Adventures in Paradise: Gardney McKay, his biography

Gardner McKay, alias Captain Adam Troy,
the world's first TV Star

His biography, a "Journey Without A Map"



His biography
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A man with originality, a sportsman, an artist and an intellectual...

age 5from left to right: Gardner, Grandmother Mom, father, mother, brother HughGeorge Cadogan Gardney McKay was born in New-York (United States) on the 10th of june 1932 (photo left at 5 years old).
Gardner came from a wealthy Episcopalian family. He was the second son, after Hugh the eldest, of Catherine and Hugh Dean McKay, who was an executive in a publicity firm. He was credited for the famous Lux toilet soap slogan "for that schoolgirl complexion".(photo right: Gardner's birthday party - age 3 - picture taken at their NYC apartment with Grandmother "Dear").

Gardner was said to be the grand-son of Donald McKay, a famous shipbuilder of Boston, who built over 70 clippers and schooners between 1841 and 1875.
In 1936, Gardner's father's company appointed him in Paris. That 's how in june, the whole McKay family boarded the "M/S Bremen" and left New-York for Europe , first of Gardner's many crossings, as between the age of 4 and 17, the young "Gardy" had already crossed the Atlantic 8 times and stayed in 13 different boarding-schools in the world.

First trips...
In Paris (8e), the family lived 20, rue Beaujon. The young Gardy, as some friends called him, together with Hugh were registered in a nearby private school. Like many young "parisiens", every thursdays and sundays were spent playing and running in the Paris Zoo or cycling in the "Bois de Vincennes" (Gardens and playgrounds), sometimes pushing his little wooden sailing boat across the Tuileries' ornamental lake (a forthcoaming passion?). In summer, he used to spend his holidays in Charente (countryside in the middle of France), at Denise's parents country farm (Denise was the Mckay's Paris maid).
Unfortunately three years passed quickly. In August 1939, just a few days before the 2nd World War was declared, father Hugh McKay decided to leave France and took all his family to Le Havre and boarded on the last Liner to New-York.
Back in the States, Gardner's passion for boats never left him. At 10 years old, he liked to spend his summer holidays canoeing along the Connecticut shores. He became an experienced sailor, and at 15 (1948), on board his own 19 footer small sailing boat "China Boy" in the Long Island waters, he loved to sail single-handed between the states of Connecticut and Maine (the boat will sink twice later). At 16, he steered his sail boat along the US east coast for 3 months to assert his independence.

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Talented...

In 1948, Gardner was registered at Darien High School (Connecticut). Darien was then a small town of about 10000 inhabitants on the coast. He stayed there only one year. His school results were not brilliant but nevertheless was voted "most popular boy" in class and became at 17 a star at the Lakemont Academy football team! Thereafter, Gard applied to enter at Harvard University, but did not get accepted. Finally his parents registered him at Cornell University of Ithaca (N.Y.), at about 150 miles north! A long way from the sea and boats, but also from his parents. There, he blossomed his natural talents for sport, writing and arts. He started out as a movie-critic journalist in the local "Cornell Daily Sun", and directed for some time the Campus magazine "The Widow" and wrote under the name of "I.Stempel", taken from a clerk who sold him shoes!
At 19, after his father died, he left Cornell University in spring term and returned to live a few months with his mother at 925 Park Avenue, Manhattan.

In 1952, after six months of advertising, inventing new TV and radio commercials, the young Gardner decided to settle in Greenwich Village (New-York), where he lived 3 years. Gardner McKay made good use of his university journalistic experience by writing numerous articles (in particular in speciallized yacht magazines), and managed to be a designer, an artist in publicity, record covers illustrator and a painter. His real passion was scupture, in which he exceled by building large mobiles. After one year of that artcraft and five major personal exhibitions, he left one of his works at the Modern Art Museum of New-York and another at the White Museum of Ithaca: a mobile of over 18 feet wide and 14 feet high built from 56 metallic pieces! (read extract of "Journey Without A Map")

Art did not give him enough to live on, and so photography helped him with the sale of fashion snapshots and portraits. Settled now in California, this new job enabled him to buy shares in a company called "Flair", owner of two top-model agencies (one in Los Angeles, and another in San Francisco), which company he became the general manager in 1963.

