Remembering John D MacDonald and His House on Siesta Key

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John D. MacDonald. I have been a huge fan of the novels of John Dann MacDonald since I picked up the first one "the Deadly Lemon Sky" and read it in 1973 while I was working at Station 5 on the Trans-Andean Pipeline deep in the amazon jungle. Back in the 1990's when I returned from working 15 years overseas and I had read all 60 some of MacDonald's novels, I found out about the annual "John D. MacDonald Seminar," a two day event each year to discuss the literary merits of MacDonald. My wife and I attended several of these and in 1997 met John Pete Schmidt, JDM's collaborator on the non-fiction "No Deadly Drug," and I had a powerful memory of a meeting I had with Schmidt 18 years ago at one of the last JDM conferences in Sarasota.
John D. MacDonald and John Pete Schmidt. Schmidt came to Florida as a bureau chief of the Tampa Tribune in 1964 and worked in the Tribune's Sarasota bureau from 1965-68, also working as news director for SCAN-TV in Sarasota. It was there that Schmidt met John D. MacDonald, and the two became fast friends. Schmidt collaborated with MacDonald on the nonfiction book, "No Deadly Drug," published in 1968.
No Deadly Drug. The book is about on the murder trials of Dr. Carl Coppolino for the killing of his anestheologist wife, Dr. Carmen Coppolino.
MacDonald's Home on Ocean Place in Siesta Key. "We were at the three story beachside cottage that MacDonald had built in 1970 and we had all toured the house courtesy of the owner at that time when Schmidt got up to talk about his memories of JDM and about the house.
MacDonald's Home on Ocean Place in Siesta Key. "We were at the three story beachside cottage that MacDonald had built in 1970 and we had all toured the house courtesy of the owner at that time when Schmidt got up to talk about his memories of JDM and about the house. Photo: Siebert Architects
MacDonald's Home on Ocean Place in Siesta Key. "We were at the three story beachside cottage that MacDonald had built in 1970 and we had all toured the house courtesy of the owner at that time when Schmidt got up to talk about his memories of JDM and about the house. Photo: Siebert Architects
MacDonald's Home on Ocean Place in Siesta Key in 2021. There have been some changes to MacDonald's home on Siesta Key since I saw it 23 years ago. A pool has been added that deinitely was not there when I was there. In addition, it appears that a small structure has beene added along the west end of the main house. The new structure appears to be about 1/4 the size of the main house.

Remembering John D MacDonald and His House on Siesta Key

by Hugh Pickens

Article Begun December 15, 2015

I have been an admirer of John D. MacDonald and his Travis McGee novels since I picked up "The Deadly Lemon Sky," and read it in 1973 while I was working on the installation of a supervisory control system at Station 5 on the Trans-Andean Pipeline deep in the Amazon jungle. The book made an immediate impression on me and I began seeking out MacDonald's books from other oilfield workers and soon had read most of the Travis McGee canon. Like Robert A. Heinlein, another favorite author, I have found that I have been able to re-read MacDonald's novels my entire life and continue to be entertained and educated in human nature by his work.

By the time I returned to the United States after working 15 years overseas in South America, the Middle East, and Far East, I had read about 60 of MacDonald's novels. I never had the chance to meet MacDonald, who died in 1986, but in the 1990's I found out about the "John D. MacDonald Conference," an annual two day event held to discuss the literary merits of MacDonald's work. My wife and I attended several of these conferences in MacDonald's hometown of Sarasota, Florida and in 1997 met John Pete Schmidt, JDM's collaborator on the non-fiction "No Deadly Drug." I have a powerful memory of my meeting with Schmidt and what he told me about his life long friendship with MacDonald.

John D MacDonald Conference in 1997

I attended the next to the last John D. MacDonald conference in 1997 - the conference in which participants had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit John D. MacDonald's home on Ocean Place for a few hours and hear stories from MacDonald's closest friends about MacDonald's life on Siesta Key. This was the only time, to my knowledge, that MacDonald's home was ever opened to the public and those of us who attended the conference that year felt honored to have this opportunity to have a glimpse of the personal life of one of our literary heroes. I still have my photos of the house and remember climbing up into MacDonald's 'sacred' writing loft where he composed most of his novels.

