Half a Century of McGee

Fifty years ago I was in junior high and voraciously reading authors such as Clarke and Asimov and Heinlein, as well as collecting comic books. Adult mysteries weren’t even on my radar. But about this time in 1964, Fawcett Books was readying the launch of its new suspense series starring a strikingly innovative type of fictional hero–Travis McGee. My copy of The Deep Blue Good-By cites a publication date of May, 1964.

If any of you happen to have been in on McGee from the beginning, I’d be curious to know a few things. When and where did you find your copy of Blue? At a bookstore? In the paperback rack at the drugstore? At the library? What were your first impressions? Did Blue seem like something new and prescient? Did you snap up Pink and Purple in the months following?

So I’m wondering… Are any of you planning to celebrate McGee’s 50th birthday? Trek to Bahia Mar to the approximate site of Slip F-18? Enjoy a generous Boodles or Plymouth martini? Haul the houseboat or pontoon boat out on an indolent cruise with tanned and slightly inebriated friends?

Susan and I are inclined to find a watering hole that pours Boodles or Plymouth, perhaps out on Lake Minnetonka. Sit at an outside table on some temperate or tropical evening in May or June. After this *!@#**# winter rolls out of here. Then we’ll hoist our ‘tinis and toast Travis, Meyer, and JDM.

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23 thoughts on “Half a Century of McGee

  1. you’ve got a few years on me. but JDM paperbacks were floating around our house, and i was aware of them, before Travis came on the scene. i remember seeing them, and reading the dust jackets. McGee was part of the tapestry of baby boomer childhoods. at least he was for me. i was in my twenties before i first read one.

    as we age, McGee novels will undoubtedly be part of the therapy for treating Altzheimers patients.

    • D. R.

      After writing I got the Travis itch which is a good thing. Went to the bookcase and of course, I don’t have the next one and I’m reading them in order again. Oh, well. I broke down and ordered the next two knowing my favorite used bookstore doesn’t have them.

      Glad Clem was talking to you…”you’ve got a few years on me” and NOT talking to me. Ha! Thanks, Clem. 😀

  2. Hi D.R. Thanks for the reminder regarding Travis’ 50th year publication birthday. (Is that what it’s called?)

    Here’s my story. When I was married we had so little money it was pathetic. Movies were out of the question. We didn’t even want a TV but we read voraciously exchanging books although I never got into his Asimov, Heinlein and whoever wrote the Hobbitt book(s). That did not make him happy. Think I was supposed to like what he liked. Nevertheless he brought Blue home one day getting it from a buddy he worked with in the Navy in San Diego.

    You have a much better memory than I have. I can only recall that it was the late 60’s, early 70’s. Well, I went through them as quickly as I could get them, the paperbacks because that was all we could afford. Then I began reading them as they were published never having another sci-fi book in my house. Get my drift?

    I expect to be going south soon to see a spring training Braves game and the field, if I remember right, is not very far from Fort Lauderdale. With that said, if things work out, I’ll happily make the trek to Bahia Mar Slip-18 site. Make the trip with pleasure and I’ll have that martini, Plymouth probably since Boodles, I’m sure, isn’t at every street corner bar.

    Funny but I wanted a celebratory martini recently so ordered one with two olives. The very young waitress asked “vodka martini?” I almost choked. “No, dear. Please just a regular martini which is made with gin.” It was so good I had two. But these kids…these kids.

    Thanks for the reminder on the 50th year anniversary and thanks again for this wonderful blog you write. I love it as I’ve mentioned more than once.

    Your friend, Cathy

  3. I borrowed my first McGee from my mother in the late 60s; also my first Nero Wolfe. I don’t think she ever borrowed any sci-fi from me. My grandmother gave me “Across the Sea of Stars” by Arthur C.Clarke for Christmas when I was 8 years old, which I think was pretty adult, at least, in terms of the ideas – some of which scared me. I’ve literally read every day since. Over time, I’ve become more interested in characters wherever I find them.

    I hadn’t put it together that this is the 50th anniversary, which is a little scary because I’ve been immersed in my McGee project for nearly a year. However, one result of my voracious intake of Trav, Morgan Hunt, and Doc Ford is that I’ve developed a case of blue water fever and to treat it my wife and I are planning a spring-time trip to Florida. I’ve been thinking about Lauderdale and Sanibel, although I’m worried that after 50 years of non-stop development, the Florida I’m going to find will be very different than the Florida of JDM. Not for the first time, I wish I had a time machine.

    I sympathize with you about your harsh winter. However, here in California we’re not having winter. Next to no rain; plenty of very nice days. The hills have not turned green, instead the golden brown of summer has become a baked dun color. I never thought I’d miss winter. I mean a California winter. I mean rain.

    • My early chapter book reading began with animal stories, like “Old Yeller” and “Big Red.” Then I fell in love with the tramp steamer adventures of Howard Pease; then onto the juvenile sci fi of Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Alan Nourse.

      And I sympathize about your drought out west; very scary. We will all be paying for it, I expect, one way or another. Here in Minneapolis we’re up to 35 sub-zero nights (the record’s about 60) so far this winter. We hit minus 20 a few times. Oddly, we’re getting used to it a bit. Five above, like today, ain’t too bad. And 20 is positively balmy. The benefit is that the storm track and big snow falls are to our south. But we keep getting Alberta clippers–1, 2, 3 inches every few days. It adds up.

      • My first read? Dick and Jane. Damn, you guys have better memories than I have.

        Kevin…yes, it’s more everything in Lauderdale now. But as we know, everything changes and yes, JDM was right that the state/county/local governments turned Florida over to the developers many years ago until a law passed in the mid-1980’s that slowed things down. That state law has been gradually gutted.

