John Maxtone-Graham was born in New Jersey in 1929 of a Scots father and American mother. Three months later, a cataclysmic crash of the stock market precipitated a familial move to London. That first Atlantic crossing, at the age of six months, eastbound aboard Minnewaska, was the first of hundreds to follow. He attended schools on both sides of the Atlantic, Fessenden and Tabor here, Windlesham and Sedbergh over there and finally, Brown University, class of 1951. After graduation, he was drafted into the United States Marine Corps, endured Parris Island, then officer's training at Quantico and a year in the Korean trenches as an infantry platoon leader. Demobilized, he became a Broadway stage manager for, among others, Helen Hayes, Sir John Gielgud, Orson Welles, Tallulah Bankhead and the Lunts. Perhaps his most pyrotechnical employment was stage managing Tennessee Williams's The Night of the Iguana with Bette Davis and Margaret Leighton.
In 1972, his first book was published by Macmillan; The Only Way to Cross became the bible of the ship buffs, still in print after 35 years. Other books followed: Dark Brown is the River, a biographical novel, Liners to the Sun, about cruise ships, Safe Return Doubtful, documenting polar exploration, many company histories and Cunard: 150 Glorious Years. Crossing & Cruising was published in September 1992, Titanic Survivor in 1997 and Cruise Savvy debuted with the millennium. A mammoth book—Queen Mary 2—celebrated the arrival of the newest Cunarder.
He started lecturing aboard France in 1972 and, ever since, has continued lecturing to passengers all over the world, spending more than half his year aboard vessels that include Constellation, Summit, Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth 2, Norway, Rotterdam, Sagafjord, Sea Goddess, Seabourn Pride and all Princess, Royal Viking, Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises tonnage. Ashore, he lectures at New York's Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, the Four Arts Society of Palm Beach and also at Britain’s National Maritime Museum.
Maxtone-Graham has four grown children; he and his second wife, Mary, live in the bottom half of a brownstone within comforting earshot of the piers.
Whenever television producers need advice about ocean liner history, he is in demand, whether on Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas, The Today Show, PBS’s American Experience and a variety of History and Discovery Channel programs. Moreover, if a passenger vessel is in the news, the Times, Newsweek, CNN, CBS, NBC and ABC start ringing his telephone.
Currently (2014), Maxtone-Graham has a new book set for release on the ss United States