When I was 18, I decided I wanted to be a renaissance man. It was the late ’80s, and I must have learned the term from the magazines GQ or M, The Civilized Man. It wasn’t exactly a concept knocked about in my particular California suburb, nor passed down from my father. I was already interested tailored clothing, and my first semester in college took electives in piano, fencing and archery, in addition to five solids.
Since then, I’ve continued to nurture my natural tendencies as a generalist (aka Sagittarius) who’s high in Trait Openness (curiosity) and a fast learner, and have managed to develop superficial mastery in a number of things. But even this jack-of-all-trades was humbled by the current issue of The Rake, which features a profile of Gardner McKay, of whom I’d never heard. Not only was he multitalented, he was disgustingly handsome, too. He caps off our run of posts on ’50s-era heart-throbs and dreamboats, for in 1959 he appeared in a tennis sweater on the cover of LIFE Magazine with the headline, “How About Him, Girls?”
What made McKay such a catch, enough to snag a LIFE cover? I’ll leave you to discover that by reading the fascinating profile, but here’s a teaser:
The great-grandson of the shipbuilder Donald McKay, McKay was born George Cadogan Gardner McKay into a wealthy Episcopalian family in New York City, but brought up between there and Paris (between the ages of four and 17 he crossed the Atlantic eight times and stayed in 13 different boarding schools).
He worked briefly as a sculptor during his studies at Cornell University, and also worked as a movie-critic for the Cornell Daily Sun and the campus magazine The Widow, plus various articles for yacht magazines. Moving back to New York, he took up sculpture (he had one piece displayed in the Museum of Modern Art) while living in modest bliss in Greenwich Village and enhancing his credentials as a polymath by doing extra work as a designer, artist, record covers illustrator and painter.
This “dashing overachiever” might just inspire you to take up a new skill. And what better time than a summer weekend. — CC
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