We were at the three story beachside cottage that MacDonald had built in 1970 and we had all toured the house courtesy of the owner at that time when John Pete Schmidt got up to talk about his memories of MacDonald and about the house. I am absolutely sure it was Schmidt because he talked about his collaboration with MacDonald on "No Deadly Drug" and about what a pleasure it was to work with MacDonald during the Coppolino trial that he and MacDonald covered in 1967.

Schmidt finishing talking about the trial, but there was something he wanted to get off his chest. I was standing in the front of the group listening to Schmidt, about three feet away from him, when Schmidt changed the subject and told the group of about twenty MacDonald fans that "there is something I want to tell you about what kind of man John D. MacDonald was. It's a story that I have never told anyone but I want to tell it now because there may not be another chance."

Our group quieted as Schmidt began to speak with a calm intensity that demanded our attention. Schmidt started to talk about how after the trial his own life had taken a turn for the worse. Schmidt had lost everything and was down and out. First Schmidt's wife had died, then he began abusing drugs and alcohol, then he lost his job, and finally Schmidt hit rock bottom and had nowhere to go.

According to Schmidt, MacDonald found out about Schmidt's problems and cut Schmidt a check for $20,000, no questions asked. Schmidt refused to take charity but MacDonald insisted and told Schmidt that the money was Schmidt's share of back royalties from a translation of "No Deadly Drug" into "Chinese or Malaysian." The check had just come in from the publisher MacDonald told him.

You don't see it very often but when you see a grown man break down in public and cry uncontrollably, you never forget it. Through the tears Schmidt said he had never had a friend like MacDonald and he would always remember that gesture of generosity that had gotten him back on his feet. "John D MacDonald saved my life," said Schmidt, struggling to regain his self-control, "and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him." Schmidt added that he does not know to this day if the "royalties" were legitimate or if MacDonald had simply told him a lie because it was the only way to get Schmidt to accept help. "And I don't really want to know," said Schmidt.

A year and a half later, Schmidt was dead.

It goes without saying that Schmidt's talk was an event that has remained engraved in my mind but it's funny how I haven't really thought about it since it happened and how seeing Schmidt's name on a blog posting in 2015 sparked the memories from that sunny afternoon in Sarasota on the second floor outdoor patio of MacDonald's beach cottage when John Pete Schmidt told us how John D MacDonald saved his life.

I have never told this story before but I thought with the passing of all the principals, that its telling is a fitting tribute to MacDonald - and to Schmidt. It's a story I want to tell now because there may not be another chance.

About Pete Schmidt

Schmift was a lifelong journalist who was born in Missouri, but found his home in Sarasota, Florida where he lived the last 34 years of his life. According to Brooksie Bergen, John "Pete" Schmidt liked to portray himself as a simple country boy. His lyrical "Postcripts" - essays he wrote for the Sarasota publication "Attitudes" that described his boyhood in Missouri - reflected that image But Schmidt, who lived in Sarasota for 34 years, had a lengthy career in writing, editing and publishing, and worked for a time as an assistant Sarasota County administrator.

Schmidt was born Nov. 18, 1938, in Steelville, a small town of about 1,500 in Missouri at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, and displayed an intense interest in writing in school. Graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1960, Schmidt was hired by the Tri-County News in Berkeley, Mo., as a cub reporter and later became news editor with the Centralia Fireside Guard in Centralia, Mo. Schmidt moved to Lake Wales in 1962 as managing editor with the Lake Wales News after winning a Blue Ribbon Award from the Missouri Press Association.

In 1964 Schmidt came to Florida as a bureau chief of the Tampa Tribune and worked in the Tribune's Sarasota bureau from 1965-68, also working as news director for SCAN-TV in Sarasota.

It was there that Schmidt met John D. MacDonald, and the two became fast friends. Schmidt collaborated with MacDonald on the nonfiction book, "No Deadly Drug," published in 1968.

"A little over two decades ago, I collaborated with John D. MacDonald on his first non-fiction work, 'No Deadly Drug', the story of a celebrity murder case, the Coppolino Murder Trials, set in New Jersey and Florida courtrooms," wrote Schmidt in 1989. "We became good friends and his many kindnesses to me extended far beyond the period we worked together on 'No Deadly Drug'."

MacDonald acknowledged Schmidt's contribution to the book and said in the book that "John Pete Schmidt suggested that we write this book. He worked with me every step of the way. It would not have been possible without him." Schmidt talked at the 1996 MacDonald conference about MacDonald's relationship with his wife Dorothy that he observed during the trial.

