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Interview with Gavin MacLeod
by Billy Ingram
In a career spanning interview conducted by the Television Academy Foundation with Gavin MacLeod, the actor talks about his co-stars on The Mary Tyler Moore Show including Ed Asner, Betty White and Ted Knight.
According to the NY Times: Gavin MacLeod was almost 40 when he was invited to audition for the role of Lou Grant for the pilot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. At the time he was a recovering alcoholic mostly known to TV audiences as Happy on the 1960s sitcom McHale’s Navy.
At the MTM audition, MacLeod asked if he could read for Murray instead and got the part while Ed Asner landed the Lou Grant role.
On Ed Asner as Lou Grant: Oh, well, that teddy bear, he's fabulous. He's a fabulous human being, and he's a fabulous actor. And he was a good old friend. You know, I don't, we don't see each other too much now because we're so far away. And my wife, we we're on the road half, half our lives, most of our lives. And he's, he's very, very dear and he's a, he's plotting, you know, he's got this, this way about him. He thinks and thinks and thinks and thinks he's so funny. And he was great to be with. He was like an older brother.
On Lou Grant’s relationship with Murray: Well, I think, you know, they had a very honest, good relationship. You know, Murray knew that he was employed by Lou. I mean, so you have a certain kind of respect there. And but they had fun together whenever they were out, you know Lou didn't hold anything over him. It was sort of like just peers. And, you know, you get people who work together got something special going, you know, they all those hours every day and so forth.
And I was kind of sad when Lou got divorced because Priscilla Marrell was such a wonderful actress. And of course she died some years after, but that gave, had another opportunity. And then he and SueAnn some of those scenes just were just fabulous, you know? And and Mary liked him.
About SueAnn played by Betty White: I have said this for some years, should be declared a national treasure. Betty White, when I first came out here in 1957, I think it was, she had the Betty White Show, and I was on the road on Barry Manilow's show just three years ago in Atlanta when I played the Fox Theater. And I came home one night and put on a television, and there was the Betty White Show. She turns around like this and she looks almost exactly like she does today.
So Betty was like in the beginning out here of all these kinds of television opportunities, and she made the most of them. She's fabulous. She's the, I've never seen anyone quite just look at a script, put it down, and then do it. She's just got that mind, the photographic mind, and she forgets them. Like she is one of the Witt ladies. I think she's one of the most talented people ever, and I think she should be declared an American treasure. And but Sue Anne, Sue Anne was a pain in the royal butt. Uh, Murray, you know, she was a pain to him, but he loved playing with her. She was a challenge. One ups upsmanship who was gonna get the best kinda line out regard. I mean, she loved to play with my bald head, you know, and I would deal with other parts of her body and making fun.
SueAnn was a great truth of the matter. When Valerie (Harper) and Cloris (Leachman) left, that's a major vacancy when Rhoda is not there anymore and Phyllis popping in. But when SueAnn showed up, it was a whole new thing. She came in for one show, and the rest is history. And she and Alan used to watch every Friday night, Alan Ludden, her husband, you know, passed away unfortunately. Uh, and they loved the show. And when they gave her that one shot, the rest is history. She just was something else. And she's very creative, very creative, very easy to work with. She's just the best.
About Ted Knight as Ted Baxter: He and I were friends since 1957 and we had been through a lot of things together, you know, cuz we were with the same agent… Ted Knight was one of the best dramatic actors I've ever witnessed in my life. Seen him do dramatic things that just put you away like Inherit the Wind. He did the Hornbeck character. He was sensational…
Once Ted Baxter hit and was so funny that part of his career was over, he no longer was considered a serious actor. They don't know how tough comedy is, you know? And so he couldn't get any more serious roles, and I think that bothered him a lot. I know that bothered him a lot. He would enter a room and they'd say, ‘Hey Ted.’ And they'd point and laugh and so forth. And they were laughing at Ted Baxter, not Ted Knight, but they had the same name…
We miss him a lot. I tell you, his wife, his widow lives very close to us. Dorothy, we've been through, we used to go, when we shot the Mary Tyler Moore Show every Friday night, the three guys and our wives would all go out, you know, and Dorothy was right there. And he and Dorothy had been sweethearts since college.
And Ted used to work in Albany, New York, and television was in his infancy. One of the shows he did was The Windy Night. He was a character called Windy Night, a little children's thing. And he had, that's where his puppets came in, you know, the puppets were used. And, and he used them in the other series too, that's where they started. And he was just, he and my wife used to sit there and laugh and scratch. He was a great guy. I miss him a lot.
Of course, after MTM left the air in 1977, Gavin MacLeod starred in another massive primetime hit in the 1980s, The Love Boat. That’s pretty rare, to follow a hit show with another top ten winner, especially one so iconic it practically defines the 1980s.
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