Gardner McKay, author and radio personality, dead at 69
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
Gardner McKay, a former actor and prolific author of stories, novels, plays and radio shows, died in his Hawai'i Kai home yesterday. He was 69.
"He was a gem, in every way he lived his life, doing all the things the rest of us mortals aspired to do," said Michael Titterton, president and general manager of Hawai'i Public Radio, where McKay's weekly half-hour radio series, "Stories on the Wind," airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on KHPR (88.1) and at 7:30 p.m. Mondays on KIPO (89.3) on the FM dial.
McKay had been battling prostate cancer for about two years. At the time of his death, he was putting the finishing touches on a series of biographical reflections, titled "Journey Without a Map," taping a segment as recently as two weeks ago from his sickbed.
McKay was born June 19, 1932, in Manhattan. His full name was George Cadogan Gardner McKay and he lived in Manhattan, Paris, Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Venezuela, the West Indies, Connecticut and Kentucky, before settling in the Islands about 25 years ago.
To early television fans, McKay was Capt. Adam Troy, skipper of a schooner named Tiki that frequented the South Pacific in search of cargo, passengers and challenges on "Adventures in Paradise," which was televised on ABC from October 1959 to April 1962.
That TV role would mirror his later life somewhat, since McKay was a seasoned sailor and skipper who never lived far from an ocean and also welcomed adventure and challenges to spice up his life.
His acting career included 100 films for TV, between 1960 and 1963, and his passion for theatrics and literature enabled him to plunge into a career as a novelist ("Toyer," "The Last American," "Trompe L'Oeil"), and a playwright ("Toyer," "Masters of the Sea," "This Fortunate Island").
He also was a drama critic and theater editor for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1977 to 1982, and taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and other colleges before moving to Hawai'i. He also taught a playwriting class at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and was an artist of large oil paintings.
"And he did some pretty good radio programs, too," Titterton said. "Besides being an actor, author and playwright, he was a raconteur, a tamer of wild animals and a perfect gentleman."
McKay raised and lived with dogs, Nubian goats, hens, roosters, African lions, cheetahs, cats, cougars and other species of wildlife.
"He fought (his cancer) till the end, with his wife, Madeleine, at his side, and he continued to write, as if 'Journey Without a Map' would be his last work, hanging on to finish it," Titterton said. "And it's beautiful writing."
Although McKay spent much time in the Islands, he and his wife maintained a Los Angeles home, too. When he was able to, McKay could often be seen kayaking between Koko Head and Diamond Head, one of his favorite morning rituals.
Besides his wife, survivors include a brother, Hugh Dean McKay; a son, Tristan Gardner; a daughter, Liza McKay Petree; and a granddaughter, Cheyenne Petree.