John D MacDonald’s death in December of 1986 spawned a huge outpouring of newspaper obituaries, tributes and recollections by scores of reporters and features writers. Many of these pieces were perfunctory, at least from the point of view of rabid JDM fans such as myself, but a few were revelatory, bringing to light stories and remembrances about the author that I had never read before. One such article was published in the February 15, 1987 edition of the Palm Beach Post, the hometown paper of MacDonald’s bibliographer par excellence, Walter Shine. Written by staff writer Bobbie Meyers, Shine himself is interviewed for the piece and his recollection of how he came to finally meet MacDonald was completely new to me, despite the fact that I had worked with Walter for several years, helping him in his quest to hunt down a dozen “missing” JDM short stories.
Here is a transcription of Meyers’ article, which was titled “MacDonald Leaves Literary Landmark: Slip F-18”. It was one of two articles written about JDM by Meyers for this Sunday edition of the paper.
The fictional character Travis McGee lived on a fictional houseboat in a fictional boat slip in a real marina. Travis, hero of 21 adventure books written by John D. MacDonald, lives aboard The Busted Flush, (which he won in a poker game) docked at slip F18 in Fort Lauderdale's Bahia Mar Marina.
MacDonald knew that if he based his hero in Sarasota where the author actually lived, people would come to look for him, said Walter Shine of North Palm Beach. Instead. MacDonald sent them on a wild dock chase to Fort Lauderdale.
"He was very protective of his privacy," said Shine, editor of the John D. MacDonald: Bibliography/Biography, and possibly the ultimate MacDonald fan.
One person who went hunting among the moorings at Bahia Mar looking for the mythical F-18 was Dan Rowan, of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In fame. In a letter to MacDonald, Rowan relates: "We prowled the entire marina and came up with a McDonald, a MacDonough, and one drunk who steered me to a bust-out crap game ... but no J.D. Mac.”
MacDonald and Rowan began corresponding in 1967. A collection of letters between the two men, edited by the author and released in January under the title A Friendship, is MacDonald's last published book.
There never was a slip F-18. But this month Bahia Mar Resort and Yachting Center will renumber one of its slips and mark it with a brass plaque, in honor of its designation it as a "literary landmark."
The city of Fort Lauderdale, the Literary Landmark Association and the Florida Center for the Book are sponsors of the dedication, which will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the marina, 801 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Literary landmarks are designated by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress to promote the concept of American literary heritage. Although an author's home is traditionally given this designation, this isn't the first time a fictional character's home has been honored – 221-B Baker St., London, for instance, was designated in honor of Sherlock Holmes.
But this is certainly the first time a boat slip has been named, according to Jean Trebbi, executive director of [the] Florida Center for the Book. Other Florida landmarks include the Hemingway house in Key West and Cross Creek in north Florida in honor of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
Jean and Walter Shine will be among those in attendance when the plaque is unveiled at Slip F-18.
Collecting, annotating and cataloging the literary life of John D. MacDonald began 20 years ago for the Shines. It is almost a full-time avocation for the couple who are now in the process of putting much of their vast collection of material by and about the author on computer disk.
"He was a wizard with words who wrote a blizzard of words," said Shine.
Their interest in the works of MacDonald has put them in touch with people all over the country, he said. They have an immediate common interest with other MacDonald fans they meet.
"Hundreds of times people have told us how much MacDonald's books have meant to them - have actually changed their lives," said Shine.
The Shines' full-time hobby involves the 40-year career of a prolific author. MacDonald's 77 novels have sold 90 million copies, published in 30 languages. He also wrote more than 500 short stories along with assorted essays and nonfiction.
The Shines searched out foreign editions of the novels whenever they traveled and researched and compiled listings of old stories. Some of these were collected in two volumes, which they co-edited under the titles The Good Old Stuff and More Good Old Stuff.
While amassing a definitive collection of MacDonald's work themselves, the Shines used the materials and contributed new items to the John D. MacDonald collection at the University of Florida. In 1980 they published the MacDonald bibliography, an exhaustive compilation of his writings, in cooperation with the university. In 1985 they compiled John D. MacDonald: A True Bibliophile, a collection of brief reviews by MacDonald and comments and criticism on the state of current fiction and the craft of writing.
"It keeps us from becoming fallow in retirement," Shine said of their research. It also gave them the opportunity to meet and become friends with the author, who dedicated the last Travis McGee adventure, The Lonely Silver Rain, to them.
Even though they weren't misled by the fictional location of MacDonald's hero, they came up empty on several first attempts to meet the author. They first tried to snag his interest by sending him a cocktail invitation in verse. No nibble. They continued to send the author bits of humor or information they thought might amuse or interest him, but MacDonald never responded. They finally met the reclusive author at an evening-with-the-author event in Gainesville.
"When we were introduced, he recognized our names and thanked us for each time we had sent him something, incident by incident," Shine said. "I couldn't believe he remembered every one. His memory was astounding."
Once he learned how dedicated they were to collecting his work, "he couldn't have been more generous with his help,” said Shine, who characterized the author as retiring and hesitant to start up new friendships, but modest, witty and helpful when his friendship was won.
When slip F-18 was given Literary Landmark distinction more than a year ago, MacDonald was told about the designation and invited to attend the ceremony, said Jean Trebbi. He was amused, she said, but typically, reluctant to attend in person.
"I told him it might be a fun event," said Trebbi. "But he said, Oh, I'm terrible at fun events.'”
MacDonald, who died Dec. 28, was convinced that the written word was the foundation of civilization, according to Shine.
The last piece of writing published by the author who created a "blizzard of words” during his lifetime may be an essay on that subject, which will be published as part of a Center for the Book project titled The Reader as Survivor.