Dore Schary
Dore Schary
(1905-8
0)
From photography to movies...
In 1956, it was during one of his exhibitions that he attracted the attention of the photographer Richard Averdon, who invited him in Paris for a series of photos with Chanel's top-model of the time: Suzy Parker (her photo). That year the coincidence made that he was on board the french liner M/S "Ile de France" when she had sailed to rescue many passengers of the italian M/S "Andrea Doria", which sank after her tragic collision with M/S "Stockholm" (57 victims). The pictures he took from the rescue were published in The New York Times, Life and spread over the whole world.

That same year, back in New York, while entering the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to visit a friend, his looks caught the eye of Dore Schary, a major director of the MGM, who approached him in the hotel's elevator by handing over his business-card and invited him for a meeting the next day at the Studios. Gardner McKay was hired right away, at $250 a week, to play a part on "Raintree Country", but did not turn out to be in his favour, as he only made a very short appearance. Thereafter, Robert A. Cinader, Vice President of CNP, California National Productions (the west coast subsidary company of N.B.C.NY), signed him for playing in his TV series : Silent Service and Boots and Saddles and a few others (filmography). Due to McKay's lack of experience and in spite of his noticed great potential, CNP prefered to let him go.

After his resignation from MGM, McKay signed with 20th Century Fox at $350 a week, and played two scenes in the feature movie "Holiday for Lovers", but it seemed that movies didn't want him. It was TV which took the relay. As he was languidly reading a book of poetry in a coffee shop, he was spotted by Dominick Dunne, a 20th Century Fox TV executive producer, who was searching for an actor for the starring role of his future series "Adventures in Paradise". Dunne left his Fox business card on his table and said:"If you're interested in discussing a television series, call me." And he did. McKay passed screen tests with 9 other candidates. He was far from being the best in the part, but he had a great assets for the producers: his presence made the attraction of all (and especially the women!) and ...he knew perfectly how to make knots! His contract with Fox only concerned movies, and McKay had inserted previously a non-TV clause. They had to re-negotiate his contract... which result gave a good climb to his salary to $700 a week! He was hired and his - short- career as an actor began... When, in may 1959, the cameras began to roll on the series, McKay was about to be 27.
Dominick Dunne


World's first TV star

Although unknown to the puiblic, McKay had his picture on 1959 july 6 Life magazine's cover, before even the TV series went in the air only 2 months later. This publicity, repeated by many other magazines throughout the country (like Time magazine on 21st september issue), launched the show and McKay's fame.
The first 5 months of shooting did not run as smoothly as expected. McKay had hard times to keep the rythm of long hours of scene-play. The production thought in december to make Ron Ely (future TV Tarzan) his co-star. To lift his strain, Charles Conrad, a drama teacher, was assigned by Fox as from october 59. He helped McKay to get back on pace of the hard daily shooting.

At the end of the first season, McKay's acting not beeing in the "professionnal line", critics were not giving much to his future career. But when the 2nd season started, they suddenly changed their mind. Why? It was not because the scripts had changed. Only McKay had worked a lot in the Studios, for many many long hours (sometimes upto 70 hours per week), not counting the time at home studying the dialogues. McKay was in nearly every scene, mostly tiring physically, which could sometimes be seen in a few episodes of the first season.
n spite of much criticism from some reviews, the high rythm in shooting , his difficulties to play in front of prestigious and renowned actors and actresses, the repeating scenes which weakened his lines, the directors each time different for each episode, each with their own working methode; in spite of all that, McKay had the great courage to hold on his part and nevertheless improved his acting, suggesting even sometimes humourous words in the dialogues. Finally, even if the critics were not tender with him, the producers on the other hand, were not hesitating to pay on his looks by letting his shirt open to show his strong chest for the pleasure of ladies viewers’! Results: Fox Studios had to hire more staff for their mailing department as 5,000 fan letters (more than Marylin Monroe in the best of her fame!), were received per week (95 % love letters from girls and the rest from men... who wanted to know technical details on the Tiki!).

It was definitely his role as Adam Troy in this 3 season series that made him earn over 150,000 US dollars per year and brought him immediate fame. In spite of that, he changed (nearly) nothing to his life. He bought a white convertible Chevy and had no press or private agent. During those days he lived in a small rented hours in Benedict canyon.

Gifted for art, he was just as skilful in sports. He practiced horse-riding, hunting, deep-sea diving, fishing and basketball which he regularly played in Hollywood, as manager and captain of the "RED FOXES" of the 20th Century Fox**. His red sweat team shined in the best positionnings at the local championship, with in its ranks other great actors such as: James Garner, Ricky Nelson, Don Murray, Pat Boone and the olympic champion Rafer Johnson.

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Gardner McKay loved animals and in particular his Hollywood life companion, a 45 pound hairy white griffon dog named strangely "Pussycat" (photo), which was the first dog after Rin-Tin-Tin allowed to have his entries everywhere in the Studios. Later, after his stardom period, he had goats but also lions, which were accomodated in Tujunga Park due to too much complaints for the neighborhood.. Isn't it original?

End of Hollywood and its superficial world of glamour...

In spite of his fulgurant success in the series, and consequently enormous fame, Gardner McKay knew pretty well that he was not a professionnal actor. The 91 episodes, "swallowed" in less than three years, working 6 days a week and 10 hours a day, did not leave him time to "breathe" and to improve, like studying play-acting. Knowing that people were hiring him more for his looks than for his comedian talent, he declined all offers for new TV series and even films, like the one with Marylin Monroe (see anecdotes).

In spring 1962, and as soon as ended the series, Gardner McKay, in spite of previous plans with 20th for pictures (A Watcher In The Shadows and The Great St. Bernard), decided to leave the twilight of stardom for long lonesome trips in the Antilles, and so, escape from the pressure of hollywood's medias. Cameras slung over his shoulder, he started his journey in the Dutch Antilles, then spent almost two years in the Amazon, walking or on the back of a horse across Venezuela and climbing Angel Falls (South Venezuela). Together with indians, he has rowed up the Amazon river upto Belem. Finally, a little thinner and healthily tired, he came back to Benedict Canyon, back to his dogs "Pussycat", bringing home an impressive number of pictures and meters of film (not forgetting a little monkey from Brazil named "Fink" - his photo); but also he brought back intellectually a better picture of himself (no pun!). "I never knew what I was looking for, only what I was not looking for" he said later (1999 People Magazine).

He travelled again to Mexico, then the Pacific to participate at the Newport-Ensenada regata, which he won on "Pattycat".

In august 1963, after five months in Paris promoting the TV series, his artistic career was at a decisive turning point when he played the leading role in a play called We're No Angels (with Mia Farrow, as partner), written by French Alfred Husson. Gardner McKay took the part of Alfred the convict, earlier played in the Michael Curtiz's film by Aldo Ray, with Humphrey Bogard and Peter Ustinov. Two weeks performance in Colombus and Warren (Ohio), brought him $ 15.000, not counting the percentage on the profits! Public and critics were charmed. This tour gave him a new challenge and the pleasure to hold nearly two hours live in front of a "black hole" filled with an audience of 2700 spectators each evening! (Warren Kenley Theater). A discovery which will lead him to make a brilliant career in play-acting and play-writing.

Beginning september 63, journey to Alexandria (Egypt): Invited by a television festival, McKay was asked to return to Egypt the following year for some film projects, to be produced by the president Nasser himself. After a new short stay in Paris, McKay returns to Egypt with new ideas of film producing.

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April 64: after a fortnight in Rome, he returned to Paris for two days to sing and tape, at Pathé-Marconi record company, his first and only single record (later issued in 50000 copies), made of 4 songs of his own composition (all in french): "Ile Saint Louis", "L'ocean", "Cala Di Volpe", "C'est vrai" (Its true).
A few days rest at home in California and then starts the first shooting in Madrid (Spain) of McKay's first real movie: "The Pleasure Seekers". The year 1965-67 will be punctuated by plays such as "Dial M for Murder" (from which Hitchcock had made his film in 1954 with Grace Kelly), "The Fantasticks" and "Any Wednesday" with Loretta Swit (read "fiancees section"). Long endless film projects such as Hurricane Summer with Ursula Andress never came through. All that did not prevent him to move from Laurel Canyon to buy a new house at Cherokee Lane in Beverly Hills, with 3 bedrooms, a one and a half acres park for his three dogs (of which Pussycat and Captain Chicken), his deers and wild cats (in cages, of course!) and a huge garage for his three cars: a Chevrolet, a Rolls Royce and a Facel Vega, bought in France in 63 or 64.There for twelve years he raised African lions, cheetah, ocelots and mountain lions.

In 1970, Gardner McKay, perhaps tired of not getting any results from his movie projects, left Hollywood and its glittering world for a round the world journey. In 1973, returned to the States, in L.A., he wrote and directed a play called "Me" perfomed by Gearldine Fidgerald and Richard Dreyfuss. In 1977, McKay worked as a photographer, drama critic and theater editor for the "Angeles Herald Examiner" (1979-1981), then a playwriting teacher at a UCLA extension course. He wrote "Sea Marks", play which won the Los Angeles Drama Critic's Award for best play in 1979 (see more in the filmography section).


In 1983, still a bachelor (in spite of the many fiancees the newspapers had given him), he marries finally irish origined Madeleine Madigan (photo right), a cook and caterer by profession and a painter by passion (see her artwork), whom he first met in Hawaii in 1980. They travelled throughout the world and leased their Beverly Hills home. They lived a year in London, and back in Los Angeles for a few years, before settling their home in 1987 at Koko Head (at about 5 milles from Honolulu Hawaii), on a hill with a magnificient view overlooking the mountains and the Pacific ocean. Often, McKay was seen going out in his kayak and canoe along the shore, just as he did as a child in Connecticut.
He taught playwriting at UCLA and later at University of Hawaï. He wrote poems and plays. (see the writer works).

From 1995 to 2000, McKay had his own weekly radio show every sunday on Hawaï Radio with Stories on ther Wind. He used to read short stories for the listeners.
(Click to load and hear his own voice! - mp3/340Kb) / Another extract (827Kb).

Struck by prostate cancer, he continued to write at Koko Head. During his last weeks, Gardner and Madeleine were working together on "Journey Without a Map", his biography (Extracts). With her brother-in-law, Brian Madigan, they alternatively typed on computer and Gardner, who could not move in his bed dictated the words for them**.
Perhaps through that title, Gardner McKay wanted to tell us how he "sailed" on the sea of life, without any premeditation, without any guide, only as circumstances, luck or fortunes dictated him...?

Gardner McKay died on wednesday November 21st 2001 at 5:30 a.m.

Gardner's ashes are now interred with his fathers in the family vault in Louisville cemetry in the state of Kentucky (Hebron Cemetery, Shepherdsville, Bullitt County, Kentucky, USA. (photo of his grave).
Photo Mrs Madigan McKayMadeleine Madigan
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After Gardner died, Brian Madigan came for several weeks to work on the book with Madeleine, who continued alone for a further three months**.

The book "Journey Without A Map" is now finished and published (Read more here...).

Aita aramoe*

Additional info:

  • Gardner McKay was rhesus regative: Rare! (only about 1% of the world population).
  • His nickname in college was "Moose McKay". His close friends used to call him "Gardy".

    Read a few anecdotes..

*"not forgotten" in tahitian

**On Feb 2005, in order to be correct with reality, the above biography and the "Girlfriends" page were corrected here and there by Gardner's widow Mrs Madeleine McKay.

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Young Gardner McKay maneuvering
On board "TIKI" for a publicity

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