A Guide to the John D. MacDonald Collection

Finding aid created by Dept. Staff

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections       March 2009


John D. MacDonald

Descriptive Summary

Provenance: MacDonald, John D. (John Dann), 1916-1986.

Title: John D. MacDonald Collection

Dates: 1800-1997

Bulk dates: 1916-1986

Abstract: John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) was a prolific Florida author of mystery and suspense novels, including  21 novels in the popular Travis McGee series. The collection is comprised of his manuscripts and other writings, personal and professional correspondence, screenplays and adaptations, reviews, family papers, photographs, audiovisual recordings, ephemera, financial records and business correspondence.

Extent: 125.75 linear feet. (198 boxes)

Identification: MS Group 21


Biographical/Historical Note

John Dann MacDonald was born July 24, 1916 in Sharon, Pennsylvania. While attending Syracuse School of Business, MacDonald met Dorothy Prentiss, and they were married in 1937. He went on to attend Harvard Business School and received an M.B.A. in 1939, and Dorothy gave birth to their son. During the war, MacDonald served in South Asia for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Following his discharge from military service in 1945, he began to write full-time. MacDonald’s first published short story, “Interlude in India,” appeared in Story magazine in the July/August 1946 issue. He continued selling his short stories to magazines while working on his first full-length novel, The Brass Cupcake, which was published in 1950. Two years and five novels later, MacDonald settled into his longtime home in Sarasota, Florida, where he wrote over sixty novels, contributed to anthologies and magazines, assisted in film and television adaptations of his writings, taught at New College, served on the board of directors of the Ringling School of Art, and participated in local environmental preservation efforts. He is best known for his series of detective novels featuring the protagonist Travis McGee, and is acknowledged as a master of the adventure-thriller genre. He was named a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1972 and won the American Book Award in 1980. He was awarded honorary degrees from Hobart and  William Smith Colleges and the University of South Florida. He died on December 28, 1986.


Scope and Content

The John D. MacDonald Collection is comprised of manuscripts of the author's novels and other writings, personal and professional correspondence, screenplays and adaptations, reviews, family papers, photographs, audiovisual recordings, ephemera, financial records and business correspondence. The oldest items in the collection, particularly family photographs, date from the early 1800s, and the most recent items are from the late 1990s. However, the bulk of the materials date from 1916 to 1986, spanning MacDonald's life.

MacDonald was a prolific letter writer and his correspondents include Dan Rowan, editor Knox Burger, agent Max Wilkinson, and authors such as John Creasy, Mickey Spillane, Stephen King, John Jakes, and Kurt Vonnegut. The collection also includes a large amount of fan mail and correspondence with his publishers at Fawcett, Doubleday, Harper and Row, and Lippincott, among others.

Throughout this collection description, MacDonald's name is abbreviated as JDM and his wife, Dorothy Prentiss MacDonald, is frequently abbreviated as DPM. Several folder titles throughout the collection include commentaries written by MacDonald. These commentaries are included in parentheses and designated with quotation marks.


The Collection is organized in multiple groups, or series: 

Personal Papers; 

Professional Papers; 

Manuscripts and Publications Written by John D. MacDonald; 

Works by Other Authors and Secondary Sources; 

Audiovisual Materials; 

Ephemera and Memorabilia; 

Financial Records. 

Many of these series are further subdivided into smaller logical groups:

The Personal Papers series is comprised of three groups

The Personal Correspondence includes correspondence with friends and family members, as well as some professional contacts who shared a personal relationship with the MacDonalds. 

The Family and Personal Papers include correspondence and biographical information about JDM's family members and military service, material pertaining to personal property (homes, boats, etc.), medical correspondence, obituaries, calendars, and address books. 

The Dorothy Prentiss MacDonald Papers include her personal correspondence, materials related to her paintings, and a number of notebooks and quote collections.

The Professional Papers series is comprised of ten groups:

 The Professional Correspondence primarily pertains to MacDonald's profession as an author, and includes correspondence with agents, publishers, editors, members of the media, and other authors. 

The Business Correspondence includes correspondence of a business nature unrelated to the profession of writing, such as the sale of vehicles or property, the purchase of office equipment, personal investments and finances, etc. 

The Academic Materials series contains materials related to MacDonald's involvement with various academic institutions such as New College, Ringling School of Art, and the University of Florida. 

The Movies and Television series includes correspondence, publicity and clippings about movies and television productions based on MacDonald works. 

The Contracts series includes legal contracts, correspondence, royalty reports, and other materials related to the publishing of specific works. 

The Correspondence with Authors and Artists includes letters with other authors (established and novice), artists, and actors. 

The Promotional Materials series includes correspondence and materials related to various promotional ventures that were not related to any specific work.

 The Affiliations series includes correspondence, memos, newsletters, and news clippings related to MacDonald's professional affiliations, including the Crime Writers Association, the Mystery Writers of America, the Writer's Guild of America, and the Sarasota writers' "Friday Lunch Bunch." 

The Civic and Political Affairs series includes correspondence, clippings, publications, and other materials related to MacDonald's various civic and political concerns, including environmental issues, political campaigns, and invitations for public appearances. 

The Fan Mail series includes correspondence to and from readers.