Dorothy was a very important, a very important part of his life. After every session of the trial, we would go back to the apartment. We stayed at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Dorothy was always there with cherry tomatoes and cashew nuts, and all these cheeses and snacks; and we would sit and rehash the whole day's trial. She would give her input and she was part of the whole creative process. She was a wonderful, wonderful person...

In 1989 Schmidt accompanied MacDonald to Fort Lauderdale where a film starring Rod Taylor was being made from one of the Travis McGee novels. Schmidt later wrote an article about MacDonald's visit to the set.

"In the public mind, in the past, the people have mixed me up with McGee," said the author. "Then when they meet me there is this terrible look of dismay. Now Taylor can be McGee and I can be me. People are always asking me where I get the ideas for McGee's escapades with the ladies, too. I tell them I have very uninhibited friends who do the research and report back to me."

"Watching a film version of McGee is interesting," he continued, "and must be considered in the context of cinematic values. For instance, McGee is an old fashioned guy and I may develop this during one five or six page passage. In the movie, they establish it with McGee looking at a pop-top beer can, inverting it, and popping it open the old-fashioned way with a can opener."

Schmidt left journalism in the late 1960's when he was selected by state Sen. Warren S. Henderson to direct his successful campaign and served as legislative assistant in Tallahassee for nine months. From 1968-70, Schmidt was a governmental affairs and special assignment reporter for the Sarasota Journal and Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In 1970, Schmidt left newspaper work to take a job as assistant to Sarasota County Administrator John Gray. Schmidt worked for the county for five years until resigning as assistant county administrator in 1975 to enter private business.

From 1975-85, Schmidt operated Gan Eden Publishing. He published "Camporama," founded and edited Florida Home Gardener and co-founded and published Table Tips Magazine. He continued contributing to many local publications as a freelance writer and was an editorial consultant to Bowes Publishing in Canada. He was a technical consultant for the HBO docudrama, "The Strange Case of Dr. Coppolino." Schmidt was editor of the Sarasota Times from 1989 to 1990 and assistant editor of "Attitudes" for the past three years.

Schmidt died in Sarasota in January, 1999.

About John D MacDonald

John Dann MacDonald (July 24, 1916 – December 28, 1986) was an American writer of novels and short stories, known for his thrillers. MacDonald was a prolific author of crime and suspense novels, many of them set in his adopted home of Florida. His best-known works include the popular and critically acclaimed Travis McGee series and his novel The Executioners which was filmed twice as Cape Fear. In 1972, MacDonald was named a grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America, and he won a 1980 U.S. National Book Award in the one-year category Mystery. Stephen King praised MacDonald as "the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller." Kingsley Amis said MacDonald "is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only MacDonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human-heart chap, so guess who wears the top-grade laurels."

About the House on Siesta Key

Edward “Tim” Seibert, the architect who designed MacDonald's house on Siesta Key wrote the following about MacDonald:

"[MacDonald] seemed (to be a) quiet man. Of course, I was probably around 8 and didn't know much about him. John was the nicest guy I ever knew. Very quick, very well read, very smart. I designed his new house on Siesta Key overlooking Big Pass in 1970 — a design of which I’m very proud. It was a very satisfying assignment. Unlike a number of clients who shall remain unnamed, John was a very quick study. I could explain the details of some arcane architectural specification — he’d understand instantly, and I only had to tell him once. Loyalty was another quality he possessed. When Dan Rowan of “Laugh-In” wanted to build a house on Manasota Key, he recommended me instantly. ‘You have to work with Tim Seibert — period.’ That’s how John’s friendship with Dan Rowan began. Of course, he raised holy hell when I wound up designing a boomerang-shaped condominium down the beach from his house. The resulting hue and cry put an end to that. I wound up letting him use the plans as the basis for the ill-fated structure in ‘Condominium.’ As you may recall, a hurricane washed it away. He blamed the crooked developer and not the architect. I take that as a compliment.” [1]

