Monday, November 25, 2019

No Credit Cards for Travis McGee

The following article was published in Florida Accent, the Sunday supplement to the Tampa Tribune, on February 28, 1965, written by reporter Jack McClintock and titled “No Credit Cards for Travis McGee.” It was the same month that the fifth McGee novel -- A Deadly Shade of Gold -- was published (not April, as McClintock reports) and JDM obviously agreed to do the interview to push the book. There’s not much new here for the dedicated MacDonald fan, but there is an interesting bit of conversation about Ian Fleming, which amplifies JDM’s opinion of him expressed elsewhere. There’s also a photo -- taken at the old Point Crisp house -- that I’ve never seen before.

When John D. MacDonald decided to do a series after writing some 50 novels and hundreds of short fiction pieces - he knew he needed a hero he could "live with."

So he wrote two more novels, trying out two heroes, and scrapped them both. On the third try he came up with Travis McGee: boat bum, skeptic, retriever, for a price, of ill-gotten gains.

"McGee is essentially an iconoclast who feels displaced in this highly-structured society," MacDonald says of his livable protagonist, "and he's aware there probably won't be room for him in 20 years.

"At first his name was Dallas McGee, but the semantics of that name went sour."

MacDonald says that for a long time he resisted pressures to write a series. But the book market was changing and the pattern of pressures changed and MacDonald changed his mind and has published four novels built around Travis McGee. A fifth is due in April.

"I have letters in my files stating explicitly why I would never write a series,” he declares wryly. "And here I am with Travis."

McGee titles are colorful: The Deep Blue Good-by, Nightmare in Pink, A Purple Place for Dying, The Quick Red Fox.

"That was a cold and arbitrary decision," MacDonald confesses cheerfully. "Bookrack displays are a visual thing, and people will remember the colors and know which ones they've read."

The writer has prematurely silver hair and talks with humor and vitality. His previous novels are read all over the world — a fan club in France numbered Albert Camus and Francois Sagan among its members.

"And a lady at the University of Nice is doing her Ph.D. on MacDonald," says MacDonald.

He got into writing almost by default. After graduating from the Harvard School of Business with an M.A. degree in 1939, MacDonald, as people are expected to do, went to work.

"Then I was fired from my first four jobs," he admits without a trace of regret. "It was a case of 'bigmouth.' It wasn't that I wasn't diligent, I just kept saying the wrong things to the wrong people.

"I'm essentially inner-directed. I dislike phoniness and people who cannot evaluate themselves," he says. And he told them so.

The army beckoned in 1940 "just as I was beginning to think there was no place for me," he chuckles. "So I asked what it paid and it sounded pretty good so I went."

He wrote short stories home from overseas instead of letters, and when his wife sold one he decided to write for a living. He makes a good living at it, and cannot be fired for baiting phonies.

MacDonald has opinions and doesn't care who knows it. They're in his conversation and in his books. And sometimes in his letters.

When a critic claimed Travis McGee was an "undisguised imitation" of Ian Fleming's James Bond, MacDonald wrote him:

"Fleming was kind enough to state his admiration of my work on several occasions, and I must risk appearing tasteless and say that perhaps the most serious flaw in the Bond books is that Fleming really could not write very well."

He caught some errors in the critic's article and wrote: "I must forgive you for making the charge of imitation, as it was made without having read the books.

"May I be so forward as to commend them to you?” MacDonald added slyly.

One who has read the McGee books sees some of MacDonald in them - his ironic wit, his vitality – and, no doubt, his opinions. Travis McGee, however, is mostly just Travis McGee.

The hero says earnestly of himself, "I am wary of a lot of things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress and manifest destiny.

"I'm also wary of all earnestness," he adds with deadly aim at his own.

McGee lives on a plush houseboat called the Busted Flush -- which refers to the way McGee came to own her and not to her lavatory facilities which include a seven-foot-long sunken bathtub in excellent working order.

He does base acts for nearly-noble motives, nearly-noble acts for greed's sake -- and talks of himself with clear-eyed and conscious irony. He's fallible, sometimes weak, sometimes strong, often ridiculous. He can be vaguely puritanical, or outstandingly vicious. He's complex, contradictory, human.

At his best, he's an ironic inspector of his own interior who laughs loudest when he's taking himself most seriously.

No comments:

Post a Comment