Deep Blue Good-by Film in Deep Trouble: Fate Uncertain with Bale Bailing

April 27, 2015

I was just skimming through the Collider blog earlier this afternoon, when I spotted their story on big trouble with the Blue movie that was to have started filming in the next month. The production will not be going forward at this time.

Apparently, Christian Bale recently sustained a knee injury that will make filming of the action-oriented suspense tale impossible. Re. Travis McGee, Bale is out and unlikely to return to the film. Efforts have been made to replace him, but with no success.

Here’s what The Hollywood Reporter said:

“The Deep Blue Goodbye project has been in development since the late 1990s, with Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass among those slated to direct. Leonardo DiCaprio was at one point set to star and is one of the producers. With years of development invested, Fox is not likely to bid adieu to Goodbye for good.

“Sources say the studio and producers at Chernin Entertainment as well as Appian Way tried to salvage the project by quickly finding another lead. Brad Pitt was among those approached but could not do it, thus leading to the painful decision to cut bait.”

You can read the article here.

Talk about a star-crossed project. One begins to wonder if we’ll ever see our man Trav up on the silver screen.

From Steve Scott’s Trap of Solid Gold: A McGee Chronology

April 10, 2015

My introduction to the works of John D MacDonald occurred back in the early 1970’s when a friend of mine insisted that I read a book he had just finished and found enthralling. It was April Evil and it began for me a long love affair with the author’s writing. I was aware that MacDonald had a series character with at least fifteen titles and decided to tackle them next. I read them in the order they had been published, and when I finished I started on the “stand alone” novels, beginning at the beginning and carefully obeying the proper publication order (which was not easy then) until I had finished the appropriately titled The Last One Left. I’m that kind of reader and I suspect there are many of you out there who are similarly afflicted.

But just as my presumed order of the stand alone novels was probably in error, so too was my reading of the Travis McGee books, at least in relation to the world and timelines established within the works themselves. We readers presume that McGee’s adventures in, say,  Mexico (Gold) took place before his dangerous stay in Naples (Orange) because Gold was published before Orange. But that is not necessarily the case. Peppered throughout all of the McGee books are dates and clues in the form of references to other events that date these adventures within their own little world. And, in the early novels at least, the chronology is much different than the publication order. It took the painstaking work of a Travis McGee fan named Allan D Pratt to get it all right and place the stories in their proper order. Using identifiable dates used in the books and references to various characters and real-world events, Pratt put together a new chronology, complete with the timelines within each novel, placing them in a new and unique context. He published his work in the Spring 1980 issue The Armchair Detective and called it “The Chronology of the Travis McGee Novels.”

Pratt presumed that it was quite likely that MacDonald had his own chronology, constructed “to avoid trapping himself in contradictions,” and that does seem quite likely. But since the author never revealed this working aid and, in fact, never mentioned having invented one, it fell on Pratt to go through each of the novels and, using all of the calendars from the 1940’s through 1980, specifically date each of them, not only when they took place but when each one began and ended. His one assumption in the dating of these books was that the action in any of them could not have begun after the novel’s actual copyright date. Only a handful of them end in a year following the copyright.

To read the rest of Steve’s post, just click here.

McGee Movie News: Clues from IMDb

March 25, 2015

As any serious movie fan knows, the IMDb website is where you go to glean info on what actors, directors, screenwriters, and other cinema pros are up to. My wife Sue just checked out the IMDb listing for The Deep Blue Good-by, and came up with several new items.

The first, biggest news is that Meyer has tentatively been cast. Peter Dinklage apparently has the role.

But Meyer, you protest, is not in The Deep Blue Good-by, is he?

Nope, he is not. He doesn’t make a major supporting appearance for another five or six books. Which suggests that the first McGee novel is about to be Hollywoodized. To this hardcore McGee fan, this is a little discouraging.

On the plus side, IMDb refers to World War II treasure. If there’s WWII loot in the story, it means Cathy Kerr’s dad and the villain Junior Allen were WWII vets. Which hints that the film is being shot as a period story—in the mid-1960s. That would be good.

The other interesting bit of news in this listing is that the film is in pre-production for release in 2016. That suggests a pretty quick turnover.

Of course, my tea-leaf reading could be totally wrong on all these points. I welcome your interpretations.

To do your own tea-leaf reading at IMDb, just click here.

From Steve Scott’s Trap of Solid Gold: Muñequita

March 25, 2015

Blogger’s Note: This week we’re on a theme of McGee transportation. A couple of days ago Kevin Comer wrote about Trav’s unique wheels: that Rolls Royce pickup, Miss Agnes. Today, we’re talking about Muñequita, McGee’s little runabout. Steve Scott, of the superb Trap of Solid Gold blog, was kind enough to let me repost the opening of his piece on Muñequita. You can read the whole thing by clicking the link at the bottom.

