Donald Bain, a little-known but versatile writer who sold millions of books, most of them published under other peopleâ€™s names, died Oct. 21 at a hospital in White Plains, N.Y. He was 82.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his literary agent, Bob Diforio.
Considered one of the pre-eminent ghost writers in the publishing world, Mr. Bain wrote more than 100 books, including most of the best-selling â€œCapital Crimeâ€ mystery novels of Margaret Truman.
Mr. Bain was also responsible for more than 40 titles in the â€œMurder, She Wroteâ€ series, writing as Jessica Fletcher, the fictional mystery author and small-town sleuth portrayed in the long-running CBS crime drama by Angela Lansbury.
The â€œMurder, She Wroteâ€ television series ran from 1984 to 1996, with Lansburyâ€™s character solving murders in Cabot Cove, Maine, which, for all its New England charm, had an alarmingly high rate of violent crime.
Consciously written in the voice of Lansbury-as-Fletcher, Mr. Bainâ€™s book series began in 1989 with â€œGin and Daggersâ€ and continued through last yearâ€™s â€œDesign for Murder.â€
In the books, Mr. Bain often had Fletcher leaving the comforts of Cabot Cove to solve crimes all over the world. More than 5 million books in the â€œMurder, She Wroteâ€ franchise have been sold.
Mr. Bainâ€™s first major success came in 1967, when he wrote the pseudonymous best seller â€œCoffee, Tea or Me?,â€ a risquÃ© novel purporting to be a nonfiction account of the amorous adventures of two free-spirited flight attendants, or â€œstewardesses,â€ as they were then called.
The title derived from a salacious come-hither line delivered by one of the stewardesses, and it became a commonplace, if leering, catchphrase of the time. The novel sold millions of copies, prompting Mr. Bain to publish three more â€œCoffee, Tea or Me?â€ sequels, all written by â€œTrudy Bakerâ€ and â€œRachel Jones.â€ The publisher hired two former flight attendants to portray the would-be authors on talk shows.
â€œIt was magic,â€ Mr. Bain told Newsday in 1989. â€œThey sold for 17 years. It was like having an annuity all those years.â€
He went on to write a series of suggestive spinoff books about teachers, nurses, secretaries and other young working women.
Mr. Bain, a onetime broadcaster and part-time jazz musician, began working as a pen-for-hire in the early 1960s and quickly built a lucrative, if anonymous, business.
Although he did publish several books on history and other subjects under his own name, Mr. Bain spent most of his career writing novels, speeches, detective stories and frothy sex romps under assumed names â€” or the famous name of someone else.
â€œMy strength is like an impressionist or mimic in a nightclub â€” I pick up on a style,â€ he told the Associated Press in 1997, â€œand write in that voice. Thatâ€™s necessary if youâ€™re going to be successful.â€
Margaret Truman, the daughter of President Harry S. Truman, published her first mystery novel set in Washingtonâ€™s corridors of power, â€œMurder in the White House,â€ in 1980.
Mr. Bain did not help with that book, but he worked as Trumanâ€™s ghost writer for the next 23 books in the series.
â€œMargaret was a joy to work with,â€ Mr. Bain said in a 2015 interview with the Washington Independent Review of Books, â€œand I became intimately knowledgeable about her views on Washington and the government.â€
He was so knowledgeable that, with the approval of the Truman estate, he continued the â€œCapital Crimesâ€ series after Trumanâ€™s death in 2008, writing five more books, including â€œAllied in Danger,â€ which came out this year.
In the Truman books, murders take place at the Supreme Court, at the FBI and CIA, at the Kennedy Center, Washington National Cathedral, Library of Congress and other major institutions around the city.
â€œMy operative philosophy,â€ Mr. Bain told the Washington Independent Review of Books, â€œis that when dealing with our nationâ€™s capital and the government, anything that I conjure up, no matter how far-fetched, is possible.â€
Donald Sutherland Bain was born March 6, 1935, in Mineola, N.Y. His father worked in manufacturing.
Mr. Bain graduated in 1957 from Purdue University in Indiana, where he studied speech and drama and played drums and vibraphone in jazz groups. He served in the Air Force, spending part of his tour censoring U.S. armed forces television programs in Saudi Arabia.
He worked in radio in Indiana and Texas before settling in New York, where he worked in public relations for an airline.
A cousin who was a ghost writer offered him some magazine assignments, and Mr. Bain launched a new career.
Under his own name, he published â€œThe Case against Private Aviation,â€ (1969), which called for greater federal oversight of private pilots and commercial airlines, as well as books on bootlegging and the CIA. He co-wrote the autobiography of film star Veronica Lake in 1969.
He revealed many of the tricks of his trade in a 2002 memoir, â€œEvery Midget Has an Uncle Sam Costume,â€ later published under the title â€œMurder, He Wrote.â€
His first marriage, to Jackie Bain, ended in divorce.
His second wife, writer and occasionally co-author Renee Paley-Bain, died in 2016.
Survivors include two daughters from his first marriage; two stepchildren; four grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.
Years after the early runaway success of â€œCoffee, Tea or Me?,â€ Mr. Bain noted his name appeared only on the bookâ€™s dedication page: â€œI dedicated it â€˜To Don Bain, without whom this book wouldnâ€™t have been possible.â€™ â€