Photoplay Film Monthly, 7/70, p. 30
Who is Travis McGee? by Greg Davis
Greg Davis goes in search of a new movie hero played by Rod Taylor.
We've seen James Bond! We've seen Derek Flint! We've seen Matt Helm! And now comes another rough, tough, ice-cool hero soon to make his debut on our screens. His name is Travis McGee. He lives aboard a converted houseboat, 'The Busted Flush,' which he won in an all-night poker game. He earns his money through what he calls "demolition and salvage." In other words, he contracts to get back goods and money stolen or swindled from others, who for some reason cannot go to the police.
McGee takes half of everything he recovers. As he frequently tells his clients in a nonchalant manner: "Half back is a damn sight better than nothing at all."
Travis McGee was created by author John P. MacDonald. It has been estimated that over thirty million readers follow McGee's adventures with avid interest.
When filming started, MacDonald was overheard discussing the merits of Rod Taylor who portrays McGee.
"Many actors and many agents made suggestions about who should take the role, I couldn't be more pleased with this man, whose personality combines the gentleness that wins women and the manliness that appeals to males."
Rod had this to say about Travis McGee: "While I try not to type myself, I've established a following in roles where I'm tough with men and soft with women.
"As an actor, I try to give myself a fair shake, with light romantic comedy as well as heavy drama. But in my procession of pictures throughout the years, I've become identified with the he-man under duress, who loves and fights his way out of unconventional situations. I insist, however, that my heroes be anti-formula, not script-contrived, and could be found for the looking in real life.
Rod's co-stars in Darker than Amber, the first McGee movie, are Suzy Kendall, Theodore Bikel, James Booth, and, in a cameo role, Jane Russell.
Suzy plays two roles, that of Vangie, an ex-prostitute in fear of her life, and Merrimay, a young ballerina who bears a striking resemblance to the frightened hustler. Vangie dies a vio0lent death fairly early on, but Merrimay survives throughout.
James Booth takes the role of Burk, and Bikel that of Meyer, two of McGee's associates. Jane Russell plays the part of the Alabama Tigress, the hostess at the longest floating party in history. "I think I can act, given the opportunity": said Jane. "But I simply haven't been given that opportunity. That's the long and short of my predicament. I'm begging to be a character actress, to play parts with some depth to them. I'm willing to try anything! I'm willing to be any age and look like hell if necessary. That's how much I want to get out of this "sex" rut. I'm sick and tired o0f what my name is associated with. All those damned externals that go along with being a woman. I think what I have has been capitalised on long enough. I want to exploit my ability."
She gets her way with this new part. "I'm a noisy, good-hearted, drink-em-up dame known as the Alabama Tigress, who lives on a boat and is a flamboyant hostess of a party that never loses steam, because new guests are always arriving. When Seltzer and Reeves (the producers) asked me to take the part, I told them I'd buy it, because anyone with a crazy name like that is bound to be fun to play. She's definitely a character, so I'm off and away towards what I want to be doing. It's a good start."
The story opens with McGee and Meyer seeing Vangie thrown over a bridge with an iron boot strapped to her leg to ensure she drowns. McGee rescues the girl, and is drawn into the web of destruction surrounding her.
But even McGee cannot save her from her fate.
On returning to her apartment, Vangie is murdered in a faked hit-and-run accident. With the police convinced that Vangie's death was accidental, McGee decides to investigate, a decision that leads him into untold danger in the world of professional criminals searching for cash, and using very violent methods.
When I met Suzy Kendall, she had just returned from Nassau, where part of the film had been made. Firstly, the unit had spent considerable time around Miami, Florida, and other parts of the swampy, sun-drenched State. Then they move don to the paradise isle, pleasure ground of the wealthy.
"Everything went fine, but the minute we got to Nassau, things started to go wrong. The Bahamian authorities refused to allow us to take our cameras on to the island. We sat in the harbour, the entire cast and crew, doing nothing for days on end...at a cost of about fifty thousand dollars a day!"
For Suzy, this was her first film to be made on the other side of the Atlantic. She has filmed and modelled all over Europe, but this was the first time she had been so far away from her actor-writer-musician husband, Dudley Moore.
"It was very lonely," she told me. "After the day's shooting, I'd just go to my hotel room and sit around watching TV, or playing records, or more often than not, writing Dud long letters, telling him everything I'd done during the day. Then one day a tape arrived for me," said Suzy with a merry laugh, pushing her long blonde hair away from her eyes. "Dud had put a tape on the recorder and just left it on. I could hear him singing while he did the washing up, grumbling if he pulled the plug out of the sweeper, and joking with Peter (Cook) when he came around. It was great! I'd just lay in bed with the tape on. It made my stay much easier, though it was still wonderful to be back when we finished the picture."
Of her co-star Rod Taylor, Suzy was full of praise.
"He is a really great actor. One day we were filming very early in the morning. Rod looked and felt awful. I think he had a touch of flu. He just sat in his chair, not watching what was happening and feeling thoroughly miserable. But when he went in front of the cameras, he straightened up, rubbed his cheeks until he got his colour back, cleared his throat and did his job as well as ever. When it was over, he slunk off to bed and stayed there for the rest of the day. It was great to see, after the way some actors and actresses hold everything up for days if they have a slight headache."
If Darker than Amber meets with bug success, there are sure to be follow-ups. The producers have taken out options on ten of the Travis McGee books. If McGee does re-appear again, Rod Taylor will continue in the role.
"I enjoy the character of McGee. He's got verve, energy and humour, and he's very much an anti-hero. I'll must mix McGee in between other picture. I've always leaned towards versatility, so I don't think anyone will associate me with just one role," said Rod.