Once John D MacDonald began writing the Travis McGee novels in 1964 he went on to produce eight of them over a period of three years before publishing another stand-alone novel. That book was The Last One Left, a terrific hardcover suspense tale that spanned 369 pages and which featured a dedication to a fictional character: Travis McGee, of course. (“I dedicate this novel to Travis McGee who lent invaluable support and encouragement.”) But that dedication wasn’t the only connection to the Fort Lauderdale salvage expert. Readers of the novel in 1967 wouldn’t know it for another year, but a prominent character in the book eventually makes its way into the McGee canon with the very next installment, Pale Gray for Guilt. That character was a boat, named Muñequita, which is Spanish for Little Doll. It went on to become a semi-regular feature of the series.


Readers first meet Muñequita early in The Last One Left, and it is not under good circumstances. The 22-foot T-Craft is adrift in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Florida. From the author’s description it is obviously a special craft.

Under considerably more power this same T-Craft hull design had won some savage ocean races. Fiberglass, teak, aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, perhaps ten thousand dollars for such a special plaything. With the twin Chrysler-Volvo inboard, outboards, 120 horsepower each, she could scat at forty-seven miles an hour, the deep Vee hull slicing through the chop, the wake flat… With her fuel capacity increased by the two saddle tanks to over eighty gallons, at her cruising speed of thirty-two miles an hour, the engines turning at 4500 rpm, her maximum range was almost three hundred miles, without safety factor… She had been bought on whim and loaded with extras — convertible top… searchlight, rod holders, windshield wipers, bow rails, anchor chocks, electric horn, screens, a transistorized Pearce-Simpson ship-to-shore radio tucked under the Teleflex instrument panel, pedestal helmsman’s seats, two bunks and a head fitted into the small area forward…  The graceful hull was a medium Nassau  blue, her topsides white with just enough trace of smoke blue to cut the sunglare… She had lifted and dipped and danced her way with an agile grace which matched her name. Muñequita. Little Doll.

I’m giving nothing away by revealing that the owner of the Muñequita in The Last One Left does not survive. And that’s where Travis comes in.

To read the rest of Steve’s post—and to sample other JDM and McGee treasures in the Trap—just click here.

Guest Post: Travis McGee & Safe Driving

March 23, 2015


By Kevin Comer

Detroit has never even caught up with the 1923 Rolls, to say nothing of the ones of Miss Agnes’s vintage.

— grousing in The Turquoise Lament (1973)

McGee’s ride is no Bond car. Miss Agnes is introduced in the series inaugural, The Deep Blue Good-by (1964):

… I believe she is the only Rolls Royce in America which has been converted into a pickup truck. She is vintage 1936, and apparently some previous owner had some unlikely disaster happen to the upper half of her rear end and solved the problem in an implausible way. She is one of the big ones, and in spite of her brutal surgery retains the family knack of going eighty miles an hour all day long in a kind of ghastly silence. Some other idiot had her repainted a horrid electric blue. When I found her squatting, shame-faced , in the back row of a gigantic car lot, I bought her at once and named her after a teacher I had in the fourth grade whose hair was that same shade of blue.

Miss Agnes may cruise all day at 80, but it takes her a while to get up to speed and just as long to stop, as McGee explains in Pale Gray for Guilt (1968): 

My elderly Rolls pickup, Miss Agnes, was as agile as ever, which meant about 40 seconds from a dead stop to sixty miles an hour. And she had the same reluctance to come to a stop once she was humming along. So she and I were slowly becoming a highway hazard, the narrow shaves getting narrower…

A narrow shave in The Long Lavender Look (1970) proves a bit too much during a late night run down a Florida backroad when a semi-nude woman erupts from the roadside shrubbery:

I wasn’t prepared for the creature of the night that suddenly appeared out of the blackness, heading from left to right, at a headlong run. At eighty, you are covering about a hundred and twenty feet per second. She was perhaps sixty feet in front of the car when I first saw her. So half of one second later, when I last saw her, she was maybe ten inches from the flare of my front right fender, and that ten inches was the product of the first effect of my reaction time. Ten inches of living space instead of that bone-crunching, flesh-smashing thud which, once heard, lingers forever in the part of the mind where echoes live.

And I became very busy with Miss Agnes. She put her back end onto the left shoulder, and then onto the right shoulder. The swinging headlights showed me the road once in a while. I could not risk touching the brake. This was the desperate game of steering with the skid each time, and feeding her a morsel of gas for traction whenever she was coming back into alignment with the highway. I knew I had it whipped, and knew that each swing was less extreme.

Then a rear tire went and I lost her for good. The back end came around and there was a shriek of rubber, crashing of brush, a bright cracking explosion inside my skull, and I was vaguely aware of being underwater, disoriented, tangled in strange objects, and aware of the fact that it was not a very good place to be. I did not feel any alarm. Just a mild distaste, an irritation with my situation.

