Ross Macdonald, 67, author of the Lew Archer detective stories and a writer whose books were hailed as literary events as well as entertainments, died of Alzheimer's disease July 11 at the Pine Crest Hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Most of Mr. Macdonald's novels were set in a Southern California town easily recognizable as Santa Barbara. Two of them, "The Moving Target" and "The Drowning Pool," were made into movies starring Paul Newman as private eye Lew Archer.
Another, "The Underground Man," was made into a television movie starring Jack Klugman and Peter Graves. Several of Macdonald's stories became the basis of a short-lived 1975 NBC television series with Brian Keith as "Archer."
Mr. Macdonald's first published story appeared in 1939 and was what the author called "a parody of Sherlock Holmes, intended to be funny." His first novel, "The Dark Tunnel," appeared in 1944. His last book, "The Blue Hammer," was published in 1976.
In addition to the popular acclaim he received, there were the plaudits of critics and other writers. They credited Mr. Macdonald with having helped transform the detective story into literature.
Writer Anthony Boucher, in an early review of a Lew Archer book, said that its author was "to be congratulated on his sharp prose, his absorbing tempo, and above all on his ability to create a hardboiled hero who is not a storm trooper."
The New York Times once said Mr. Macdonald's books were "the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American."
And critic William Goldman called Mr. Macdonald "one of the best American novelists now operating" and said that no one had created more compelling evocations of southern California. "All those new-rich people, the perfect front lawns where no one but the gardener ever treads, the dustless houses with the huge picture windows facing other picture windows--there's something unalive about it all," Goldman wrote. "And since . . . Macdonald's characters are all dying anyway, that's what makes him their perfect chronicler."
These chronicles included, "The Way People Die," 1951; "The Ivory Grin," 1952; "Find a Victim," 1954; "The Barbarous Coast," 1956; "The Doomsters," 1958; "The Galton Case," 1959, and "The Wycherly Woman," 1961.
Two books in which Archer was not a character were "Meet Me in the Morgue" in 1953, and "The Ferguson Affair" in 1960.
In addition, Mr. Macdonald wrote a collection of short stories, "The Name is Archer," published in 1955, and a volume of essays, "On Crime Writing," in 1973. He also edited William F. Nolan's "Dashiell Hammett: a Casebook," published in 1969. (The name Archer was derived from Miles Archer, Sam Spade's murdered partner in Dashiell Hammett's mystery classic "The Maltese Falcon.")
Mr. Macdonald once said he was originally attracted to the detective story because it expressed characteristics peculiar to America--puritanism, violence and democracy. He wrote of his own work:
"Raymond Chandler was and remains a hard man to follow. He wrote like a slumming angel, and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence . . . I gradually siphoned off the aura of romance and made room for a complete social realism. My detective Archer is not so much a knight of romance as an observer, a socially mobile man who knows all the levels of southern California life and takes a peculiar wry pleasure in exploring its secret passages. Archer tends to live through other people, as a novelist lives through his characters."
Unfazed by the increasing praise that his work drew, Mr. Macdonald said that "one writes on a curve, on the back of torn-off calendar sheets. A writer in his fifties will not recapture the blaze of youth . . . But he can lie in wait in his room . . . and keep open his imagination and the bowels of his compassion against the day when another book will haunt him like a ghost rising out of both the past and the future."
The man the world came to know as Ross Macdonald was born in Los Gatos, Calif., and christened Kenneth Millar. His father, John, was a newspaperman, and his mother, the former Anne Moyer, had been a nurse. The boy grew up in the province of Ontario, Canada.
He graduated from Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute in 1932, and after a year's travel in Germany, enrolled in the University of Western Ontario and earned a degree in 1938. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy. He was discharged as a lieutenant in 1946.
He taught high school in Canada and received a doctorate in American literature from the University of Michigan in 1951. He studied modern European writers while at Michigan and called W.H. Auden "the single most important influence" on his life.
He decided that Kenneth Millar was too prosaic a name for the author of the books he wanted to write and finally settled on Ross Macdonald after experimenting with several pen names, including John Ross Macdonald and John Macdonald.
In 1982, Mr. Macdonald won the Robert Kirsch Award, given by The Los Angeles Times for "an outstanding body of work by an author from the West or featuring the West."
He was a past president of the Mystery Writers of America and a winner in 1964 of the Silver Dagger award by the Crime Writers' Association of Great Britain for "The Chill."
In addition to his literary work, Mr. Macdonald was known as an environmentalist who helped form the organization Get Oil Out (GOO) after a 1969 oil spill that polluted Santa Barbara's popular beaches.
Mr. Macdonald's only child, Linda Jane, Mrs. Joseph J. Pagnusat, died.
Survivors include his wife, Margaret, and a grandson.