The design and work on the new house took three years, with John and Dorothy moving in in July 1969, and it couldn’t have been more different from where they had been living for the past 17 years. With vast, open spaces and lots of light, the house looked like no other and provided the MacDonald’s with their much-sought privacy. John and Dorothy moved into the house in 1969. For some time, as the house took shape, they had come to feel at one with the space. As the years went by, the house became more and more theirs, for both worked at home and spent the greater part of their time there. One corner of the house was Dorothy's studio, the other was filled with John's office machinery and files. Furnishings and art were not "designed" but were very much a part of the MacDonalds' lives, giving the space an authenticity that no designer can really accomplish. The only complaint I ever heard from John was that his house was so beautiful, it attracted gawkers.[2]

If one is going to feel romantic about a house, the John D. MacDonald residence on Siesta Key is a good choice. It stands on Big Pass, and one can look southwest to the Gulf of Mexico and northwest to the end of Lido Key, with pines filtering the view of resort hotels and condominiums. To the north and northeast, the sparkling city of Sarasota is a nighttime jewel of lights.

A little inlet called Fiddlers' Bayou curves in around the house, giving it water on three sides and making it potentially as vulnerable to tidal fluctuations and prevailing winds as the surrounding mangroves, oaks, palms and wild grasses. It is a structure specially built to withstand storm tides and high winds, as it has done for a third of a century now.

Approached from a boat on the gulf side, the great pyramidal, metal roof shining in the brilliant sunshine reflects the plan of the house, a powerful form that speaks eloquently of shelter to the sailor passing by. At night, the lighted underside makes the form more delicate, showing the poles and beams that hold up the 62-foot-square shape.

From the very beginning this house has been a magnet, attracting imaginative and historic interpretations: "a beautiful South Seas home," "reminiscent of the old fish houses on Florida's eastern coast," "shares many characteristics of the early Florida Cracker cottage," "a classic achievement in contemporary architecture" and on and on. It caught editorial attention in architectural and shelter publications in the United States, Europe and Japan.

For me, its designer, the form and function of the MacDonald house exists to offer its owners the joy of a close, secure relationship with its pristine coastal site. I was seeking clarity of form rather than style, with minimum intrusion into the site.[3]



About the Author

Hugh and Dr. S. J. Pickens
Dr. Pickens and Hugh Pickens celebrated 33 years of marriage before Dr. Pickens passed away in 2017.
Pickens Museum opens on NOC Tonkawa Campus. Pictured (L-R): Dr. Cheryl Evans, NOC President, Hugh Pickens, Executive Director of Pickens Museum, and Sheri Snyder, NOC Vice President for Development and Community Relations. (photo by John Pickard/Northern Oklahoma College)

Hugh Pickens (Po-Hi '67) is a physicist who has explored for oil in the Amazon jungle, commissioned microwave communications systems across the empty quarter of Saudi Arabia, and built satellite control stations for Goddard Space Flight Center in Australia, Antarctica, Guam, and other locations around the world. Retired in 1999, Pickens and his wife of 33 years moved from Baltimore back to his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma in 2005 where he cultivates his square foot garden, mows seven acres of lawn, writes about local history, photographs events at the Poncan Theatre, produces the annual Oklahoma Pride series with his wife at Ponca Playhouse, and recently sponsored the first formal dinner in the Marland Mansion in 75 years. Pickens is founder and Executive Director of Pickens Art Museum with locations at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, City Central in Ponca City, and Pickens Gallery at Woolaroc. Pickens can be contacted at Pickens is a covid survivor and a stroke survivor.

Personal Statement

Most days you will find me sitting in my easy chair with an HP laptop or a book in front of me. I enjoy intellectual pursuits: studying, writing, reading, researching, analyzing, and predicting. During my off time I like riding the backroads of Oklahoma in my hot rod, working out, watching old movies on TCM, playing games like chess or dominoes, participating in community theatre, and, my secret pleasure, reading trashy detective novels by John D. MacDonald. I enjoy theater and concerts and I go to NYC several times a year to see Broadway shows and visit galleries and museums.

Pickens' Publishing

In 1996, Pickens edited and published ''My Life In Review: Have I Been Lucky of What?'', the memoirs of Jack Crandall, professor of history at SUNY Brockport. Since 2001 Pickens has edited and published “Peace Corps Online,” serving over one million monthly pageviews. Pickens' other writing includes contributing over 2,000 stories to “Slashdot: News for Nerds,” and articles for Wikipedia, and “Ponca City, We Love You”. Pickens has written the following articles available on his wiki at Research and Ideas.