While McGee dispels suspicions of involvement in the murder of recently paroled Frank Baither, young Ron Hatch pounds out the dings with a rubber mallet, imports rare parts from a Miami dealer, and repaints Miss Agnes a more becoming shade of blue. In the end, she’s as good as new, but no more agile.

In Turquoise, Travis describes the upgrades he’s been compelled to make, despite the near sacrilege of such changes:

I felt that I had violated the integrity of the old Rolls by having her rebuilt to contemporary highway standards. Ever since I had dumped her into a drainage canal to avoid hitting a fleet-footed girl in the night, I had been upgrading all the hidden parts. Now she had the big engine lifted out of a 1972 Mark IV Continental that was totaled. Rebuilding the engine with both stock and custom power assists had meant a new gear train and a new rear end. Then she had more power than the suspension and the brakes could handle. So we installed a suspension out of the biggest Dodge pickup, along with power disc brakes all the way around. Of course I had to change to a twelve-volt system, and put in two heavy-duty batteries and a heavy-duty alternator. After several weird improvisations, we rigged a power steering system that worked well enough. There was enough extra horsepower to borrow some to run a really efficient air-conditioning system…

But unless I had either got rid of her or upped her performance, the traffic was going to kill me…

Fear of being killed in traffic causes McGee to become exasperated with DEA agent Scott Browder in The Lonely Silver Rain (1985):

Browder was a fast driver and not a good driver. He would get too close to a slow-moving vehicle before edging out to take a look down the highway. When he passed he cut in quickly even with nothing approaching and nothing bullying him from behind. The expert driver moves out into the passing lane when he is at least fifteen car lengths from the vehicle he is passing. Then he can move back without haste if it is not a good time to pass. Once by, he makes his angle of return to his lane as long and gradual as is consistent with what is ahead of and behind him. The good driver takes his foot off the gas when there is anything ahead he does not understand. We came to a place where big green branches had been cut and put in the oncoming lane. It was a warning. There was a disabled VW camper with branches in the road behind it as well, a hundred yards and more from the camper. Browder didn’t slow. As we approached at high speed he saw a tanker truck beginning to turn out to pass the camper. It was coming toward us. Browder accelerated and got as far to the right as he could. We brushed the jungle as we sped by the big high bumper of the tanker truck. Browder yelled curses. “Goddamn maniac truck driver!” he hollered.

I said, “You are a rotten driver.” This is like telling someone he has no sense of humor, or that he’s a poor judge of character.

Travis has no such concerns, however, when Meyer is behind the wheel in Cinnamon Skin (1982):

He said I had best not talk to him in the noon-time traffic. I soon saw what he meant. We came whining down the Eastex Parkway at sixty-four miles an hour, because that was the average speed of the dense stampede in which we were enclosed. It is a fact of highway life that each heavily traveled road establishes its own cadence. The great pack of candy-colored compacts, pickups , vans, delivery trucks, taxicabs, and miscellaneous wheeled junk flowed in formation, inches apart, through the gleam, stink, grinding roar, and squinty glitter of a July noontime, through a golden sunshine muted to brass by smog. What the traffic consultants seem unable to comprehend is that heavy traffic makes its own rules because nobody can nip in and pull anybody over to the side without setting up a shock wave that would scream tires and crumple fenders for a mile back down the road. California discovered this first. It is probably a more important discovery than est or redwood hot tubs…

Once you have the concept of the pack making the law, driving the urban interstates is simplified. You maintain just that distance from the vehicle ahead which will give you braking room yet will not invite a car from a neighbor lane to cut in. You pick the center lanes because some of the clowns leaving the big road on the right will start to slow down far too soon. You avoid the left lane when practical because when they have big trouble over there on the other side of the median strip, the jackass who comes bounding over across the strip usually totals somebody in the left lane. When you come up the access strip onto the big road, you make certain that you have reached the average speed of all the traffic before you edge into it. Keep looking way way ahead for trouble, and when you see it put on your flashing emergency lights immediately so that the clown behind you will realize you are soon going to have to start slowing down.

Meyer did well, hunched forward, hands gripping the wheel at ten o’clock and two o’clock.

Guest Post: Travis McGee & the War on Drugs

March 9, 2015


By Kevin Comer

I said I didn’t mind, so she got a saved butt out of a little box in the nightstand drawer, good for five deep drags, well spaced, then pressed it out and came back down to me with that sad, sweet, oriental tang on her breath.

— Billie Jean Bailey tokes up in The Empty Copper Sea (1978)

Travis McGee is no prude when it comes to recreational drug use. This is probably to be expected. It’s likely you couldn’t be berthed downwind of the Alabama Tiger’s permanent floating house party aboard the ‘Bama Gal without often being treated to the sweet scent of Mary Jane in the ‘60s and ‘70s. McGee tells us exactly where he stands in regard to marijuana in The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974) when Meyer asks him outright: “… Do you disapprove of a person using the weed?”

