Gardner McKay

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Gardner McKay
Gardner mckay.jpeg
Gardner McKay, Chicago Daily Tribune TV Week, June 13–19, 1959.
George Cadogan Gardner McKay

June 10, 1932
New York City, U.S.
DiedNovember 21, 2001 (aged 69)
Height6 ft 5-in (1.96 m)
Spouse(s)Madeleine Madigan
On set of Adventures in Paradise (1960), L-R: George Tobias, Julie Newmar & Gardner McKay
McKay, Susan Oliver and Guy Stockwell in Adventures in Paradise

George Cadogan Gardner McKay (June 10, 1932 – November 21, 2001) was an American actor, artist, and author. He is best known for the lead role in the TV series Adventures in Paradise, based loosely on the writings of James Michener. His character, Adam Troy, is a Korean War veteran who purchased the two-masted 82-foot (25 m) schooner Tiki III, and sailed the South Pacific. The show ran for three seasons on ABC from 1959-1962, for a total of 91 episodes.


Early life[edit]

Born in New York City, McKay was the son of ad executive Hugh Deane McKay (born 1894) and socialite Catherine "Kitty" Gardner McKay (born 1904). He was the great-grandson[1] of shipbuilder Donald McKay. The father's business took the family to Paris, France, where McKay attended private schools. The family returned to the United States shortly before the outbreak of World War II; McKay and his older brother, Hugh, lived with grandparents in Lexington, Kentucky. McKay later said that he fell in love with Kentucky and considered it paradise.[2]

He attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York for two years,[3] where he majored in art. He also wrote for the Cornell Daily-Sun and the campus magazine. He dropped out of school at the age of 19 following the death of his father and moved to Greenwich Village where he worked as a sculptor and writer. McKay also took up photography and saw some of his work published in The New York Times and Life Magazine.[2]

McKay's sculpting appeared in the Museum of Modern Art in New York,[4] and at an exhibit of his work McKay attracted the attention of photographer Richard Avedon. Avedon invited McKay to Paris to shoot a series of photographs with model Suzy Parker, which led to a modeling career. Town and Country magazine did a piece on McKay and his sculptures in its Man About Town section, which led to an offer from an agent.[5]

Early Acting Career[edit]

McKay impressed Dore Schary, who signed him to a contract with MGM. For that studio he appeared in episodes of The Thin Man and appeared in the film Raintree County, with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. The movie was partly filmed in Kentucky.

McKay left MGM and had television guest roles on Death Valley Days, The Silent Service, and Jefferson Drum.[6]

Boots and Saddles[edit]

In 1957–1958, McKay played United States Army Lieutenant Dan Kelly in the 38-episode syndicated western series Boots and Saddles, with co-stars Jack Pickard and Patrick McVey.[7]

Adventures in Paradise[edit]

McKay screen-tested at 20th Century Fox for a TV series based on The Gunslinger, but failed to get the role. The test did, however, net him a long-term contract at the studio.

Dominick Dunne was searching for an actor to star in his planned Adventures in Paradise when he spotted McKay at the studio coffee shop. Dunne later said, "I didn't know who he was. He was an extraordinarily handsome guy. I said, 'Are you an actor?' I gave him my card and said, 'If you're interested, call me.' " McKay called, and ten actors were tested for the role. Dunne said of McKay: "His (test) was the worst, but everybody reacted to him, I mean everybody - especially the women."[8]

McKay could also sail, having made eight Atlantic crossings by the age of seventeen. Although previously unknown to the public, McKay was featured on the cover of the July 6, 1959 issue of LIFE just two months before the series premiered.[9]

During the series' run, McKay had small roles in several Fox films, including Holiday for Lovers (1959) and The Right Approach (1961).

Later Acting Career[edit]

McKay returned to Hollywood in 1963 [10] and had a support role in Fox's The Pleasure Seekers (1964).

McKay's final film was the 1968 I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew, written and directed by Richard L. Bare.