History and Biography

I enjoy doing in-depth research on one person and writing a detailed biography of lesser known events or figures. I like to find someone, an artist, a politician, a former Peace Corps Director, or an Oklahoman, that I like and am interested in learning more about them and writing their biography from scratch. I started and filled out dozens of biographies when I wrote for Wikipedia back in the stone age in the early 2000's when they were getting started. But Wikipedia became too bureaucratic and political for me so now I research and write biographies on my own mediawiki platform. (I only make anonymous edits to Wikipedia now usually on the discussion pages.)

Science and Technology

I graduated with a degree in physics from SUNY Brockport in 1970 and have worked in science and technology my entire career. I have held such jobs as Geophysical Observer on a geological survey crew in the amazon jungle, running a portable hydrocarbon detection laboratory on an oil rig, systems engineer for the microwave communications system and supervisory control system on the 800-mile long Trans-Andean Pipeline, independent contractor to Collins Radio in 1979 installing, commissioning, and testing microwave repeater stations all over Saudi Arabia, military advisor to the Royal Saudi Navy on naval communications, navigation, and fire control systems (1980 - 84), project engineer, then project manager for Bendix Fields Engineering (later becoming AlliedSignal Technical Services, then Honeywell Technical Services) from 1984 until my retirement in 1999.

Business and Investing

I am a speculator and enjoy designing and executing trading strategies that exploit market inefficiencies through my assessment and evaluation of information asymmetries, market psychology, and human emotion. Over the years I have put together several open-source histories of companies I am interested in including micro-caps that I have invested in.

Ponca City, Oklahoma

I was born and grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, a town of about 25,000 somewhat isolated in North Central Oklahoma (a two hour drive to the nearest metropolitan areas in Tulsa, OKC, and Wichita.). After I left Ponca City to go to college, I worked overseas and on the East Coast for 30 years. But my wife and I came back to Ponca after our retirement in 1999.

Ponca City is an interesting amalgam of historical developments including being being founded and created from scratch during and after the Cherokee Strip Land Run in 1893, becoming an oil boom town in the 1920's, home of the "Palace on the Prairie" built by oil magnate E.W. Marland, home to Conoco's R&D facility employing hundreds of Phd.'s in the 1950's, 60's and 70's giving Ponca a character of a university town, and finally the continual influence of Native American tribes on our history especially the Ponca tribe and Osage Nation. Some interesting articles I have researched and written about Ponca City include:

Pickens Museum

Pickens Museum is a distributed museum that is active in three location: Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, City Central in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and at Woolaroc Museum near Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The museum has plans to build a 15,000 ft2 art museum on highway 60 West of Ponca City, Oklahoma. in the next few years.


Peace Corps Writing

I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru from 1970 - 73 working with the Peruvian Ministry of Education teaching high school science teachers how to build lab equipment out of simple, cheap materials. In 2000 I started "Peace Corps Online" to document the work volunteers are doing around the world both during and after the Peace Corps Service. I ran the web site for ten years and posted about 10,000 stories. Even though the site is no longer active, I still get over 50,000 monthly pageviews.


Phillips 66

Conoco and Phillips 66 announced on November 18, 2001 that their boards of directors had unanimously approved a definitive agreement for a "merger of equals". The merged company, ConocoPhillips, became the third-largest integrated U.S. energy company based on market capitalization and oil and gas reserves and production. On November 11, 2011 ConocoPhillips announced that Phillips 66 would be the name of a new independent oil and gasoline refining and marketing firm, created as ConocoPhillips split into two companies. ConocoPhillips kept the current name of the company and concentrated on oil exploration and production side while Phillips 66 included refining, marketing, midstream, and chemical portions of the company. Photo: Hugh Pickens all rights reserved.

For nearly 100 years oil refining has provided the bedrock of Ponca City's local economy and shaped the character of our community. Today the Ponca City Refinery is the best run and most profitable of Phillips 66's fifteen worldwide refineries. The purpose of this collection of reports is to provide a comprehensive overview of Phillips 66's business that documents and explains the company's business strategy and execution of that strategy.

Safety, Environment, Legal


Strategic and Financial

Business Segments

Stock Market


Refining Business Segment

Increasing Profitability in Refining Business Segment

Detailed Look at Ponca City Refinery

Other Phillips Refineries

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