“Me? I think people should do whatever they want to do, provided they go to the trouble of informing themselves first of any possible problems. Once they know, then they can solve their own risk-reward ratios. Suppose somebody proved it does some kind of permanent damage. Okay. So the user has to figure it out if there is any point in his remaining in optimum condition for a minimum kind of existence. For me, it was relaxing, in a way, the couple of times I’ve had enough to feel it. But it gave me the giggles, warped my time sense, and made things too bright and hard-edged. Also it bent dimensions somehow. Buildings leaned just a little bit the wrong way. Rooms were not perfectly oblong any more. It’s a kind of sensual relaxation, but it gave me the uneasy feeling somebody could come up behind me and kill me and I would die distantly amused instead of scared witless.”

McGee seems to have suffered from the paranoia often experienced by the occasional pot smoker. His drug of choice will remain expensive imported gin, which presumably did not effect temporal or spacial perception, nor lead to fits of giggling. Nonetheless, he takes his typical libertarian stance with regard to behavior and responsibility.

Travis McGee was much more concerned about the unintended consequences of society’s punitive response to the recreational use of drugs other than alcohol. We first become aware of these concerns in Dress Her in Indigo (1969). Seated comfortably in first class on a flight bound for Mexico City, Travis studies the dossiers prepared by T. Harlen Bowie’s investigators for each of Bix Bowie’s companions on her ill-fated trip to Mexico and discovers one of them had narrowly escaped conviction for marijuana possession due to a break in the chain of evidence. Travis reflects on the actions of the judge:

And that, of course , is the tragic flaw in the narcotics laws— that possession of marijuana is a felony. Regardless of whether it is as harmless as some believe, or as evil and vicious as others believe, savage and uncompromising law is bad law, and the good and humane judge will jump at any technicality that will keep him from imposing a penalty so barbaric and so cruel. The self-righteous pillars of church and society demand that “the drug traffic be stamped out” and think that making possession a felony will do the trick. Their ignorance of the roots of the drug traffic is as extensive as their ignorance of the law.

Let’s say a kid in Florida, a college kid eighteen years old, is picked up with a couple of joints on him. He is convicted of possession, which is an automatic felony, and given a suspended sentence. What has he lost? The judge who imposes sentence knows the kid has lost the right to vote, the right right to own a gun, the right to run for public office. He can never become a doctor, dentist, C.P.A., engineer, lawyer, architect, realtor, osteopath, physical therapist, private detective, pharmacist, school teacher, barber, funeral director, masseur, or stock broker. He can never get any job where he has to be bonded or licensed. He can’t work for the city, county, or federal governments . He can’t get into West Point, Annapolis, or the Air Force Academy. He can enlist in the military, but will be denied his choice of service, and probably be assigned to a labor battalion.

It is too rough. It slams too many doors. It effectively destroys the kid’s life. It is too harsh a penalty for a little faddist experimentation. The judge knows it. So he looks for any out, and then nothing at all happens to the kid. Too many times harsh law ends up being, in effect, no law at all. All automatic felony laws are, without exception, bad law, from the Sullivan Act in New York State, to the hit and run in California . They destroy the wisdom and discretion of the Court, and defeat the purposes they are meant to serve.

Although McGee refers to faddish experimentation, the dark side of drug use figures prominently in the plot of Indigo. He and Meyer discover a wide swath of destruction and degradation involving heroin, pharmaceuticals, and cannabis in Mexico. This is often the case in the series. In Copper, PCP is destroying lives in Timber Bay. In The Lonely Silver Rain (1985), brash undercover DEA agent Scott Browder is motivated by a teenage daughter in a vegetative state from an overdose. A reader would not come away convinced JDM thought drug use benign.

As the market for recreational drugs exploded, Florida became a major conduit for product from Latin America and the Caribbean. Initially, many of those involved in the drug trade were amateurs attracted by the chance to make a quick buck. There was an air of romance not even T. McGee is entirely immune to: In Lemon, he recalls his thinking when acquaintance Boo Brodey tried recruiting him into the trade:

…If you make it with grass, you find out that hash and coke are more portable and profitable. You kid yourself into the next step, and by the time they pick you up, your picture in the paper looks like some kind of degenerate, fangs and all. And all you can say is, gee, the other guys were doing it too.

If I were really going to do it, I would refit the Muñequita for long-range work. Tune her for lowest gas consumption and put in bigger tanks. She’s already braced to bang through seas most runabouts can’t handle. Then I would …

Whoa, McGee. There is larceny in every heart, and you have more than your share. So forget how far it is across the Yucatan Straits, leaving from Key West.

