The “Mary Tyler Moore Show” vet talks about the roles that got away, his favorite “Love Boat” passengers and a possible Murray Slaughter statue.
Capt. Stubing is on cruise control. Gavin MacLeod, the actor who steered “The Love Boat” and turned whining into an art form as Murray Slaughter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” has retired from acting and is now focused on his faith, his family and his star-studded memories. He deals with all three in his new memoir, “This Is Your Captain Speaking.”
On the eve of a busy book tour, the 82-year-old actor spoke to us late last week from his home near Palm Springs, Calif.
Q: Did you keep tabs on your former co-star Valerie Harper while she was on “Dancing With the Stars”?
A: I did. I’m glad she got voted off. That show is too trying for a normal person, let alone one dealing with brain cancer. I’m glad she’s been an inspiration for millions of people, but I want her to concentrate on getting healed. She’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.
Q: I was aware that you read for the role of Lou Grant. What I didn’t know is that you didn’t want it.
A: Not at all. I never believed me as Mary’s boss. It was a physical thing and an age thing. But I wasn’t going to say no to the audition. So I read for Lou, got my laughs and had my hand on the doorknob when I said, “Look, guys. Lou is a sensational role, but I really like Murray.” So I read a few lines, including the one in which I call Ted Baxter the “Mastroianni of Minneapolis.” A few hours later, I saw my agent. He said the MTM company had called and wanted me to do the pilot. I said, “What part?” He said, “Is there a guy named Murray?”
Q: You also write about reading for the part of Archie Bunker, even though you didn’t want it. Why not?
A: It was so defaming. You need a special guy to play that. I abhor bigotry in every shape and form. I come from a place of love and compassion. It wouldn’t have been a good fit.
Q: People today have a hard time imagining you in either role because you’re now known for such likable characters. Did you ever feel pigeon-holed?
A: People see you as your latest personality and not as an actor. I played a drug dealer in “Hatful of Rain,” my first big stage production. I played Big Chicken on “Hawaii Five-O,” one of the most despicable characters ever. I once had a publicity director tell me that she didn’t want to get close to me because she had seen me in “The Connection,” a play in which I played something that came out from under a rock. I could play heavies as long as they got it in the end. I never wanted to send the wrong message.
Q: The roles of Lou Grant and Archie Bunker led to shelves full of Emmys, which you never got. Were you ever bitter about that?
A: What are awards in the long run? The biggest reward is that Jesus forgave me of my sins and gave me a new beginning when I was born again. I was able to help Ted Knight get to heaven. That’s far more important. You’re talking to a guy who’s grateful every morning.
Q: Yeah, the book is full of enthusiasm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many exclamation points.
A: That’s just me and the way I talk. Maybe I’m a walking exclamation point. That’s a good line.
Q: Who was the biggest star who ever boarded “The Love Boat’?
A: That’s a hard one. Tom Hanks came on when he was doing “Bosom Buddies.” He acted with Doris Roberts. He still talks about it when I run into him.
One of the thrills of my life was doing an episode called “Love Boat Follies” in which I got to perform with Carol Channing, Ann Miller and Van Johnson. I was in actor’s pig heaven. I also have fond memories of the last episode, when I married Marion Ross, who I love so much. Did you know she’s from Minnesota? I think you live in one of the greatest places. I did Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” there and “Moon Over Buffalo.” I think the Ordway is one of the most beautiful theaters in the country. I still need to get up there and see the Mary Tyler Moore statue.
Q: If there was a statue of Murray Slaughter, what would he be doing?
A: Wow. No one has ever asked me that. Maybe it would be like this: One side would be him in a captain’s uniform giving a salute. Then you turn it around, and it’s a guy with a sweater sitting in front of a typewriter.
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 • Twitter: @NealJustin