BS 1957, Speech
Writer, Danbury, CT
If you check out Donald Bain’s homepage, you’ll find that he’s the author and ghostwriter of more than 115 books, including more than 40 as fictional alter-ego Jessica Fletcher, from Murder, She Wrote. That’s a full career for anyone, so you might not realize how many other characters he’s been: officer-in-charge of Armed Forces Radio in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, television personality, radio series writer and producer, nightclub owner, jazz quintet leader, and co-founder, with his wife Renée Paley-Bain, of Hyphenates, a company providing communication and publishing services.
He also worked in public relations for a while, which he credits with teaching him to think about what the public wants and how to deliver it. That’s excellent training for a writer, notes Bain. “When a book I wrote in the ’60s, Coffee, Tea or Me?, sat on The New York Times bestseller list for months and spurred a bidding war for motion picture rights, I figured my decision to become a writer was a good one,” he recalls. “I’ve debated that decision many times over the ensuing years, but all in all it seems that writing was what I was meant to do.”
My theater professor Joe Stockdale was a major influence on me. I not only admired him, I wanted to be Joe Stockdale. We’ve remained close friends to this day, and my wife and I have published two of his books. John DeCamp, who managed WBAA, where I spent more than half my life as a student, was a major force in helping shape my future. And Mary Lou Bilsborough, social director of the Purdue Memorial Union, encouraged me to pursue a career in the arts. Her belief in me never wavered.
The bonds I forged with other students, appearing in theatrical productions, working as a jazz musician in student-led groups, and those long conversations in which world problems were solved over coffee in the Black and Gold campus coffee shop.
That the College of Liberal Arts has grown and prospered in what had always been a university dedicated to more technical areas of education says to me that Purdue’s leadership is forward-thinking, and is graduating an important mix of future leaders in myriad disciplines.
While a student at Purdue, it was being the only freshman to ever be selected as MC for Varsity Varieties, and the only student to win that audition for four consecutive years. Earning my private pilot’s license through the Air Force ROTC was an exhilarating experience. In my personal life, it’s to have grown up without prejudice, to love and respect four-legged animals, to believe that the only true way to judge a society is how it treats its less fortunate and most vulnerable, and to have been able to teach those values to my children.
Living Person I Admire
My wife, Renée, whose even-keel approach to living, and dealing with problems large and small, teaches me something every day and helps me view life in the same nonjudgmental, accepting way. And President Barak Obama, whose election to the presidency as a black man says that maybe we’re the society we claim to be.
Idea of Perfect Happiness
Cuddling with a furry friend on a rainy day, a jazz CD playing, my wife next to me, the final page of the latest book having been written, a call from a good friend, and reading that members of Congress have decided to care more about the country than their re-election chances.
What I’m Reading
I’m about to start This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich. I avoid reading fiction while writing fiction. When I have a break between books I enjoy reading anything by John le Carré, Graham Greene, and Arturo Vivante, and great detective novelists like P.D. James, John D. MacDonald, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler.
Profession I’d Like to Try
I would have liked to be the captain of a magnificent ship, like the QE2 or QM2, crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Failing that, being able to make a living as a jazz musician would be immensely satisfying.