However as the drug trade matures, it becomes a $70B a year business controlled by ruthless organized crime rings. In Silver—published 30 years ago—Travis runs afoul of these forces when his discovery of the bodies of three young drug runners on a stolen yacht results in his being marked for death. In his effort to escape the crosshairs, McGee unleashes a violent gang war. As the bodies pile up, he’s following the action in the newspapers when Meyer brings a NYT op-ed written by a former employee of the DEA to his attention, which says in part:

“A vast and deadly infrastructure provides it [cocaine] — from the plucking of the leaves of the highland bushes to the tiny gold straw that sucks a line into the delicate nostril of a mayor’s mistress in Oregon and makes her eyes sparkle. Within the present context, nothing can stop it. The losses of officialdom are within the limits, say, of spoilage in the vegetable business. It has been brought in by drone aircraft, radio-controlled. It has been brought in by one-man submarine. It has been shot ashore by slingshot from freighters docking at Tampa. Even were importation to be punished by death it would still go on, because the lifetime wages of a laborer can be carried in a single pocket.

“The only possible solution to this deadly trade is to ignore it. Legalize it along with marijuana. Then the infrastructure will sag and collapse. It will no longer be fashionable. Street dealers will no longer hustle new customers on high school sidewalks. And men won’t die in the squalid massacres we have seen recently in southeast Florida.

“But maybe it is too late for legalization. The bureaucracy of detection and control has a huge national payroll. Florida’s economy is as dependent on Lady Caine as it is on cattle or fishing. Legalization will be fought bitterly by politicians who will say that to do so will imperil our children. Are they not now imperiled?”

McGee Movie News: Rosamund Pike Onboard the Flush?

February 28, 2015

News of the prospective McGee movie, The Deep Blue Good-by, has been nonexistent for many a long month. But in the last few days, word comes that Rosamund Pike—fresh from an Oscar nomination for Gone Girl—is circling the new film. It’s not clear whether she’s going to take on Cathy or Lois. It’s also apparent that Christian Bale continues to be the man for McGee.



You can read the story here.

Guest Post: Travis McGee & the Generation Gap Part 2

February 23, 2015


By Kevin Comer

In the last few years I had been ever more uncomfortably aware that one day, somewhere, I would take one last breath and a great iron door would slam shut, leaving me in darkness on the wrong side of life. But now there was a window in that door. A promise of light. A way to continue.

— Travis McGee consoles himself in The Lonely Silver Rain (1985).

In Dress Her in Indigo (1969), Travis McGee and Meyer meet wheelchair-bound T. Harlen Bowie in his suite at an upscale assisted living facility, where he explains his reasons for wanting them to investigate the life wayward daughter Bix led in Mexico before her death:

“Mr. McGee, I know damned little about what my daughter, Bix, felt and thought and believed. I’ve had a lot of time to think. And a lot of the thinking has been painful. Appraisal of myself as a father—very, very poor…”

In a 1967 journal entry, JDM laments his similarity to his father: “He appears most often when I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror at such an angle that the look of my mouth and jaw reminds me of him and it always makes me despise myself instantaneously, then tell myself what else can you expect from genetics, for God’s sake, and was he so bad of a man? What kind of a man was he? I am afraid I shall never be able to determine that, but I will be able to accept the fact that I cannot appraise him truly. I cannot root him out of me in certain physical ways, nor in certain habits of mind and emotion, I expect. It seems wasteful to have to keep trying, or wanting to try.”

For his part, JDM’s father, Eugene, had occasion to write of JDM: “I can see myself in him in so many different ways.”

Born in 1888 in New Haven, Connecticut, Eugene MacDonald was a completely self-made man. The son of a violent and impoverished father who worked as a gardener and handyman, Eugene lifted himself up by his bootstraps in the spirit of his guiding light, the novels of Horatio Alger. He wrote in an unpublished memoir: “The stories gave me confidence, hope and ambition.”

Eugene started working at age 14, yet completed high school with excellent grades. He seems to have been able to make a very favorable impression on people. A congressman on his paper route—one of several concurrent jobs—offered to sponsor him for West Point; another customer arranged a scholarship to Yale. Concern for his mother kept him from accepting either opportunity.

After using his meager savings to finance the family’s escape from his father’s rages to his uncle’s home in Washington, D. C., Eugene gradually worked his way up in the world through a myriad of odd jobs and correspondence courses. By the time JDM was born in 1916, he had entered the middle class.

Eugene’s big break came in 1918, when while moonlighting as an accountant, he discovered his wealthy client had overpaid his taxes by $100,000 ($2,380,000 in 2015 dollars, but that’s another matter). The grateful client made him secretary-treasurer of his rail tank car business. At age 30, Eugene was in the money.

When that firm fell on hard times, Eugene joined the Savage Arms Company in Utica, New York as a vice-president and treasurer where he remained for the rest of his career.

Eugene was a stern and gloomy father, except perhaps at Christmas, according to JDM’s sister, Doris. His conversation with the children consisted most often of the aphorisms of success, such as: “You get out of a thing just what you put into it.”

