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Gardner McKay

Gardner McKay American actor and artist

American actor and artist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American actor and artist
Was Actor Photographer Artist Television actor
From United States of America
Type Arts Film, Television, Stage and Radio
Gender male
Birth 10 June 1932, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Death 21 November 2001, Hawaii Kai, East Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii (aged 69 years)
The details

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

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 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.

He attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York for two years, 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.

McKay's sculpting appeared in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 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.

Early Acting Career

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.

Boots and Saddles

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.

Adventures in Paradise

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."

McKay could also sail, having made eight Atlantic crossings by the age of seventeen. Although previously unknown to the public, McKay appeared on the July 6, 1959, cover of Life Magazine just two months before the series premiered.

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

McKay returned to Hollywood in 1963 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."

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." The film was never completed. Instead McKay went sailing in the Caribbean and South America for a year and a half. "Not doing anything really," he said later. "I didn't give myself an excuse for being there." He moved to Paris, where he had lived as a boy.

Later career

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.

"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."

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

His play Sea Marks was produced in New York in 1981 at the Players Theatre, and in 2014 Sea Marks was produced Off-Broadway at the Irish Repertory Theatre.

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. It has sold 1.16 million copies in the UK. It is also part of the soundtrack on two episodes of the TV series, Starsky & Hutch .

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.

Last years

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


  • Sea Marks (1972)
  • Masters of the Sea (1991)
  • This Fortunate Island
  • Toyer (1993)
  • In Order of Appearance (2003)
  • Untold Damage


  • Toyer (1999)
  • The Kinsman (2011)
  • Trompe L'Oeil (2015)
  • Ten, Bloomsbury Square (2015)


  • Journey Without a Map (2013)

Short stories

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