Most people probably came to James A. Michener from his massive, exhausting books, or through the musical South Pacific. But as a child of the '50s my introduction to his oeuvre came via television.
Oh, to be in the living room once again with all the family when at 9 pm of a Sunday night, ABC slipped into a dream state and Adventures in Paradise began. Though the series lasted only three seasons, it made an impression on all who saw it, for the show carried the viewer out of the humdrum workaday world and into exotic locales.
AiP is one of my first television memories My parents watched it faithfully, and I can still remember, as a young lad, being fascinated with the palm trees, the high seas, and the Polynesian women whom the show's hero, Captain Adam Troy, invariably encountered. The theme song is still with me to this day.
Adventures in Paradise is based on a concept by Michener, but derived from the same military experiences that also formed the basis for the musical. In fact, AiP creates something of a line of demarcation for Michener's works. Michener's earlier novels are fresher, born of actual experience and observed reality, so much different from later "encyclopedic" Michener. Though admirable, his massive later fictions are born of research rather than observation.
The premise of the series was simplicity itself. Adam Troy (the cosmically beautiful McKay) was an American Korean War veteran who stayed on in the Pacific after the war. As freelance captain of the schooner "Tiki", Troy drifted from adventure to adventure while carrying passengers and cargo anywhere from Hong Kong to Pitcairn Island. His original partner was Chinese-American Oliver Lee, and he was assisted by first mates Clay Baker and later Chris Parker.
The late Gardner McKay was the son of Deane McKay, an ad executive, and Catherine. He was raised in New York and Paris. He attended Cornell University two years, but left when his father died. He worked in advertising for six months but found that he could not stand it. At age 20, he became a
sculptor and had a piece displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. In 1959, he was spotted by a Hollywood producer who convinced him to audition for Adventures in Paradise. When the series was cancelled after three seasons, McKay decided he really did not like the celebrity spotlight and, like his character, proceeded to roam the world. He hiked in the Amazon, rode camels in Egypt, and crewed on Caribbean yachts. Finally, in 1980 he met Madeleine Madigan, who became his wife.
The artistic power of Michener is infectious. Once the life long bachelor had settled down he decided to become a writer. He wrote a suspense novel, called Toyer, and was the drama critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1979 to 1981. Like Richard Chamberlain, Raymond Burr, and Jack Lord, he retired to Hawaii, where he died in 2001.
His real legacy, of course, will remain Adam Troy. But who can forget the many guest stars who graced the show! From Joan Blondell in the series's first episode, "The Forbidden Sea" in September 1959 to Ray Walston in "A Bride for the Captain, " in 1961, a cavalcade of stars graced the series. Also on hand were Ricardo Montalban in "The Derelict," Carroll O'Connor in "Hong Kong Island," Teresa Wright in "The Pit of Silence, Lon Chaney Jr. and Kurt Kasznar in "The Black Pearl," Gladys Cooper in "Paradise Lost," Simon Oakland, Suzanne Pleshette, Anna May Wong, and Paulette Goddard in "The Lady From South Chicago," Julie London in "Mission to Manila," Eva Gabor in "Peril at Pitcairn," Kim Hunter and Elaine Stritch in "Haunted," Albert Salmi and Alexis Smith in "Somewhere South of Suva," Viveca Lindfors in "Castaways," Brando's wife Anna Kashfi in "The Archer's Ring," Martin Landau and Herbert Marshall in "Nightmare on Napuka," Lawrence Tierney in "Walk Through the Night," Dan Duryea and Gloria Vanderbilt in "Judith," Vincent Price in "The Color of Venom," Yvonne de Carlo in "Isle of Eden," Fay Bainter in "Prisoner in Paradise," Alf Kjellin and Herbert Marshall in "There Is an Island," Claude Akins in "The Amazon," Gena Rowlands in "The Death-Divers," Julie Newmar in "Open for Diving," William Shatner in "Once Around the Circuit," Agnes Moorehead in "The Krishmen," Barbara Steele in "Daughter of Illusion," Inger Stevens in "Angel of Death," Hans Conreid in "The Jonah Stone," Cecil Kellaway and Jessie Royce Landis in "A Touch of Genius," Dick York in "The Reluctant Hero," Rita Moreno in "Vendetta," David Janssen in "Show Me a Hero," and Tuesday Weld in "The Velvet Trap." How often have so many given so much to something so little? Michener should have been proud.
This essay originally appeared in Black Lamb in 2003 as part of a joke issue.