His father had definite ideas about what JDM’s educational and career goals should be. When Eugene was unable to convince JDM to pursue a career in law, he prevailed upon him to study business. JDM began his college career in 1933 at the very prestigious Wharton School of Finance affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Eugene had come up the hard way. He did whatever work was available to get ahead and take care of his mother and sister. Multiple paper routes, sewing hooks and eyes on cards, working as a lamplighter, doing telephone maintenance, mailing seed packets, polishing shell casings, bookkeeping, and taking correspondence courses in his free time. He’d found poverty and hardship very motivating.

When JDM returned home and enrolled at Syracuse University three months after dropping out of Wharton during his sophomore year and—like Johnny years later—scampering off to try his luck in NYC, Eugene made him take part-time jobs to pay for school. And when he struggled to find his footing in the work world, Eugene declined to help. He wrote: “During the last year he has supported himself, his wife and baby not at the scale of living to which he has been accustomed, but none the less they have not suffered for something to eat or a place to sleep. In my contacts with him I have tried to make him independent, and I think he is succeeding.”

JDM apparently took a much different tack when it came to his son Johnny (Maynard) and money. Johnny’s education and spontaneous travels were fully funded. Money was never made an issue according to Hugh Merrill in The Red Hot Typewriter (2000).

It’s clear JDM resented his father’s austere—emotional and financial—parenting style. He could have thought him the sort of unconscious hypocrite unable to give “warmth and understanding and love” Meyer describes in Indigo. When Eugene died in 1961, JDM had a near breakdown and developed symptoms of acute anxiety. Twenty years later, he wrote: “He had copped out on me. [He] died before I could prove to him what a great kid I was (at 44!). I never seemed to be able to live up to what he expected of me.”

JDM was 30 when he made his postwar declaration of independence from the expectations of his father and Maynard was the same age when he made his. We can’t know what happened between the 1964 publication of The House Guests and 1968, but it’s hard to imagine a more potent symbol of rejection than changing your given name when you’ve been named after your father, even if perhaps that wasn’t your conscious intent. Add embracing a seemingly extreme form of mysticism and moving as far away as you can get and it’s got to have stung—and resulted in much more parental angst than suggested by the lightly ironic “he’s eating worms in New Zealand” recalled by No Deadly Drug (1968) collaborator, Pete Schmidt.

I think it’s possible Eugene may have felt JDM’s determination to become a writer paid a penny a word to produce adventure stories was roughly equivalent to declaring, “I’m going to eat worms.” After all, armed with a Harvard MBA and emerging from the Army as a lieutenant colonel, JDM could easily have become one of the successful executives in a northeastern industrial firm that populated so many of his novels during the ‘50s. There’s no doubt an anxious parent would have felt JDM wasn’t playing the odds.

If he wasn’t put off by the racy covers, Eugene—who had found “confidence, hope and ambition” in the novels of his day—may have come to terms with JDM’s choices in the wake of his success. JDM and Dorothy maintained their ties, both to family and the region, returning each year to spend the summer months at Lake Piseco. Eugene would have plainly seen that JDM had listened to him when it came to getting out of something what you put into it.

We can only wonder to what degree JDM and Dorothy came to terms with Maynard’s decision to structure his life around SUBUD on distant shores. But I don’t doubt that JDM loved Maynard all the same; anymore than I doubt Eugene loved JDM. We are who we are. We have hopes for our children; we worry about their choices; sometimes we suffer. That’s the nature of the generation gap. And nature can be cruel.

The denouement of Dress Her in Indigo is bleaker than most in the canon. Although Travis McGee delivers more than T. Harlen Bowie asked for, there is no joy in it. Falling in with the wrong crowd, his lost child has been complicit in her own exploitation and abuse. The damage done is extreme and irreparable. The future holds little promise. Were these the fears of a father whose generation gap encompassed oceans?

Guest Post: Travis McGee & the Generation Gap Part 1

February 9, 2015


By Kevin Comer

How many chances do you get to raise a child?

— T. Harlen Bowie asking a rhetorical question in Dress Her in Indigo (1969).

The propulsive force in Dress Her in Indigo is provided by a father seeking the gestalt of the final months of his only child’s life. Unable to go himself, paraplegic widower T. Harlen Bowie engages Travis McGee and Meyer—all expenses paid—to go to Mexico to uncover the “flavor” of the life his wayward daughter Bix led before being incinerated in a fiery automobile accident. Pressed by Meyer, McGee has reluctantly agreed. He thinks it’s too little, too late. Although Harlen readily admits to many failings as a parent, McGee questions his sincerity. On the plane bound for Oaxaca (WUH-hock-ca), he prompts Meyer:

“Mighty guru, take your bulging brain off the psychology of air travel and put it on your old buddy, T. Harlan Bowie. He did not ring loud and clear. There is a crack in the bell somewhere.”

