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from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Man of Mystery (Part 4)

John D. MacDonald,
1916-1986
So ... obsessions with Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert B. Parker.  We had ignition; we had liftoff.

Next, I think, was John D. MacDonald, whose Travis McGee novels (all with a color in the title: The Lonely Silver Rain, Bright Orange for the Shroud, The Green Ripper, etc.).  (Link to Travis McGee titles)  I joyfully read all of them--and once again had to weep when MacDonald died in 1986.  No more Travis McGees!  When I taught freshman English at Western Reserve Academy (1979-1981) I used a quotation from a McGee novel as a writing prompt.  Here's the passage (from Bright Orange for the Shroud, 1965):

When I walked into the big drugstore on Fifth Avenue in Naples [Florida], I was slightly surprised to see that it was not yet nine o'clock.  There were some rowdy teenagers at one of the counter sections, and I sat as far from them as possible.  I like them fine in smaller units.  But when they socialize, showing off for each other, they sadden me.  The boys punch and shove, and repeat each comment in their raw uncertain baritone over and over until finally they have milked the last giggle from their soft little girls with the big, spreading, TV butts.  And they keep making their quick cool appraisals of the environment to make certain they have a properly disapproving audience of squares.  And have you noticed how many fat kids there are lately?  And the drugstore comedians are usually the rejects.  The good ones, as in any year, are taut, brown, earnest, and have many other things to do, and can even--unthinkably--endure being alone.  This little fat-pack was nearing the end of their school year and, predictably, would slob around all summer, with a few of them impregnating each other.  They would dutifully copy the outlook and mannerisms of their momentary idols.  Some of them would check out this summer as a bloody stain on a bridge approach.  The survivors, ten years hence, would wonder how come their luck was turning so bad, why life wasn't giving them any kind of break at all.

Well!

You can imagine how a room full of fourteen-year-olds would respond to this!  I asked my students to write a reply to Travis McGee--agreeing, disagreeing, whatever.  Let me just say that through their pieces--at least most of them--surged a torrent of emotion that's generally absent, say, from five-paragraph essays about The Scarlet Letter.  Authentic emotion.  Nice to experience in a pile of papers.

On 15 October 1979, Time magazine published a piece about MacDonald (the Pope was on the cover): "The Mid-Life Surge of McGee," which is somewhat a review of The Green Ripper and an overview of MacDonald's McGee series.  The first two sentences say this: Locked inside a beige file cabinet in Sarasota, Fla., is an unfinished manuscript entitled A Black Border for McGee.  May it never be published.

The book deals with the death of Travis McGee, an event MacDonald once said would occur after the tenth novel.  He published twenty-one.  So much for auctorial vows!

Travis has not been much of a hit at the movies.  1970 saw Darker Than Amber with Rod Taylor as McGee.  (I didn't see it--not yet!  Not on Netflix.  Not on eBay.  Grrrrr.)  And in the cast?  What an assortment: Theodore Bickel and Jane Russell!  My Fair Lady meets The Outlaw?!?!

There was one (for TV) in 1983 (co-written by MacDonald and Sterling Silliphant) based on The Empty Copper Sea.  Sam Elliott played McGee; Andrew V. McLaglen directed.  I saw it.  It sucked.  And IMBD tells me that there's a new McGee film in the works directed by Paul Greengrass (who's done a couple of Jason Bourne movies, Green Zone, and United 93)--with Leonardo DiCaprio as McGee.  Now that is a casting that gives me pause ...  Like the recent casting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher (from the Lee Child novels) ... don't get me started.

The Time piece notes that MacDonald wrote on an IBM Selectric (so did I!) and that he liked to write in his summer fishing camp in the Adirondacks (so didn't I!).  And at the end, MacDonald lists all sorts of colors that he would one day write about.

His obituary in the New York Times (Link to obit--29 Dec 1986) notes that MacDonald wrote about 70 books and some 500 short stories.  It also notes that all the later McGee books were on bestseller lists--some going to Number One.  There is no mention, however, of the "black" book.  Nor has it appeared since.  Apparently (according to one blogger) his wife has said the book does not exist.

Which means, of course, that it does.  (The definition of a lie is a truth that you don't want to hear.)   Too bad Travis McGee isn't around to find it for us.


TO BE CONTINUED

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