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The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald Hardcover – August 12, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (August 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312209053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312209056
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #894,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Floridians and snow birds who aren't already fans of the writing of John D. MacDonald will race to the shelves for his works after reading this fascinating history of the man who has been called a very good writer, not just a good mystery writer. Drawing on extensive research, Merrill (Univ. of West Florida) offers a succinct biography of the man who invented Travis McGee. Readers learn of MacDonald's early works, published as paperbacks at a time when the government was attempting to label all paperbacks as pornography; MacDonald's respect for the untarnished environment of Florida; and his life as an active member of a Sarasota writer's group that met for loud storytelling, serious drinking, and sometimes heated rounds of liar's poker. Through letters to such well-recognized people as Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, and Dan Rowan, readers get a glimpse of how Travis McGee developed and how MacDonald, after putting his character in movies and on television, decided that McGee was bound by the printed page. There is also some discussion of MacDonald's respectful treatment of sex and women in his short stories and novels. This solid appreciation of one of America's favorite popular authors is highly recommended.DJoyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board Lib., Pinellas Park, FL
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The life of John D. MacDonald, author of the perennially popular Travis McGee mysteries, offers a revealing look at what it meant to be a professional writer in the last half of the twentieth century. Neither a literary novelist, supported by universities, nor a best-selling author (at least not for most of his career), MacDonald was a craftsman who wrote for pay, first in the pulps, later as a paperback novelist in the Fawcett Gold Medal stable, and finally in hardcovers, where the later McGees coexisted with such high-concept melodramas as Condominium. Merrill follows MacDonald's life in straightforward, no-nonsense prose (Travis would have approved), moving from the author's early experience in the insurance business, through service in World War II, and on to his seemingly quixotic decision to launch a freelance career. The text is peppered with quotes from MacDonald on the subjects he cared most about: the environment and how to make money from the writing game. For anyone interested in the history of publishing in the paperback era, the life of John D. MacDonald is the ultimate primary source. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Michael Austin on April 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
How do you write a biography of a man and not talk to anyone who knew him, not visit anyplace he lived, and not include any photographs of the man or his family? It's easy: you write brief introductions to letters and passages from the writer's books, and call it a biography. The Red Hot Typewriter isn't red or hot. It is a color-by-numbers biography that is in the end colorless. A massive disappointment if you're a John D. fan, or a fan of good biography.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By TK SANDERS on February 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I am a long time MacDonald fan, and have read most everything he wrote. I once made the pilgrimage to Bahia Mar to see the `Busted Flush' plaque mounted there.
I was delighted when I learned of Hugh Merrill's biography, and curious to know more about MacDonald, the man who created Travis McGee, and wrote so eloquently about the Florida environment.
The Red Hot Typewriter is a disappointment.
It is worth reading if you are a die-hard fan. It includes bits of interesting trivia. What was McGee's first name and why was it changed to Travis? Why the reference to a color in the Magee mystery series?
However, you finish the book feeling as if you don't know John D. MacDonald much better than you did when you began. The author obviously did a lot of research. Unfortunately he presents it in a rather bland and superficial manner. It's as if the author's primary reference source was MacDonald's correspondence, and he didn't go much beyond that. The thoughts and personal anecdotes of friends and family are, for the most part, missing.
What really surprises and disappoints me is that this book has no photographs, none, nada, zero. Pictures would have saved this book for me. I am at a loss to understand why any publisher would produce a biography without including pictures that complement the prose. One of many examples was Hugh Merrill's description of MacDonald's visit to the set where a Travis McGee mystery was being made into a movie. Surely, Warner Brothers publicity took pictures, but you won't find them in this biography.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Bowes on July 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like the best of his subject's work, Hugh Merrill has fashioned a lean, direct biography of John D. MacDonald, creator of the Travis McGee series. The design and feel of the book transports the reader back to the age of pulp fiction and early paperback originals. Fans of John D. will find all the highlights of his career here. Gaps are filled in family background and some insights are provided to the inner workings of the author's mind and motivations. This is not an exhaustive examination of his career but a very good starting place. One wishes for some more details. How does the non-athletic youth become the adult who on occasion has grabbed another by the lapels, or broken up a fight outside Billie Holliday's dressing room? Does research and work ethic enable a writer to so powerfully describe casual violence and banality? John D. was a private man who obviously guarded his feelings. Perhaps the real John D. is most visible in Travis and Meyer. An enlightening and informative, easy read that only makes one appreciate and miss John D. even more.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Gary Goldberg on August 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a diehard John D. MacDonald fan, I felt the book left much to be desired. MacDonald's pre-Travis McGee work, from l950-1960 most notably, was barely mentioned, or dismissed as unimportant. The author never took the time to interview the many people who worked with or knew MacDonald, relying only on correspondance. Overall, the book was a disappointment.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Urban Cowboy on October 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Good book, enjoyable read. I am a author myself and I enjoy books about the great ones of our times. I would have liked more insight into the inner world of John D, but this is a still a must for fans of his work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard M. Rollo on October 14, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I had not heard of John D. MacDonald until I read a column in the Los Angeles Times by Jack Smith writing about his vacation. Smith had brought along MacDonald's A Man of Affairs to read and his cryptic review was something like, the man really knows his stuff. I found the book in a local bookstore and read the brief bio on the back cover and that was enough and I bought it. I didn't read it until later, by that time both MacDonald and Smith were dead. A Man of Affairs really was good. Then, I read Nightmare in Pink, which was astonishingly good.

MacDonald comes through in this account as much a rebel as one could be among the World War II generation. He was in and out of college in the late 30's and backtalker in business and thus prone to getting fired. He finally gets through Harvard Business School with an MBA and you get the impression it didn't have the cache it had later. He went into the Army in 1940, as a last resort, and finally found a niche.

He became a writer by accident, when his wife successfully submitted a manuscript unbeknownst to him. Red Hot Typewriter's strength lies in its account of pulp magazines and paperback trade, its rise and evolution, with hack writers churning out science fiction, detective pot boilers, and westerns paid in pennies per word.

I think Red Hot Typewriter gives a good account of his tastes, values, work habits, and family background. At times, it reads like what's called a "cut and paste job" in academic writing. It evidently is not all that satisfying to the real fans of John MacDonald, but I'm not the one to judge it on that basis for now. As an introduction to him in general, it is good enough for now. I read the Kindle version.
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