Meyer’s initial grunted response is a less than helpful affirmative, but Travis insists on more, getting Meyer to expound:

“He rings true enough, as what he is. What you sense is that his concern seems a little faked. It isn’t. It’s limited by his own limitations. He’s using us to buy a kind of emotional respectability. He’s using us to pat his image back into shape. Oh, he adored her when she was a toddler. Tiny girls are cute and huggable, like puppies and kittens. Lots of people adore kittens, and when they get to be cats they take them for a nice ride and dump them out in the country somewhere and imagine them living in a nice barn, catching mice. McGee, the world is full of reasonably nice guys like Harl. They go through all the motions of home and family, but there is no genuine love or emotion involved. There is an imitation kind. They are unconscious practicing hypocrites. They’re stunted in a way they don’t and can’t recognize…He believes he is really in the midst of life and always has been. He doesn’t know any better, because he’s never known anything else. What a limited man believes is emotional reality is indeed his emotional reality.”

Travis asks Meyer to opine on Bix’s likely response to growing up in such a climate:

“…Maybe she thought it is what people mean when they talk these days about the generation gap. I imagine it would have given her the feeling that no matter how hard she tried, she could never really please him. She would believe, maybe, that there was some well of warmth and understanding and love that she couldn’t ever reach, without realizing that she couldn’t reach it because it wasn’t there, not for her, not for anybody.”

While in Mexico, Meyer and Travis encounter another bereft parent, Wally McLeen, who is searching for his estranged only child, Minda, one of the five companions who set off for Mexico with Bix Bowie. Believing Minda to be somewhere in megalopolis Mexico City, Wally has concluded his best bet is to wait for her to return to Oaxaca. In the meantime, he’s immersing himself in the counterculture. He explains:

“It’s more than just looking for her, Mr. McGee. It’s trying to understand more about what the young people are looking for…The only thing I’ve got in this world is my daughter, Minda. And if I can’t communicate with her, then there’s no point in anything…”

Trav and Meyer don’t know it yet, but Wally’s grief and frustration have driven him stark raving mad. Wally and Harl: Lost fathers trying desperately to find a way to bridge the generation gap to connect with lost children. I suppose there was a lot of this going on. The generation gap has rarely been wider. JDM was wrestling with it himself and I believe Indigo was one result.

In 1968, JDM’s son, Johnny, became involved with what is called by some a cult, SUBUD (SU-bood). He and wife Anne changed their names to Maynard and Lilliana. Then they moved to New Zealand.

Nondenominational SUBUD originated in Indonesia in the 1930s. Members engage in a group meditative practice called latihan kejiwaan. According to believers, the latihan connects the individual with what a Jedi might call The Force. Maynard is still a practicing member. He appears several times in this short film that scratches the surface of what SUBUD is and what members believe.

It is difficult to imagine rationalist and non-joiner JDM being very enthusiastic about these developments, much less wife and mother, Dorothy. I’ve been unable to discover any firsthand evidence of how he and Dorothy reacted. However, I’m indebted to Steve Scott—author of the remarkable Trap of Solid Gold blog—for digging up this exchange from a panel discussion at the 1996 JDM Conference in Sarasota involving JDM’s collaborator on No Deadly Drug during 1967 and ’68, Pete Schmidt:

Question: In all your meetings, did he [JDM] ever talk about his son?

Schmidt: At the time, he never did call him Maynard, for one thing. I never heard Dorothy or John ever call him Maynard. They called him Johnny. When we were working on the Coppolino book [No Deadly Drug], I think there was some sort of estrangement at that particular time, and we never really discussed it, other than to say Johnny was in New Zealand.

John just said, “There comes a time in every kid’s life and every parent’s life when the child looks and says, ‘Look, I’m going to teach you a lesson. I’m going to eat worms.’”

And John and Dorothy said, “Well, Johnny went out and he’s eating worms in New Zealand.” And that’s all I know about the relationship at that time.

Prior to this, Johnny’s behavior would have caused less indulgent parents only run-of-the-mill parental palpitations. According to Hugh Merrill in The Red Hot Typewriter (2000), it took Johnny a while to find traction in college. He dropped out of Rollins College during his sophomore year in 1958; became an apprentice to a sculptor in NYC and enrolled in NYU; made an extended foray to Europe where he studied painting in Paris for a time before walking across France and Italy on his way to Greece. While in Greece, he notified his folks he’d be coming home to continue his education; which he did, via France, Spain, Portugal, the Madeira Islands, and Venezuela.

Johnny began attending Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he soon met wife-to-be Anne. Now committed to college success, he took summer classes at the University of Syracuse to make up for lost time and emerged from Cranbrook with an MFA. Johnny and Anne were married in June of 1962.

JDM would have found Johnny’s youthful tumult familiar and he was proud and supportive of his son’s interest in the visual arts. In the autobiographical The House Guests (1964), JDM describes—with unmistakable pride—how Johnny began to use his collection of the corpses of lizards dragged into the house as playthings by beloved cats, Geoff and Roger, and later found mummified in out of the way locations:

Totally dried and darkened, they looked far more prehistoric, savage little symbols of the frightful giants of the quaking earth an aeon ago. Johnny began saving the perfect ones, along with fishbones and bird skulls and the empty hulls of giant insects, shark teeth, oddly shaped stones. When, not too many years later, he began to draw with serious intent, began to show that almost ruthless unconcern toward other activities which is the plight and the strength of the artist, he turned to these things as models as he trained eye and hand.

