Donald Eugene (Don) Pendleton (1927–1995)
Donald Eugene Pendleton was a pulp fiction, action, science fiction, and mystery writer best known for the Executioner series books, which centered on the character Mack Bolan, who waged a one-man war against the Mafia. Pendleton is generally credited with creating the action-adventure genre in the 1970s.
Don Pendleton was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 12, 1927, to Louis Thomas Pendleton, a machinist, and Drucy Valentine. On December 7, 1942, Pendleton lied about his age and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, days before his fifteenth birthday. He served as a radioman first class until November 1947. He served in all the war theaters and received several medals, including the Naval Commendation Medal, Iwo Jima, in 1945.
He married Marjorie Williamson on February 4, 1946. The couple had four sons and two daughters; they later divorced. He married his second wife, Linda Abrams, on October 5, 1985.
Pendleton received his GED in the navy in 1947. In 1952, Pendleton returned to naval duty for two years during the Korean conflict. After the war, Pendleton worked for Southern Pacific Railroad as a telegrapher and later a traffic control specialist. In 1961, he began to work in aerospace engineering for Martin-Marietta’s Titan ICBM programs, then in NASA’s Apollo program and later for the U.S. Air Force.
He began writing in 1957 and published his first short story that year. His first novel, Frame Up, was published in 1962. Several of Pendleton’s early books were written under the pseudonyms Dan Britain and Stephen Gregory. In 1969, Pendleton launched the Executioner series with War against the Mafia. Over the next twelve years, Pendleton wrote thirty-seven sequels. The books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and have sold more than 200 million copies. The success of the books led to a popularization of the action-adventure genre.
In the pulp tradition of larger-than-life heroes, Pendleton’s Mack Bolan character was responsible for killing hundreds of mobsters over the course of the series with his signature .44 AutoMag. A Vietnam veteran who returned home to find his family murdered by mobsters, Bolan took revenge on those he deemed responsible. Bolan would leave an iconic “calling card,” a marksmen’s card, wherever he struck. The popularity of the character led to many imitators, including Marvel Comics’ The Punisher and DC Comics’ The Vigilante series.
Satan’s Sabbath was Pendleton’s last Executioner novel. In 1980, Pendleton franchised his Mack Bolan character, and Harlequin’s Worldwide Library of Toronto, Gold Eagle Imprint, began to release sequels by other writers. Almost 400 books have since been released centering around Pendleton’s characters. The focus of these books shifted to Mack Bolan’s war on terrorism, and all of these books bear the byline “Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan.”
Pendleton has also written books in other genres, including metaphysical nonfiction and mystery. Pendleton has said that he considers the Executioner books to be a study in the metaphysics of violence. He also co-wrote nonfiction and comic book adaptations with his wife, Linda. He published more than 125 books in his career.
In addition to the Executioner series, Pendleton also wrote the Joe Copp mystery series, sometimes reminiscent of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer character. The Copp books were told in the first person by a 6’3″, 260-pound private investigator named Joe Copp. The stories followed a familiar hardboiled detective fiction style, opening in medias res and utilizing flashbacks to fill in the back story, then ending with Copp killing his adversaries with his Smith & Wesson .41 Magnum revolver.
Pendleton also wrote six Ashton Ford, Psychic Detective books, beginning with Ashes to Ashes (1986). Pendleton’s Ashton Ford character is a former naval officer and spy, skilled in cryptology and possessing the ability to see into the future. Both the Joe Copp and Ashton Ford mysteries are back in print as of 2008.
Pendleton died of a heart attack in Sedona, Arizona, on October 23, 1995, at the age of sixty-seven.
For additional information:
Contemporary Authors, volume 150, p. 350. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.
Don Pendleton. http://www.donpendleton.com/ (accessed April 12, 2022).
C. L. Bledsoe
Last Updated: 04/12/2022