        Didn’t have a name for it but now, thanks to you, I do…blue water fever…and I’ve had it for years. Read all of RWW but who is Morgan Hunt? You read Shames yet? James W. Hall?

        I was on a “read all Florida authors who write with Florida as the locale” and came across some excellent writers with excellent descriptions of the state. (Not as good as JDM but shouldn’t compare him to anyone.)

        And weather? Here in north Florida we have our own problems which are little to nothing compared to MN and NY and other states. Three days with AC on, then three or four days of freezing to death, rain, wind. Strange weather all over the U. S. Can’t wait until spring.

      • I’d quickly perish in those conditions. In “Smoking Ruin” you painted a painfully chilly picture of wintertime Minneapolis. I wasn’t bred for snow or ice. I’m limited to shoes-optional environments.

        This is probably a topic for a separate post, but do you think JDM was inspired by any particular predecessor or contemporary crime writer? Have we any way of knowing?

      • I think that McGee came out of JDM’s earlier one-off novels, with narrator/protagonists who had voices similar to McGee’s. Many of those novels, though, I haven’t yet read. I hope to write here about some that I have read. What inspired JDM before that I can only theorize. I’m not sure that the hard-boiled trinity of Spade, Marlowe, and Archer was inspiration. I find them too inscrutable and distant; McGee is neither. Are there any scholars of PI fiction out there who know more?

        Winter can kill you or maim you, for sure, if you’re stupid enough. (Like that college girl in Duluth who got filthy drunk and fell asleep overnight out in -15 temps. No more fingers or toes for her.) Otherwise, if you dress and drive and walk carefully, you’re OK.

      • I agree with you about Spade, Marlowe, et al. McGee is unlike them. He was never a cop. He generally doesn’t crack wise. He doesn’t only investigate, he’s part con-man. He doesn’t always work alone. He isn’t, as you say, inscrutable.

        JDM’s canvas is larger than simple crimes – and there is a lot more sunshine in McGee’s world than Marlowe or Archer, even though they were in LA.

        There is something of James Bond in his womanizing, although he is never a cad – at least, not as he tells it. 🙂

        Okay, here is something interesting: As I was writing this, I suddenly thought of “77 Sunset Strip” – I think it was the idea of LA sunshine – and did a quick google. “77 Sunset Strip” was created by Roy Huggins, who also created “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files”. Huggins was an author before he came to Hollywood writing under the pen name, John Thomas James. Here is a link to his page at Thrilling Detective:

        http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/huggins.html

        It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see Travis in this context.

      • Rockford for sure has some McGee in him. (James Garner would have been a fine McGee.) Also, Thomas Magnum. Neither of those shows was, shall we say, brilliantly written. But boy, their vibes have to appeal to McGee fans. Fun to watch them 30 years later.

      • Sorry, D. R., didn’t see post on Rockford and Magnum, P.I. I agree with everything you said. Loved both.

        Priced a Huggins paperback and they’re pricey little items.

      • A Bullet for Cinderella, published in 1955, definitely has the Travis vibe going. And I agree with you D. R., I don’t see much of Spade, Marlowe or Archer as any inspiration whatsoever. And I’ve read them all recently, with the last three years so think I would have noticed something.

        I’m clueless as to JDM’s inspiration. Hope someone does come up with some thoughts. I would certainly be interested in hearing some ideas.

        Man, oh, man. Got cold again after 80 degrees yesterday and I was in an outdoor pool. Crazy ass weather here in north Florida. May have mentioned how I admire you kind folks who have to endure such low temps. My hat is off to you. It’s 50 and overcast here trying to rain and I’m freezing. Yep, a wuss, I know, I know.

      • Gotta tell you a funny story. Four years ago Susan and I decided to perform a snowbirding experiment in Florida. We couldn’t afford a month on either coast, so ended up in Lake Placid. Our first night there the temperature outside was 34 degrees. I’m not kidding. And the “heater” (I use the term loosely) had never met 34 degrees before. We spent the night under six blankets; the next day I wore my parka and knit cap around the house, and my winter boots; and the next night we stayed in a motel. (Keeping with the lucky streak, the next day my Macbook’s hard drive started to die. Beware of cheerful chirping noises coming from your PC.) I believe that January in FL it nudged up into the high 70s about twice. Half the month we were shivering. So I agree, Kathy, that 50 degrees in FL is indeed damned cold. But I’d kill right now for 50 degrees in MN.

      • Showers and staying in the low 50’s tonight and all day tomorrow. Sorry that I can’t give you 10 degrees. And certainly no pool tomorrow.

        Dear sweet people come to Florida expecting sunshine and 80 degrees year around and it just doesn’t happen. It’s cold, too, icy because it’s a wet cold.

        Next time I’ll put in a special request for pleasant weather for you and Susan. Thanks for sharing your funny story. Now it’s funny but at the time….

        Waiting for next Travis and timing should be right, should be finished with Talented Mr. Ripley.

        Cheers, Cathy

  4. I think TM was what JDM wanted to be physically and what he actually was inside: his alter ego, perhaps. I don’t see how you can separate the man from his character. TM was JDM’s fantasy: handsome and rugged and pysical, things that JDM wasn’t; but also smart and perceptive and generous, things he was. Maybe that’s why he’s so real to us and has been for 50 years. Or maybe Meyer and McGee were the two parts of JDM.

  5. Susan…very interesting thoughts. Hummm.

    They will give me something to think about looking at my two Travis paperbacks delivered today, both old Fawcett Gold Medal.

  6. My first McGee was Brown, in 1968. It was one of a pile of books my grandmother had collected working as a maid in a motel. I was 12, and Brown was supposedly a “dirty” book (if you know the original pb copy, the cover bears that out). And Brown does have some of the more explicit sex scenes in the canon. It was quite a few years later that I started reading the McGees seriously.

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