Saturday, October 1, 2011

JDM: Meyer or McGee?

Almost from the moment John D MacDonald created his famous series character Travis McGee, he began getting asked if McGee was in fact the author's alter-ego. It seems like an unlikely question to me, comparing a beach bum to a guy who sits in a room typing all day, but McGee's characteristic asides on the nature of modern civilization are probably what drove people to assume that McGee and MacDonald were -- figuratively -- one in the same. MacDonald denied it, of course, and he even went as far as to proclaim that McGee's asides were not necessarily his (JDM's) own opinions. "His opinions are not my opinions," he wrote. "In some, they are -- though in varying degrees of strength and conviction."

As the character of Meyer was gradually introduced into the novels, another strain of author-character comparisons were begun, with readers assuming that Meyer was MacDonald. Again, JDM said no, although he admitted that his own personality was closer to Meyer's than to McGee's. Once, MacDonald's wife Dorothy, when asked by reporter Ed Hutshing if Travis McGee was based on her husband, reportedly laughed and said no, that if John was anyone in the McGee saga he was Meyer. And in a 1990 speech at the Third JDM Conference in in Ft. Lauderdale, son Maynard MacDonald said:

"Someone said this evening, 'Did my father know a person -- was there someone in his life -- who was like Meyer was to Travis?' I said 'No, actually Travis McGee really was very representative of my father with that tremendous sense of rightness and justice -- but Meyer is also like him. If you put Meyer and Travis together then you get someone who is very like John D.'"

In 1986, the last year John D MacDonald was alive, he was approached by psychologist  Raymond J. Fowler, a professor-emeritus at the University of Alabama and the president of the American Psychological Association. Fowler, who must have been a Travis McGee fan, proposed an interesting experiment. MacDonald would take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test that was designed to provide a reasonably accurate idea of the personality of the taker. He would take it once as John D MacDonald, then again as Travis McGee, and finally as Meyer. The results would be compiled through "an elaborate system of computer analyses and interpretations," allowing Fowler to come to some sort of conclusion as to which character MacDonald resembled.

In an article published in the November 1986 issue of Psychology Today titled "The Case of the Multicolored Personality," Fowler made these conclusions:

Meyer and MacDonald are so much alike that a clinician looking at the two profiles might assume that they were the MMPI's of the same person a few years apart. Both are dominant, self-confident individuals who are able to define their goals and to move resolutely toward their attainment. They are self-assured and likely to be demanding in their expectations of themselves and of others. They are intellectually aggressive and somewhat self-centered. Both prefer thought to action, and their aggressiveness is more likely to be verbal than physical.

Neither Meyer nor MacDonald feels much need to change. Neither is troubled by anxiety, depression or somatic problems. Both are accustomed to being viewed as competent and both feel that they deserve the respect they receive from others. Both are dominant in a positive sense. Neither is a shrinking violet; neither is dependent or bitter. Both are survivors; that is, they feel that they have the intelligence, competence and resilience to cope with tough situations and to deal with life effectively.

McGee is an entirely different person from Meyer or MacDonald. He is tougher, more aggressive and much more physical than either. He is no intellectual -- Meyer refers to him affectionately as an illiterate -- but he is much too complicated to be considered a dumb jock. He has almost as much need for status as Meyer and MacDonald, a bit more anxiety, and is much less satisfied with himself.

McGee is a creature of MacDonald's imagination who has almost no similarities to MacDonald in personality, behavior or life-style. Meyer, on the other hand, could well be called MacDonald's alter ego. Intelligent and thoughtful, with a great store of information and an ability to stand back and consider before acting, Meyer plays a vital role for McGee and perhaps for MacDonald as well. Meyer provides MacDonald with an opportunity to enter McGee's life, to talk with him, advise him and react to him. Although McGee is the narrator, it is through the eyes of Meyer, and therefore MacDonald, that we see Travis McGee's world.

Dorothy MacDonald knew her man... or men.


  1. Just started listening to the Travis McGee on audio books , after reading them all back in the 1980's. When does Meyer make his first appearance?

  2. He's referred to in RED and appears full-time in GOLD.