John Jakes, the bestselling author of historical novels whose books The Bastard and North And South were adapted into highly rated TV movies and miniseries in the 1970s and ’80s, died Saturday at a hospice facility in Sarasota, Florida. He was 90.
His death was announced by his lawyer and literary agent Frank R. Curtis.
Born on March 31, 1932, in Chicago, Jakes published his first short story at 18, earning $25, and would go on to author more than 80 books in his lifetime that sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.
His breakthrough came in 1974 with the publication of The Bastard, the first in what would become an eight-volume series known as The Kent Family Chronicles. Roughly coinciding with America’s Bicentennial, the series mixed historical events and characters with fiction, chronicling the decade leading to the American Revolution. By 1975, all eight volumes were bestsellers.
The Bastard was adapted into a four-hour TV movie starring Andrew Stevens in 1978, airing as part of Operation Prime Time, a consortium of American independent television stations.
Even more popular was Jakes’ North And South trilogy set before, during and immediately after the Civil War. North And South, the first book in the series, was published in 1982, with Love And War arriving in ’84 and Heaven And Hell in ’87. All three were bestsellers.
The trilogy was adapted into ABC’s successful trio of miniseries, beginning with North and South in 1985, followed by the renamed North And South Book II in ’86 and Heaven and Hell: North And South Book III in ’94.
The first two miniseries starred Patrick Swayze and James Read as best friends who found themselves fighting on opposite sides during the war. The large cast of North And South also featured Lesley-Anne Down, Wendy Kilbourne, Kirstie Alley and Genie Francis. Most returned for the third installment, with the exception of Swayze. Hal Holbrook portrayed Abraham Lincoln in all three miniseries, along with Robert Guillaume as Frederick Douglass and Johnny Cash as John Brown.
Jakes’ later work included a stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol for his home playhouse on Hilton Head Island in the late 1980s. The script has been widely produced by university and regional theaters, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theater Training in West Palm Beach. The author and playwright helped establish Sarasota’s New College John Jakes Endowed Writing Scholarship, and The Florida State University Libraries named him a Florida Literary Legend.
Jakes was a member of the Authors Guild, the Dramatists Guild, and served on the Authors Guild Foundation. He also served on DePauw University’s Board of Trustees.
Survivors include his wife of 71 years, the former Rachel Ann Payne of Danville, Illinois, whom he met at DePauw; children Andrea Jakes, Ellen Jakes Kelm, J. Michael Jakes, Victoria Jakes Montgomery and their spouses; 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
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