The Manuscripts and Publications series is comprised of five groups. 

The Novels group contains typescripts, galleys, desk notes, correspondence, publicity, and news clippings pertaining to MacDonald's published novels and unpublished works. 

The Short Works series includes poetry, series, anthologies, plays, television scripts by MacDonald, short stories, collective works, and special edition works. 

The Speeches and Interviews series includes interview questions, articles, broadcasts, speeches given and public appearances. 

The Articles series includes articles written by MacDonald for publication in magazines and newspapers, as well as requests for MacDonald to critique other authors and letters to the editor. 

The Blurbs series includes appreciations, articles that mention JDM, quotes, news clippings with published photographs of JDM, and requests for JDM's thoughts on works by other authors.

The Secondary Sources and Works by Other Authors series is comprised of seven groups: 

Articles and Publications by Other Authors (including items written about Travis McGee), 

Critical Reviews, 

Academic Research (e.g., theses, essays, and scholarly journal articles), Screenplays, 

Bibliophile and Fanzines, 

Publicity and Advertisements, and 

Reference Files.

The Audio Visual Materials series is comprised of photographs and audio and video materials in several different formats.

In addition to the series described above, note that the collection also includes an Oversize Materials group. This series contains materials that are too large for regular folders and boxes. Some materials in Oversize are magazines, newspapers, artwork created for JDM, ephemera, movie posters, photographs, etc.


Access or Use Restrictions


The John D. MacDonald Collection is open for research, but access to several folders is restricted. Folders in the collection marked "Restricted" are closed to all use until December 2012. The majority of the Restricted folders are found in the Financial Records section of the collection, although there are multiple Correspondence folders throughout the collection that are restricted and closed to all use.


Usage Restrictions

Copyright to the works of John D. MacDonald is held by his estate. Under existing copyright law, this protection shall remain in effect through 2056. Inquiries concerning publication of MacDonald's works should be directed to George Diskant, Diskant and Associates, 116 East de la Guerra Street #7, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 

Other material in the Collection may be restricted by other copyright owners. Please consult with Department staff when trying to determine copyright status.


Related or Separated Material

Many of the published works of John D. MacDonald can be found in the Rare Books Collection of the University of Florida Smathers Libraries. These works are accessible using the library online catalog. An excellent bibliography of MacDonald's work can be found on the John D. MacDonald Home page:

Administrative Information:

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], John D. MacDonald Collection, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Acquisition Information:

The John D. MacDonald Collection was donated to the University of Florida Smathers Libraries by John D. MacDonald.


Processing History

The John D. MacDonald Collection was partially processed by Department staff upon its original deposit in the 1970s. Additional processing occurred in the 1980s and 1990s after the Collection was formally transferred to the Smathers Libraries upon MacDonald's death in 1986. In 2008-2009 the Collection was rearranged to improve access. This collection description reflects the current arrangement of the Collection, but previous collection descriptions are retained on file in the Department. 

Several staff members participated in the processing, including archivist Florence Turcotte and students Jess Campbell, Tiffany Baglier, Travis Lajoie, Rachel Walton, and Meaghan Monaghan. Expert consultation was provided by Cal and Nola Branche.


Alternate Form of Finding Aid

Due to its large size this descriptive finding aid has been broken into several pages, but an alternate full version of the finding aid is available at

Contents List:

Personal Papers

Series 1A - Personal Correspondence

Series 1B - Family and Personal Papers

Series 1C - Dorothy Prentiss MacDonald

Professional Papers

Series 2A - Professional Correspondence

Series 2B - Business Correspondence

Series 2C - Academic Materials

Series 2D - Movies and Television

Series 2E - Contracts

Series 2F - Correspondence with Authors and Artists

Series 2G - Promotional Materials

Series 2H - Affiliations

Series 2I - Civic and Political Affairs

Series 2J - Fan Mail

Manuscripts and Publications Written by John D. MacDonald

Series 3A - Novels

Series 3B - Short Works

Series 3C - Interviews and Speeches

Series 3D - Articles

Series 3E - Blurbs

Secondary Sources and Works by Other Authors

Series 4A - Articles and Publications by Other Authors

Series 4B - Critical Reviews

Series 4C - Academic Research and Scholarship

Series 4D - Screenplays

Series 4E - Bibliophile and Fanzines

Series 4F - Publicity and Advertisements

Series 4G - Reference Files

Audiovisual Materials

Series 5A - Photographs

Series 5B - Audio Materials

Series 5C - Video Materials

Ephemera and Memorabilia

Series 6 - Ephemera

Financial Records - RESTRICTED

Series 7A - Royalty Reports - RESTRICTED

Series 7B - Business Ventures and Investments - RESTRICTED

Series 7C - Personal and Professional Records - RESTRICTED

Series 7D - Other Business Records - RESTRICTED

Oversize Materials

Selected Subjects and Access Points

Detective and mystery stories, American.

MacDonald, John D. (John Dann) 1916-1986 -- Archives.

MacDonald, John D. (John Dann) 1916-1986 -- Correspondence.

MacDonald, John D. (John Dann) 1916-1986 -- Criticism and interpretation.

McGee, Travis (Fictitious character)

Novelists, American -- 20th century -- Biography.

For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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