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Donald Bain, widely read author (but not by that name), dies at 82

Renee Paley-Bain via The New York Times

Donald Bain.

By Sam Roberts New York Times  

NEW YORK — Donald Bain, the pseudonymous author of the “Murder, She Wrote” novels, Margaret Truman’s “Capital Crimes” mysteries and “Coffee, Tea or Me?,” the supposed memoir of two saucy airline stewardesses, died Saturday in White Plains, N.Y., of congestive heart failure. He was 82.

Although he had aspired to a conspicuous role as a broadcasting personality or a musician, Mr. Bain relished writing incognito.

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Over five decades as a ghostwriter he published novels, biographies, Westerns, and historical romances, mostly under fictitious names or credited to more marketable bylines; vanity memoirs attributed to corporate executives; and even long articles disguised as excerpts from nonexistent books.

Nonetheless, he told Publishers Weekly in 2014, “my ego is intact.”

His bestseller, in 1967, was his flighty (and fictional) tell-all about stewardesses, as flight attendants were then called.

An editor had introduced him to two Eastern Airline attendants who would inspire the narrative. But Mr. Bain, an airline publicist at the time and a pilot himself, invented most of it, including the authors’ names, Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones. (Mr. Bain’s “help” was credited on the cover with the line “with Donald Bain.”)

“I suppose you could say that I became the world’s oldest, tallest, bearded stewardess,” he told Killer Nashville magazine last year.

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His more than 125 books included 46 “Murder, She Wrote” mysteries, inspired by the television series of the same name starring Angela Lansbury. Many were written in collaboration with his second wife, Renee Paley-Bain.

He began secretly collaborating with Margaret Truman, the daughter of former president Harry S. Truman, in the early 1980s; the first book they wrote together was “Murder on Capitol Hill” (1981). Truman — she was otherwise known as Margaret Truman Daniel — died in 2008, but the series continued with two dozen books under her name followed by six, in collaboration with Bob Gleason, under Mr. Bain’s.

“With the ‘Margaret Truman Capital Crimes’ series,” Mr. Bain explained, “I operate from the standpoint that there is absolutely nothing that I can make up that is far-fetched when it comes to Washington, D.C., and the political climate there.”

“Lights Out,” the first full-length work of fiction that he wrote under his own name, and that came solely from his own imagination, was not published until 2014.

“That it took me 50 years to see my own novel published was not due to a paucity of ideas, or a half-century of writer’s block,” Mr. Bain told Publishers Weekly in 2014. “It was because I didn’t want Samuel Johnson to consider me a blockhead: ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,’ the esteemed Johnson once said.

“I’ve made a living all these years as a ghost who makes others sound good,” he continued. “I’ve been a journeyman writer and proud of it. I’ve attacked every book with the philosophy that it’s the most important book I’ve ever written, and maybe the last I will write, no matter whose name is on it.”

Mr. Bain served in the Air Force while working as a disc jockey and announcer for radio and television stations in Texas. He then moved to New York, where he struggled to support his new family by selling children’s shoes at a department store and peddling typewriters. His fortunes changed when a cousin, a freelance writer who was overloaded with assignments, referred a writing project to him and connected him with a book editor.