Monday, June 24, 2019

"MacDonald and McGee"

Two weeks ago I posted an article from the February 15, 1987 edition of the Palm Beach Post titled "MacDonald Leaves Literary Landmark: Slip F-18" written by staff writer Bobbie Meyers. This is the accompanying article, also written by Meyers, "MacDonald and McGee". Although there's not anything new here, and the author commits a major error citing The Empty Copper Sea when she meant Cinnamon Skin, it's an interesting take on McGee from the feminine point of view.

Although John D. MacDonald created 'a blizzard of words' in: his lifetime, his character Travis McGee, the tall, tan, knight errant who rescued ladies in distress and polished off bad guys and good gin, has colored the fantasies of the reading public.

Stories by BOBBIE MEYERS Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

During the hustle between Christmas and the new year, I lost an old love.

It was unrequited.

Travis McGee never knew I had a crush on him – and that was just as well, since most of his girlfriends got killed off anyway.

McGee, of course, was the best-known fictional creation of Florida-based author John D. MacDonald, who died Dec. 28.

I balked 10 years ago when my brother first suggested I read a Travis McGee adventure. It's not my sort of reading. I protested. But like many people, I was hooked from the first. I read the rest of the series and eagerly pounced on each new one that came out.

I was smitten. I named our new Weimaraner puppy Travis McGee. It was just fortunate I didn't have another child during that time - boy or girl, it would have been named Travis.

Bad guys and good gin.

MacDonald was a prolific writer who wrote 77 books and more than 500 short stories, along with essays, reviews and letters, during a 40-year career.

But the 21 color-titled Travis McGee adventures are some of his most popular books, Starting with The Deep Blue Good-by in 1964, the adventures continue, tinted with deadly shades of gold, long lavender looks and nightmares in pink.

Trav's friend, Meyer, “that hairy economist," plays faithful friend to the Lone Ranger of the boat docks and adds interest as a regular character in the books.

Unless MacDonald had an unpublished one tucked away, The Lonely Silver Rain of 1984 marks the end of the color-coded adventures of Travis McGee.

In his books, MacDonald has Travis McGee living in Fort Lauderdale aboard a houseboat at Bahia Mar Marina. The tall, tan, knight errant rescued ladies in distress and polished off bad guys and good gin.

We don't know his age, but last we heard of him, he was "down close to two hundred pounds" and looking fit with a new coat of "deep-water tan." He was doing tai chi exercises that a health spa instructor taught him, insulting him in the process by saying, "At your age it is very important to stay flexible and limber."

Many of the ladies in McGee's life were rescued from bad guys and were in dire need of TLC and R&R to help them recuperate. Bless his big, altruistic heart – McGee was just the guy to fill those prescriptions.

Travis would treat such a lady to a long, slow ocean trip to nowhere. Aboard the Flush, the soft roll of waves, ocean air and soothing sun would unwind the traumatized damsel. Of course, she would usually discover that our friend McGee had other areas of expertise besides slaying dragons.

Dose of social commentary

Through his characters, especially Travis, MacDonald voices his concerns about the changing Florida landscape. He was especially disgusted with the “paving of Florida" – overpopulation, overbuilding and the resulting destruction of the environment.

"My home is aboard the Busted Flush at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale," says Travis McGee in his last adventure. “And there I intend to stay until finally no one is able to either drink the water or breathe the air."

Travis was always involved in dangerous situations with mean, rotten, sadistic people who also strip mined the central Florida landscape, polluted the water, built condominiums all over the beaches and threw Styrofoam cups out of car windows.

A new MacDonald book was an evening's entertainment for me – an escape into adventure and romance. The style is spare and muscular (no surprise that MacDonald was a Hemingway admirer), plots, even when they were a bit thin, moved along with lots of action, snappy dialogue and doses of social commentary: "People hate their cars ... they all look alike for one thing ... they are expensive, murderous junk.'

But for me, at least, the continuing character of McGee was the big draw. MacDonald let the Travis character grow book by book and let him be inconsistent enough to be human. He gave him a sense of irony about himself and enough skepticism about the workings of the world and his own motives that the reader kept coming back.

Over the years, Travis McGee evolved into what is now being touted as the "new man" - the semi-macho man - Dirty Harry slouching toward sensitivity.

Long and leggy; short and sweet

When I worked at the North Palm Beach Library, I met Walter Shine. Along with his wife, Jean, he had compiled and published a bibliography of John D. MacDonald's work.

I knew he was in touch with the author occasionally and asked him to relay a complaint: “How come all of Travis McGee's lady friends were described as tall and leggy?” I whined.

When the next book came out - The Empty Copper Sea, Shine told me to be sure to read the description of the woman on the the first page. McGee, it tells us, is usually drawn to tall women with long legs, but his new girlfriend is short!

I don't know if MacDonald took the complaint of a short fan to heart or if it was just a coincidence. I like to think my whining had a short-term effect on Travis McGee's love life.

I began by saying that I had lost an old love, but that's not exactly true.

Even though we mourned the death of a talented writer when John D. MacDonald died, his survivors include not only his real family, but also the most famous child of his imagination – Travis McGee.

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