For a time in the early '60s, Gardner McKay was considered one of the hottest male stars in the television firmament -- he was one of those rare male television stars whose appeal to women was so great that his looks alone carried the series in which he starred for its first season, as he became a better actor. McKay never did translate that stardom to the big screen, but instead pursued a career as an author and playwright. Born George Cadogan Gardner McKay in New York in 1932, he was the son of advertising executive Deane McKay and his wife, Catherine. Gardner spent a major part of his childhood in Paris and attended Cornell University until his father's death. McKay tried to work in the advertising field, but walked away from it, out of boredom, and instead turned to art. He was talented enough as a sculptor to sell a piece to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but he soon found that this area of endeavor didn't really interest him, either. He did a little modeling work in New York City, just to pass the time, and then turned to theater and acting in his mid-twenties. With his dark good looks, his lack of experience was almost irrelevant for movies and television, and it wasn't long before he was noticed by casting directors.
McKay's screen career began with a small role in the movie Raintree County (1957), and he went on to work in episodes of television series such as The Thin Man and Boots and Saddles. One day in early 1959, the 26-year-old McKay was spotted by a producer who, taking note of his rangy six-foot-five physique and dark, handsome looks, offered him the starring role in an upcoming series. The program, being produced by 20th Century Fox's television division, was called Adventures in Paradise.