The revolving door of young men the Hollywood studios sent to our house to study acting with my father, Jeff Corey, moved through our lives like a sweet summer rain. These were the about-to-be-heartthrobs of the teen idol world who were chosen for their looks but were sent to my father on the off-hand chance they might also be able to learn how to act as well.
Gardner McKay was one of these handsome men. Under contact to MGM, Dominick Dunne sent Gardner to work with my father before casting him in the lead role of “Adventures in Paradise. ” The television show was produced by James Michener and ended up running successfully on ABC for three years with Gardner at the helm.
I was eight years old and playing in the front yard the day Gardner came to see my father for the first time. I was unsuccessfully trying to hone my cartwheel skills, which were never any good. I was down on the lawn for the count, splayed out in a rather inelegant position when Gardner drove up to the house in a baby blue Cadillac convertible. The top was down and the white leather seats gleamed in the sunlight. Next to him, on the front seat, was a gray and white English sheepdog.
Gardner jumped out of the car. He was wearing cream-colored slacks, cream-colored bucks, and a baby blue V-neck sweater. He gave the dog a quick pat on the head and then turned to me and said, “I’m looking for Jeff Corey.”
I was having trouble keeping my eyes off the car and the dog but pointed Gardner down the driveway. “Go through the gate and knock on the studio door. My dad’s in there,” I said, automatically reciting the directions I always gave to my father’s students. Gardner bounded down the driveway and I was left staring at the gray and white dog who sat with his eyes locked in the direction that Gardner had gone.
Much as I wanted to I knew I couldn’t go and pet the dog. Instead, I sat on the stoop with my hands on my knees and took it all in. Never mind the grass stains on my pants or the scratches on my arms. Life was good.
A while later Gardner came out. He looked happy so I assumed it had gone well. The dog barked, glad to see him. Gardner gave me a wave and jumped into the front seat. As the key turned and the motor hummed, he carefully steered the car away from the curb. His baby blue sweater melted into the gleaming fins of the Cadillac and the white leather seats sparkled in the afternoon sun. Next to him, the long, silky hair of the English sheepdog waved goodbye to me in the wind as, together, they disappeared into the streets of Hollywood.
To this day, it is still one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen.