Monday, October 05, 2009

Shades of McGee


Save for a couple of the hardbacks, all my Travis McGee books are either lent out -- which means gone forever -- or if they are paperbacks, in a box in the attic.

MacDonald also wrote a shitload of other novels in the adventure/thriller/detective arena, starting in 1950; as well as a few science fiction titles: Wine of the Dreamers, Ballroom of the Skies, and The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything. They'd all be in the same box.

I haven't revisited the older titles in a while, but whilst in Powell's yesterday, I came across a book-club omnibus consisting of: The Quick Red Fox, Pale Gray for Guilt, and Dress Her in Indigo, all from the sixties. Book was cheap, dust-jacket in okay condition, so I picked it up. It's a reader, not a collector.

In 1964, there were four Travis McGee books released, two in '65, two in '66. None in '67, but two in '68, and one or two a year from then until the last one in 1985. Fox was the fourth title. Guilt, the 9th, Indigo, the 11th. (They were all a lot shorter than most novels today, which was the norm for the time. And he was prolific.)

They will read as period pieces now --written and set in the pre-computer, pre-internet days of yore, but I'm looking forward to seeing how well they've held up. I confess I expect pretty well, not only because my eyes will be fogged with nostalgia, but because, in the words of the late Ted Sturgeon, "I don't believe he (MacDonald) ever wrote a bad book."

I regret that I never had a chance to meet the man. I did send him a copy of my first novel when it came out, given how much I swiped from him. He was on the road, but his secretary sent a note saying they'd gotten it. After he died, I traded a couple of letters with Dan Rowan, who had been MacDonald's buddy, gotten crosswise with him, but reconciled just before MacDonald died. There's a book of the letters those two exchanged.

MacDonald had a few movie deals that finally saw light -- couple Travis McGee things that, not to be impolite, stank on ice, mostly because of the casting. And the setting. And the writing. But other than that, they were pretty awful. Supposedly there's another one sort-of in the works.

Probably MacDonald's best transfer to the silver screen was The Executioners, which was done twice, both times as Cape Fear. First version started Gregory Peck, Polly Bergen, and Robert Mitchum, in 1962. Second version was in 1991, with Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and Robert De Niro.

First version, Mitchum was ball-chilling scary and you never really saw anything overtly nasty.
Second version, directed by Martin Scorcsese, in which case, more was considerably less. Marty is a great director, and De Niro a great actor, but it was no contest. Smartest thing Scorsese did was give Mitchum a part in the new movie.



13 comments:

Dan Moran said...

Interesting collection of titles. Wonder why those 3?

Pale Gray for Guilt was my first McGee novel. I read it when I was about 18 -- I'm pretty sure I was published already by the time I first read it, because my vague recollection is a sort of sense of my own ridiculousness -- after having worked "forever" to sell an SF story, here was this story that was almost the best thing I'd ever read, and it was set in the present day, and abruptly I didn't want to write SF as much.

I was hooked in the scene where Travis finds that his buddy Tush has been killed ... and instead of being shocked, abruptly slips into a golly gee whiz character who's not really that close a friend of Tush's, and probes to find out what's happened, all sociable and charming and completely, almost sociopathically icy underneath ...

With Puss Killian standing there to watch it all.

A genuinely great scene.

The word verification today is "mintshine." I like it.

Dan said...

Long time reader, first time commenter...

I first read the McGee books in college (c. 1988-1989)and loved them. I still re-visit them occasionally; I just re-read 'The Green Ripper' a few weeks ago. Dated? Sure, bot loads of fine.

Incidentally, I read somewhere on the intertubes that Leonardo DiCaprio has been cast as McGee.

Steve Perry said...

"Leonardo DiCaprio has been cast as McGee."

Oh, sweet jaysus, say it ain't so!

Sam Elliott was passable, Rod Taylor ... eh ... but DiCaprio?

jks9199 said...

Just a side note...

Isn't it interesting how often a "lent" book becomes a "given away" book...

Don Weiss said...

Love the series, first one I read was 'The Green Ripper' back in '80 when I stumbled onto the series....

Dan Moran said...

They might well be good movies, if you can forget that McGee is a 6'4" ex-pro football player.

I'll go see it.

Steve Perry said...

Not me. Not with DiCaprio. Probably put him on a sailboat out of SoCal, too ...

Might be a good movie -- he's a pretty good actor -- but as McGee?

Ick, Ick!

Anonymous said...

It having been over a decade since I've read a McGee I did indeed forget that he was a 6'4" ex-football player.

If I hate it, I blame you Dan!

Steve Perry said...

Don't blame Dan -- blame whoever cast the sucker.

Dan Moran said...

I refuse to be held responsible for this ... remarkable ... casting. Period, end of discussion.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I'm just playing.

But seriously, who among the movie going audience knows much about McGee, yeah sure, you two, me 15 years ago. Now? People aren't gonna care. And based on 'Body of Lies' I think he might actually pull off the essence of the character.

Dan Moran said...

Oh, I knew you weren't serious. And honestly, I could see diCaprio, who's a better actor than I ever imagined circa Titanic, carrying it off if they cast the thing with exquisite care -- I actually looked up diCaprio's height after hearing the news: he's 5'11. If every woman they cast is 5'2, and all the rest of the men are 5'6 - 5'8, he might make it work. Lifts in his shoes, careful framing ....

Seems like it'd be easier to cast someone big, but shit, they haven't made a decent McGee movie yet and have only tried twice in almost 50 years -- if diCaprio wants to do it and they cast him with care to make him look much bigger than he is, it could work.

But they're going to have to convince me, and it's not going to be easy.

Steve Perry said...

If he leans up, builds a little muscle, and the script doesn't suck, maybe DiCaprio. I thought he was shorter than 5'11".

I'll let Dan go see it first, and if he approves, I'll go.