Ross Macdonald Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ross Macdonald was born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California, on December 13, 1915, the son of John Macdonald Millar and Annie Moyer Millar. (He did not adopt the Macdonald pseudonym until 1956.) In 1919, the family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where his father (primarily a journalist) was a harbor pilot for a while. His parents separated the same year, and Macdonald (whose mother was a near invalid) lived with different Canadian relatives for about two years in 1928 and 1929 while attending St. John’s, a boarding school in Winnipeg.

From there he went to Medicine Hat, Alberta, for a year to stay with an aunt, and then moved to Kitchener, Ontario, where he lived with his mother and grandmother and studied at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School. While there (1930-1932), he met Margaret Ellis Sturm, whom he would marry years later. Both published for the first time in the same issue of the school magazine, The Grumbler; Macdonald’s story, a parody of Arthur Conan Doyle, featured a detective called Herlock Sholmes.

The 1932 death of his father gave Macdonald a legacy which enabled him to enter the University of Western Ontario; when his mother died in 1935, however, he left school and spent much of 1936 and 1937 traveling in Europe. Finally, on June 1, 1938, he received his A.B. degree and the next day married Margaret Sturm. After attending summer school at the University of Michigan, they returned to Toronto, where Macdonald did graduate work at the Ontario College of Education. A daughter, Linda Jane, was born to the couple in June, 1939, and for the next two years Macdonald taught English at his former secondary school while returning to Michigan in the summers for graduate work. After Margaret (writing as Margaret Millar) published her first mystery novel, The Invisible Worm, in 1941, Macdonald was able to become a full-time graduate student at the University of Michigan, but induction in the U.S. Navy interrupted his studies in 1944. Immediately prior to his induction, he had completed his first novel, The Dark Tunnel (1944), a spy story; while serving as communications officer on the escort carrier Shipley Bay in the Pacific, he wrote Trouble Follows Me (1946)....

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Writing as Ross Macdonald, Kenneth Millar produced a series of detective novels with plots more complex than is typical of the genre and characters more fully realized than is the usual practice. More important, his narratives are vehicles for themes, primarily variations on how people corrupt the American Dream by their greed and lack of vision. Each of the novels is a tragedy, with the destruction, wrought from within the characters, unleashing avenging furies whose disastrous forces endure through generations. Through the efforts of Lew Archer, the moral center of almost all the tales, evil finally is purged, and the survivors can look forward to normal lives.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ross Macdonald, whose given name is Kenneth Millar, was born in Los Gatos, California, on December 13, 1915. He published his early novels as Millar or John Macdonald or John Ross Macdonald, but settled on the pseudonym Ross Macdonald by the time he wrote The Barbarous Coast, in order to avoid being confused with two other famous mystery writers: his wife, Margaret Millar, whom he had married in 1938, and John D. Macdonald.

Ross Macdonald’s family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, soon after he was born, and he was reared and educated in Canada. After he graduated with honors from the University of Western Ontario in 1938, he taught English and history at a high school in Toronto and began graduate work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during the summers. He returned to the United States permanently in 1941, when he began full-time graduate studies at Ann Arbor, receiving his master’s degree in English in 1943. During World War II, he served as a communications officer aboard an escort carrier in the Pacific and participated in the battle for Okinawa. In 1951, he was awarded a doctorate in English from the University of Michigan, writing his dissertation on thepsychological criticism of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Macdonald belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union and, as a dedicated conservationist, was a member of the Sierra Club and helped found the Santa Barbara, California, chapter of the National Audubon Society. He lived in Santa Barbara from 1946 until his death from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on July 11, 1983.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Ross Macdonald was born Kenneth Millar on December 13, 1915, in Los Gatos, California, the son of John Macdonald Millar and Annie Moyer Millar. (“Ross Macdonald” was a pen name that he adopted after having published several books; in private life he remained Kenneth Millar.) Millar was an only child; his parents, both forty years old at his birth, were Canadian. When Millar was still an infant, the family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Millar’s father, an amateur writer, worked as a harbor pilot. When Millar was three years old, his father abandoned the family.

Millar spent most of his childhood and youth in the homes of relatives all across Canada. In Kitchener, Ontario, he attended the Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School, from which he was graduated in 1932. There, he met his future wife, Margaret Ellis Sturm; his first publication, a Sherlock Holmes parody, appeared in an issue of the school magazine that also included her first published story.

In 1932, Millar’s father died, leaving an insurance policy of twenty-five hundred dollars. On the strength of that modest legacy, Millar was able to enter the University of Western Ontario. Following his graduation in 1938, he married Margaret Sturm; their only child, Linda Jane Millar, was born a year later.

In 1941, Millar began graduate study in English literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. (He received his doctorate in 1952 on completion of his dissertation, “The Inward Eye: A Revaluation of Coleridge’s Psychological Criticism.”) In the same year, Margaret Millar published her first novel, The Invisible Worm; she was to enjoy a productive and successful career as a mystery writer. Kenneth Millar’s own first novel, The Dark Tunnel, was published in 1944, by which time he was an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, serving as a communications officer on an escort carrier. After the war, Millar joined his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara. With the exception of a year spent in Menlo Park, 1956-1957, during which time he underwent psychotherapy, Millar lived in Santa Barbara for the remainder of his life.

Between 1946 and 1976, Millar published twenty-three novels. In 1974, he was awarded the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America. In 1981, he was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. He died on July 11, 1983.