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Picks and Pans Review: A Friendship

updated 01/19/1987 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/1987 01:00AM

by Dan Rowan and John D. MacDonald

In 1967 comedian Dan Rowan sent word through a mutual friend to novelist John MacDonald. Rowan said he was a big fan of MacDonald's fictional hero, Travis McGee, and that message began the correspondence that makes up this unusual book. Shortly after they became pen pals, Rowan's career, thanks to TV's Laugh-In, took off. Rowan tells of being a compulsive gambler, and in response Meyer (a pundit created by MacDonald for the McGee novels) makes some interesting observations about that ailment. Both men are interested in politics, but Rowan, far more liberal, is upset about the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. MacDonald worries about saving Florida's natural beauty. Visits between the men take place. There are small misunderstandings. Then, as Rowan's fame begins its slide and his marriage comes apart, the letters reflect the ultimately destructive nature of fame. MacDonald becomes increasingly critical of the comic's disruptive behavior. By 1974 the friendship is over. Rowan is the big surprise in this book. He is bright, testy, articulate, troubled and honest. MacDonald is avuncular and more like the stuffy Meyer than the warm McGee. The agreement to publish these letters has apparently healed the rift in their relationship. (Knopf, $18.95)

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