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Leonardo DiCaprio as Travis McGee: Good idea, or a deep blue good-bye?

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The Variety report this morning that Leonardo DiCaprio is attached to star in a film adaptation of John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-Bye probably has some readers saying, “Leo playing Travis McGee?” and others saying, “Who’s Travis McGee?”

The Deep Blue Good-Bye, from 1964, was the first of MacDonald’s many books about Travis McGee, a tough-guy amateur detective (a “salvage consultant” is his preferred euphemism) who lives on a Florida houseboat called The Busted Flush. The McGee series is written in the first person, and the tone is hard-boiled and knowing. MacDonald put McGee through a lot of tough scrapes, and Stephen King is among MacDoanld’s many admirers, referring to the author as “the great entertainer of our age, a mesmerizing storyteller.”

Thing is, most people nowadays probably have no idea who this character is. Which probably works in DiCaprio’s favor, since the slim, sensitive-looking actor is not at all what most of us think about when we read a Travis McGee novel. Although MacDonald was smart about almost never describing what McGee looked like, I always pictured a brawny guy who could simultaneously pilot a boat and cuff a bad guy over the side into the ocean with ease.

In 1970, a blocky Rod Taylor played McGee in an adaptation of another novel, Darker Than Amber:

But Taylor didn’t quite have the magnetism that DiCaprio has. There was also a TV version of McGee, played by dolorous, mustached Sam Elliott in 1983, who had the laid-back part down, but not the man-of-action. (This McGee never made it past the TV-movie stage.)

Which raises the questions: Who’d make a better McGee? My colleague Thom Geier suggests Russell Crowe (he’s beefy enough) or Matthew McConaughey (excellent idea, since Matthew has the beach-bum aspect nailed). Any other suggestions?

Beyond that, are there movie stars you imagine when you read your favorite thriller writer? Have you ever imagined what leading man would make a good Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s books? Or Kay Scarpetta in Patricia Cornwell’s series? Or for that matter, Nathan Zuckerman in Philip Roth’s novels?

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