December. As for 500 short stories, well, this is a claim that was made so many times during his career that it has taken on the aura of fact, but it is also wrong. Perhaps not wrong if you take the assertion literally, that he had written 500 short stories -- that was certainly true, but by this time in his career he had published “only” 333 stories. (For a take on the real short story count, see my previous posting How Many Short Stories Did JDM Publish?)
Second is the revelation that he had, up to this point in his career, earned “somewhere close to four hundred thousand dollars and saved very little of it.” If true, this figure gives an indication as to just how successful an author JDM was by 1957. Calculated for inflation, $400,000 would be worth nearly $3.4 million dollars today, a nice sum for any family to live on. The MacDonalds owned a beautiful home on Siesta Key in Sarasota (which as you can see, was not just any home). Purchased in 1952, the mortgage on the property was paid off in 1956. How would you like to pay off your mortgage in four years? They owned a beautiful lakehouse in upstate New York, and they added adjoining property to their plot there whenever it became available. The year before The Executioners appeared MacDonald purchased a lot on Manasota Key near Grove City, five acres of land somewhere in North Carolina, and took an option on 100 feet of beachfront property on Siesta Key. He also began construction on an addition to his Point Crisp Road home. So if indeed the MacDonalds had “saved very little” of John’s income, it seems to have been invested wisely.
Third is the statement that four of MacDonald’s novels were “in various stages of preparation in Hollywood.” I wonder what these novels were. I know that one of them was The Damned, which was to have been a film starring Bob Cummings and, possibly, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Cry Hard, Cry Fast became a two-part episode of the television series Run For Your Life, but that wasn’t until 1966. “Linda,” technically a novella, was filmed eventually, twice, but not until much, much later. The first theatrical film from a John D MacDonald novel was 1961’s Man Trap, which was based on the March 1958 novella “Taint of the Tiger.” (It eventually became the novel Soft Touch.) But it hadn’t been published yet. I’m sure that a nice portion of MacDonald’s income was from the film options on these novels, even if they were never produced.
Last is the statement that “on January 23 of 1958, [JDM will] celebrate his twelfth year of writing for a living.” This is a curious date, and one wonders what happened on that day in 1946 to count as the beginning of his career. As students of his biography know, he wrote his first story while overseas during World War II, as a letter home to his wife Dorothy. This was in 1945, and writing, at this point, was certainly not his living. The date of this story’s acceptance is July 24, 1945. Once stateside, he began writing in earnest from his State Street apartment in Utica in early October of 1945 and wrote hundreds of thousands of unsold words that resulted in nearly a thousand rejection slips. The first two stories that were accepted for publication were “Conversation on Deck” and “The Game,” both by the same magazine, a low-rent affair that didn’t even pay its authors, called The American Courier. The first of these stories appeared in the magazine’s January 1946 issue, but surely MacDonald received his tearsheets before the 23rd.
I’ll make a guess and say that January 23, 1946 was the day he sold his first short story for cash. That story was something he called “Paint on Her Hair,” but was subsequently changed to “Female of the Specie” by editor Mike Tilden and went on to appear in the October issue of Dime Detective.
Unless MacDonald was being as accurate about the date as he was about the number of books and short stories he had published...