Ross MacDonald

Ross MacDonald


12/15/1915, Los Gatos, California



Birth Name

Kenneth Millar



Also Known As

Kenneth Millar
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Regarded as the primary heir to the "hard-boiled" school of detective fiction, Ross MacDonald is best known for his series of novels starring private eye Lew Archer. Born Kenneth Millar, he was raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, where he started college. In 1938, he met and married Margaret…more


Trivia and Quotes

  • Trivia

    • Rumor has it that Paul Newman asked screenwriter William Goldman to change the name of Lew Archer to Lew Harper to continue a streak of successful movies beginning with the letter H (The Hustler, Hud). Thus, the film adaptation of The Moving Target is called Harper.

    • The character of Lew Archer, MacDonald's famous private eye, has been played on-screen by Paul Newman, Peter Graves and Brian Keith.

    • After his parents seperated, Ross MacDonald lived with his maternal grandparents. His biographer, Tom Nolan, wrote, "Their presence caused problems. They moved out into furnished rooms. The boy blamed himself for this, as he'd blamed himself for his father's having gone away."

    • When the 1964 Coyote Canyon fire came within a few hundred yards of their house, MacDonald stayed behind to hose down the house. Only a wind shift saved him. He later used the fire as the background for his Archer novel The Underground Man.

    • Ross MacDonald and his wife both became increasingly involved in local ecological causes later in life. They worked for land-use planning, and for preservation of the Santa Barbara Channel, where whales migrated. Both he and his wife were active in the protests against the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill (which he used as the central event of his 1973 novel Sleeping Beauty).

    • Ross MacDonald became a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1974.

    • MacDonald's pseudonym for Santa Barbara in the Archer novels was Santa Teresa. This was later used by Sue Grafton as the setting for her "alphabet novels."

    • In 1981, Ross MacDonald received "The Eye," the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Private Eye Writers of America.

    • MacDonald named Lew Archer after Miles Archer (Sam Spade's partner in The Maltese Falcon) and Lew Wallace (author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ).

    • In his early career, he wrote under the name John Macdonald, in order to avoid confusion with his wife, who was achieving her own success writing as Margaret Millar. He then changed briefly to John Ross Macdonald before settling on Ross Macdonald, in order to avoid mix-ups with contemporary John D. MacDonald (author of the Travis McGee series).

    • Author William Goldman called Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer books "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American author."

  • Quotes

    • Ross MacDonald: We writers, as we work our way deeper into our craft, learn to drop more and more personal clues. Like burglars who secretly wish to be caught, we leave our fingerprints on broken locks, our voiceprints in bugged rooms, our footprints in the wet concrete.

    • Ross MacDonald: As a man gets older, if he knows what is good for him,, the women he likes are getting older too. The trouble is that most of them are married.

    • Ross MacDonald: When there's trouble in a family, it tends to show up in the weaqkest member. And all the other members of the family know that. They make allowances for the one in trouble... because they know they're implicated themselves.

    • Ross MacDonald: There are certain families whose members should all live in different towns -- different states, if possible -- and write each other letters once a year.

    • Ross MacDonald: I knew how it was with drunks. They ran out of generosity, even for themselves.

    • Ross MacDonald: (on his psychoanalysis) My half-suppressed Canadian years, my whole childhood and youth, rose like a corpse from the bottom of the sea to confront me. I had reached the point when I could not see anything clearly ahead, I needed help, and I got it. What it did for me was to take me deeper into life.

    • Ross MacDonald: I wanted to write as well as I possibly could to deal with life-and-death problems in contemporary society. And the form of Wilkie Collins and Graham Greene, of Hammett and Chandler, seemed to offer me all the rope I would ever need.

    • Ross MacDonald: Hell lies at the bottom of the human heart, and you find it by expressing your personality.

    • Ross MacDonald: (describing how he felt when he first read "The Maltese Falcon") As I stood there absorbing Hammett's novel, the slot machines at the back of the shop were clanking and whirring, and in the billiard room upstairs the perpetual poker game was being played. Like iron filings magnetized by the book in my hands, the secret meanings of the city began to organize themselves around me.

    • Ross MacDonald: Every witness has his own way of creeping up on the truth.

    • Ross MacDonald: How can a man help breaking the law when he don't have money to live on?

    • Ross MacDonald: Money costs too much.

    • Ross MacDonald: An ugly woman with an ugly gun is a terrible thing.

    • Ross MacDonald: Nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean wouldn't cure.