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Gavin McCleod Interview

Gavin McLeod in McHale's NavyOnce when "The Love Boat" was navigating prime time waters, and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "McHale's Navy" were still in re-runs, an Entertainment Tonight poll named Gavin MacLeod the most recognizable man on TV. Last week, that likeable icon christened his long-awaited autobiography, and it doesn't disappoint.

"This is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage through Hollywood, Faith, and Life" is both informational and inspirational, as Gavin opens up about such pleasantries as being broke, getting fired, and turning to demon rum, all of which he survived thanks to the Man upstairs. I asked my friend Gavin why he waited so long to write the book.

GM: Because I'm 82 now, and I only have a few years left. I wanted to do it while I could still remember. I'm not kidding. When I was writing it, there were so many things we had to omit. If this book sells, we're going to do another book called, "This is STILL Your Captain Speaking".

Born Allan George See, Gavin grew up in the town of Pleasantville, NY, and was bitten by the acting bug in kindergarten, where he starred in a Mother's Day play.

GM: My teacher used to say I was the cutest boy in the class (because) I had won the Charming Child contest from the New York Daily Mirror. I played the part of a little boy who was trying to decide what to give his mother for Mother's Day. He had no money, so he went into the forest and a bear said, "The thing to give your mother is a bear hug". So I gave the girl who was playing my mother a big hug, and the audience applauded. I thought, "They like me! I want to do more of this!" And that was the beginning of me wanting to be an actor.

Like most struggling young New York actors of that era, Allan (now Gavin MacLeod) took other jobs while waiting for his big break. He worked as an usher at Radio City Music Hall, and as a cashier at Jim Downey's Steak House, a popular hang-out in the heart of the theatre district. Over time, Gavin got used to meeting big stars, but he wasn't prepared for one particular customer who came in for a bite after working all day at the Actors Studio.

GM: One night I looked up across the bar and there was Eli Wallach with Marilyn Monroe. She had on an open blouse and a sweater over her shoulder, and was wearing no make up. And I thought, "Oh my God, it's Marilyn Monroe!" They came over and sat down right across from me. She didn't know I was an actor then, she just thought I was a young guy with a bad hair piece. I said, "Hello, how are you and how do you like New York?". And Marilyn said, "It's so different here. Everybody is so nice to me". Then I said, "Well you're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen", and she laughed. And I said, "You know what I'm going to do when I get home at 1:30 in the morning? I'm going to call all of my friends and tell them I met Marilyn Monroe". That's when she really laughed.

JL: I bet your friends loved that.

GM: They all got a big kick out of it. They were all young actors.

A year later, Gavin made it to Broadway as a replacement actor in "A Hatful of Rain", and from there he appeared in a number of live TV dramas. Then in 1962 he landed the role of sailor Joseph Happy Haines in "McHale's Navy", and all was well until his friend Ted Knight came aboard to do a cameo.

GM: Ted said, "Gavin how can you do this? You're just a glorified extra". What he said began to weigh on me, and I started drinking every day after work. I wasn't myself. I was sort of disintegrating.

Gavin McLeod in MTMGavin left "McHale's Navy", stopped drinking, and was selective about the roles he took in film and on television. The move paid off, and he was offered the role of Lou Grant in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". But MacLeod thought he'd be more believable as Mary's buddy Murray Slaughter, and the rest is comedy history. MTM ended production in 1977, and within two weeks, Aaron Spelling asked Gavin to assume the helm of "The Love Boat".

"The Love Boat" was known for featuring iconic Hollywood guest stars each week, and Gavin couldn't have been happier.

GM: God gave me this opportunity to meet these people who I had wanted to be like when I was a little boy, and here they are on my show. I never stopped pinching myself!

Gavin McLeod in Love Boat"The Love Boat" ended its run after ten seasons, but Gavin continued on as the face of Princess Cruise Lines. Meanwhile he turned down choice roles on TV to appear in religious films and devote his life to Christ.

Given Gavin's immense popularity over the years, I wondered if there was ever a time when fame went to his head.

GM: No because I know how things can change overnight. I never believed all the publicity. I don't want to seem unduly humble, but I am a very grateful person. God has really had His hand on my life.


Jim Longworth is a television talk show host, columnist for YESWeekly, and author of the TV Creators series of books for Syracuse University Press

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