Gardner McKay’s Journey Without a Map, a memoir extraordinaire by a great personality of the 20th century, is a delightful, impressive surprise–one of those rare books that just keeps getting better and better as you read along, its last half transfixing.
By the time McKay and his wife Madeleine moved to Oahu, this unique man had experienced enough for three lifetimes. Here, he added to his saga with “Stories On the Wind,” the Hawaii Public Radio series that ran for years and for which he was probably best-known by Hawaii residents.
But what can one say, except by a selective listing, about this life? McKay was a maverick who went into the South American forest alone for nearly two years; starred in, and walked away from, the starring role in an expensive hour-long TV series after four years; raised lions and a cheetah in the wilds of Beverly Hills; wrote successful plays and a novel, as well as poetry and stories; walked across Venezuela; was a world-class sailor; wrote and kept over 200 journals (the basis for this memoir); turned down nearly 50 starring movie roles; served as a film critic; taught university courses; rode with the Egyptian camel corps; and finished this memoir as he was wracked with cancer, giving him what he called “a real deadline.”
He was, above all, an adventurist, some of whose adventures (like the five years he spent in Hollywood, turning out what he called “drivel” for “morons”) turned out ironically. He declared himelf a writer when he was 15 but did not publish a novel, a “literary thriller” called Toyer, until much later in his life; but published stories and poems all along (but also experienced many rejections, which did not slow him down).
Of his quitting television, after he had acquired international fame:
“Fame is so cheap that I wanted to go someplace where someone, some stranger, might be able to make up his own mind about me without already having formed an opinion based on drivel that needed to be overcome or ignored.”
Gardner McKay was diagnosed with an especially virulent form of prostate cancer in January of 2000, told he had only a year to live. He lived for 22 more months, adding to and rearranging, material from his journals and diaries. He never quite lived down his television fame, but make no mistake–Journey Without A Map is the work of a writer.