In the final paragraphs of House Guests, JDM lets us know Johnny is coming home. Having finished school, he and Anne are opening a fine arts press business in Sarasota with another couple. They’ll be staying in the guesthouse until they can find a place of their own.  Proud, happy, loving papa was determined to be a different sort of father than his own. 

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Guest Post: Travis McGee & Reading for Survival

January 19, 2015


By Kevin Comer

In 1928 at the age of 12, JDM—then known as Jack—contracted Scarlet Fever, a life-threatening disease common in children caused by the bacterium, Streptococcus pyogenes. Young Jack’s infection was made doubly serious by accompanying Mastoiditis, a painful and sometimes deadly inflammation of the air pockets in the skull behind the ears. Today, Scarlet Fever and Mastoiditis are treated with antibiotics, but in 1928, bedrest and the body’s own defenses were the only treatments available. JDM was in bed for a year.

During that year of solitary confinement, JDM developed two signature lifelong habits. He became a voracious reader, reportedly tearing through both classics and pulps. And he became comfortable with being alone. He later wrote: “I entertained myself with the exercise of imagination.” 

Not bad preparation for becoming a writer, but eventually JDM came to believe reading broadly was an essential habit of the educated citizen that was increasingly underdeveloped by the education system and generally unappreciated by society. In Free Fall in Crimson (1981), JDM has Meyer deliver his take on the state of literacy in America when Travis surprises him upon his smiling return from a stroll on the beach by asking: “Back a winner?”

“Oh, good afternoon! A winner? In a sense, yes. There was a gaggle of lanky young pubescent lassies on the beach, one of the early invasions of summer, all of them from Dayton, Ohio, all of them earnest, sunburnt, and inquisitive. They were huddled around a beached sea slug, decrying its exceptional ugliness, and I took a hand in the discussion, told them its life pattern, defensive equipment, normal habitat, natural enemies, and so on. And I discovered to my great pleasure that this batch was literate! They had read books. Actual books. They had all read Lives of a Cell and are willing to read for the rest of their lives. They’d all been exposed to the same teacher in the public school system there, and he must be a fellow of great conviction. In a nation floundering in functional illiteracy, sinking into the pre-chewed pulp of television, it heartens me to know that here and there are little groups of young-uns who know what an original idea tastes like, who know that the written word is the only possible vehicle for transmitting a complex concept from mind to mind, who constantly flex the muscles in their heads and make them stronger. They will run the world one day, Travis. And they won’t have to go about breaking plate glass and skulls and burning automobiles to express themselves, to air their frustrations. Nor will these children be victimized by the blurry nonsense of the so-called social sciences. The muscular mind is a cutting tool, and contemporary education seeks to take the edge off it.”

When I read passages like this, I’m certain JDM must be spinning in his grave.

We owe JDM’s belief in the value and power of the written word for our last glimpse of Meyer and Travis McGee, whom he enlisted as evangelists in proselytizing the essential necessity of literacy in understanding the world and our place in it. In 1985, he wrote “Reading for Survival” as a contribution to the Literary Heritage of the States program of the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book at the request of Jean Trebbi, then executive director of the Florida Center for the Book. It was Trebbi who asked why he didn’t couch his ideas in the form of a conversation between Meyer and McGee when he reported he was struggling with the essay. He responded: “Why indeed…I am very sorry for taking so damn long.”   

When JDM finally submitted the work, he provided this preface: “The theme will be the terrible isolation of the nonreader, his life without meaning or substance because he cannot comprehend the world in which he lives.” He added: “The best way to make my words fall usefully upon deaf ears is to use such colorful language that it will be quoted, sooner or later, to a great many of the nonreaders.”

In “Reading for Survival,” Travis and Meyer engage in a broadranging conversation over the course of a number of days which ultimately focuses on the role of reading in developing the understanding necessary to survive—and flourish—in our increasingly complex world. It is perhaps less a conversation than an informal lecture delivered in bits and pieces as Meyer expands upon the topic which begins with musings on the nature of ideas and the forces shaping human evolution.

We’re not used to Meyer going on at such length and some points of reference are a bit dated. Nonetheless, this is our last visit aboard the Busted Flush; the last time T. McGee and Meyer share Boodles on the rocks in a pair of big old-fashioned glasses; and the last time we share the Lauderdale beach with Travis keeping himself in shape and Meyer firmly rooted to his towelthe last sunny day together with McGee and Meyer, friends forever.

I take solace in the knowledge that the subscribers to Travis McGee & Me are all readers and do not need me to quote the colorful language required by nonreaders. Click here to enjoy the final appearance of Travis McGee and Meyer in  “Reading for Survival.”


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