"It took me 100 hours to become a good actor," said McKay. "Then I committed professional suicide."[11]

McKay had just decided to end his acting career, when he got a phone call from the noted director George Cukor, offering him the opportunity to star in a romantic comedy film opposite Marilyn Monroe. The film was Something's Got to Give. McKay had made up his mind and turned it down. Cukor and Monroe were shocked. Monroe phoned him to see if she could get him to change his mind. McKay said, "She was so delightful on the phone, so winning, so seductive in a way," but he said no. He added "I didn’t belong in acting."[12] The part went to Dean Martin and the film was never completed. Instead McKay went sailing in the Caribbean and South America for a year and a half.[13] "Not doing anything really," he said later. "I didn't give myself an excuse for being there."[11] He moved to Paris, where he had lived as a boy.[12]

Later career[edit]

McKay left Hollywood to pursue his interest in photography, sculpture, and writing. He exhibited his sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, besides holding individual exhibitions. His lifeboat rescue photographs of the Andrea Doria were published internationally.

McKay wrote many plays and novels, and was a literary critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner between 1977 and 1982. He taught writing classes at the University of California at Los Angeles, University of Southern California, University of Alaska, and the University of Hawaii.

He wrote and co-directed a TV film Me (1973) for Hollywood Television Theatre on PBS. He wrote a script for another TV movie, Sea Marks (1976), based on his play.[11][14]

"I'm through with acting," he said in 1976. "I'll never do a series again. I can't. It's a mental mess-up for me. I got all sorts of attention I didn't deserve and I was too sensitive to hear things about myself. People loved me and hated me for absolutely no good reasons."[11]

His play Toyer was produced by the Arena Players Repertory Theater in New York opening November 28, 1993.[15] Toyer was produced in London at the Arts Theatre in 2009.[16]

His play Sea Marks was produced in New York in 1981 at the Players Theatre; in 2003 at the American Theatre for Actors (Off-Off Broadway), directed by Allen Fitzpatrick and produced by Jonah Productions; and again in 2014, produced Off-Broadway at the Irish Repertory Theatre.[17][18]

A verse by McKay became the lyrics for the song "Black Bean Soup" sung by the actor and singer David Soul. It was the B-side of the hit single "Don't Give Up on Us". Soul sang it as a duet with actress Lynne Marta.[19] It has sold 1.16 million copies in the UK.[20][21] It is also part of the soundtrack on two episodes of the TV series, Starsky & Hutch .[22]

Gardner bought a wooded property in Beverly Hills and kept a menagerie of animals: Lions, cheetahs, dogs, and a monkey which he brought back from his sojourn to South America.


McKay's awards included three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships for playwriting, the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, and Sidney Carrington Prize. He was a winner in Canadian Regional Drama Festival, and runner-up in the Hemingway Short Story Contest.[23][24]

Last years[edit]

McKay settled in Hawaii, where he died from prostate cancer in 2001 at the age of 69. He was survived by his wife Madeleine Madigan, a painter, and two children. Gardner is buried in Kentucky.

Select Writings[edit]


  • Sea Marks (1972)
  • Masters of the Sea (1991)[25]
  • This Fortunate Island
  • Toyer (1993)[26]
  • In Order of Appearance (2003)[27]
  • Untold Damage[28]


  • Toyer (1999)[29]
  • The Kinsman (2011)[30]
  • Trompe L'Oeil (2015)[31]
  • Ten, Bloomsbury Square (2015)[32]


  • Journey Without a Map (2013)[33]

Short stories[edit]

  • Stories on the Wind: An Anthology of Short Stories (2017)[34]
  • Stories on the Wind: Volume 2: An Anthology of Short Stories.[35]


