John Dann MacDonald was born on July 24, 1916, the only son of Andrew MacDonald and Marguerite MacDonald, in Sharon, Pennsylvania. When he was ten years old, his family moved to Utica, New York, where he attended the Utica Free Academy. Two years later he contracted mastoiditis and scarlet fever and almost died. His sickness changed his life, making him an avid reader and a deeply reflective person.
MacDonald’s father wanted his son to be a businessman, and MacDonald obliged his father by attending business schools in Philadelphia and Syracuse, where he was graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1936. After his marriage in 1938, graduation from the Harvard Graduate Business Administration School in 1939, and a series of unsatisfactory jobs, he enlisted in the navy in 1940. It was a relief to him to have a sure means of supporting his family (his son was born in 1939) and not to worry about his place in the competitive business world. Soon he began to write—although his first short story was not published until 1946. His work for the navy and for the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency) gave him valuable background and experience for his fiction.
After World War II, MacDonald began to make a modest living from selling stories to magazines. He published his first full-length novel in 1950 and went on to produce books about a wide range of subjects, including science fiction. In 1952, he began living in Florida, the setting for all the Travis McGee novels. Although he is best known for the Travis McGee series, it makes up less than half of his total output as a writer. Condominium (1977), for example, was a best seller and earned significant praise for the fineness of its moral and aesthetic vision. In 1972, he received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He died in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1986.