  1. ^ Video on YouTube
  2. ^ a b McKay, Gardner. Journey Without a Map. Shiptree Publication (2013) ISBN 978-0615779256
  3. ^ Sullivan, John (November 24, 2001). "Gardner McKay, 69, TV Heartthrob Who Turned to Writing". The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  4. ^ Alexander, Shana. "A New Apollo for the Ladies". Life Magazine. July 6, 1959. p. 90-91.
  5. ^ Author Gardner McKay; Gave Up Acting to Write: [FINAL Edition] McLellan, Dennis. The Washington Post 23 Nov 2001: B07.
  6. ^ The Lowdown on Gardner McKay Wolters, Larry. Chicago Daily Tribune 4 Oct 1959: sA.
  7. ^ "Boots and Saddles". Classic TV Archivers. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
  8. ^ OBITUARIES / Gardner McKay, 69, Abandoned Acting for Writing: Dennis McLellan. The Los Angeles Times 23 Nov 2001: A63.
  9. ^ Alexander, Shana. "A New Apollo for the Ladies," LIFE (magazine), July 6, 1959." Retrieved September 4, 2020
  10. ^ Gardner McKay Back from Year in Jungle Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 15 Jan 1963: a2.
  11. ^ a b c d New life for Gardner McKay By Arthur Unger. The Christian Science Monitor 10 May 1976: 23.
  12. ^ a b Dunne, Dominic. "The Real McKay". Vanity Faire. January 1999. pg. 106-110
  13. ^ Obituary: Gardner McKay Anonymous. Variety; Los Angeles Vol. 385, Iss. 3, (Dec 3-Dec 9, 2001): 69.
  14. ^ Gardner McKay: From Paradise to Playwriting: Skipper of Tiki Turns Playwright Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 17 July 1973: c1.
  15. ^ Frank, Leah D. Theatre "Review: Toying with Women." New York Times. November 28, 1993.
  16. ^ Billington, Michael. "Theatre: Toyer". The Guardian. 27 Feb 2009.
  17. ^ Roberts, David. "Sea Marks at the Irish Repertory Theatre". Theatre Reviews Limited. May 5, 2014.
  18. ^ Pucell, Carey. "Romantic Drama Sea Marks Extends at Irish Rep." Playbill. May 27, 2014
  19. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 227.
  20. ^ Ami Sedghi (November 4, 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
  21. ^ "David Soul - Don't Give Up On Us (Vinyl) at Discogs". Retrieved March 27, 2014.
  22. ^ [1] McKay, Gardner. Soundtrack. Starsky & Hutch; "The Set Up. pt. 1" (1975). and Starsky & Hutch; "Death Notice" (1977). IMDB
  23. ^ [2] BWW editors. EMH Productions presents TOYER. Broadway World. August 24, 2017
  24. ^ [3] “Gardner McKay; Profile”. The Author’s Guild.
  25. ^ McKay, Gardner. Masters of the Sea: A Tragedy with Comedy in Three Acts. Samuel French, Inc., 1991. ISBN 9780573692987
  26. ^ McKay, Gardner. Toyer. Samuel French, Inc. (2010). ISBN 978-0573692970
  27. ^ McKay, Gardner. In Order of Appearance. Samuel French, Inc (2003). ISBN 978-0573628702
  28. ^ McKay, Gardner. Untold Damage. Samuel French. ISBN 9780573701351
  29. ^ McKay, Gardner. Toyer. Vision; Warner Books (1999) ISBN 978-0446607735
  30. ^ McKay, Gardner. The Kinsman. Peninsula Press (2011). ISBN 978-1883684327
  31. ^ McKay, Gardner. Trompe L'Oeil. Shiptree Publication (2015) ISBN 978-0692207406
  32. ^ McKay, Gardner. Ten, Bloomsbury Square. Shiptree Publication (2015) ISBN 978-0996668200
  33. ^ McKay, Gardner. Journey Without a Map. Shiptree Publication (2013) ISBN 978-0615779256
  34. ^ McKay, Gardner. Stories on the Wind: An Anthology of Short Stories. Shiptree Publication (2017) ISBN 978-0996668231
  35. ^ McKay, Gardner. Stories on the Wind: Volume 2: An Anthology of Short Stories. Shiptree Publications (2018). ISBN 978-0996668248

External links[edit]