By Lynn Elber
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gavin MacLeod’s new autobiography recounts childhood poverty and loss, alcohol abuse and a brush with suicide, but the man and the book emerge as determinedly upbeat.
“Grateful” is employed frequently in conversation as the affable MacLeod reflects on life, his born-again Christian faith and the long acting career that included the major TV hits “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The Love Boat.”
“That’s a big word in my life,” said MacLeod who, at 82, has endured two heart attacks yet still looks and sounds energetic enough to set sail. “I’m just so grateful I’ve had another day, another day, another day, and that my kids are doing so well.”
“This is Your Captain Speaking,” with a cover photo of MacLeod as Capt. Merrill Stubing in his sparkling white “Love Boat” uniform and smile to match, is a candid look at his ups and downs in love and as an actor, including his unexpected jump from second banana to leading man.
But he is almost invariably kind to the many stars he worked with over the years in film and TV, including Cary Grant and Robert Redford, and the parade of previous-generation performers who came aboard “The Love Boat,” including Helen Hayes, Ethel Merman and Cab Calloway.
“The big stars are the best. I pinched myself every single day” heading to work on “Love Boat,” MacLeod said, anticipating who would be on set “and the experiences we would have working together.”
Then there’s Bette Davis. She wasn’t among those who boarded “Love Boat” during its 1977-87 cruise, but MacLeod’s social encounter with her provides a memorable anecdote.
A mutual friend asked MacLeod and his wife to invite Davis, then in her 70s, to dinner, because the star wanted to meet him. No effort or expense was spared (Davis’ drink of choice, Chivas Regal, and caviar were served), but the grande dame proceeded to quarrel with guests, insult her hosts and then pour salt on the wound with an interview in which she called the evening a “disaster.”
“She ripped us! I couldn’t believe it,” MacLeod says in the book (written with Mark Dagostino), which opens in a far different world.
MacLeod, born Allan See in 1931, was raised in the town of Pleasantville, N.Y. His Depression Era-childhood included poverty and a household roiled by his father’s bouts of drinking and then death at age 39 from cancer.
MacLeod was 13, and the loss hit him hard.
“I could have closed up into a ball right there,” he writes. “Could have turned into a ‘bad kid.’ … But instead, I did the opposite.”
Acting proved his passion and he pursued it in school and then in New York, where he had to cover his prematurely balding head with a toupee — secondhand, but once worn by a celebrity — to get work. He made it to Broadway with a well-regarded performance as a junkie in “A Hatful of Rain,” but couldn’t get an agent.
That prompted him and then-wife Joan Rootvik, a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, to make the jump to Hollywood in the late 1950s, where he found a representative and work and met actors who turned into lifelong friends, including Ted Knight, another future “Mary Tyler Moore” cast member.
Then a career slump forced MacLeod to take a part in the sitcom “McHale’s Navy” that was so minor that Knight chided him: “How can you do this, man? You’re a glorified extra!”
His sense of failure led to heavy drinking and, one night, a close encounter with death when he nearly drove off a cliff in despair, MacLeod recounted. He ended up quitting the series, getting his career back on track and eventually giving up alcohol in 1973.
“I never craved another drink. I see people get drunk in front of me and I feel compassion for them. I celebrate life sober,” he said.
His book details other challenges, including his divorce from his first wife and marriage, divorce and remarriage to actress-dancer Patti Steele. It was she who brought MacLeod, raised a Catholic, to their shared born-again faith.
The longtime spokesman for Carnival Cruises said he considers his Hollywood acting career over and will appear only in Christian-themed projects such as the 2008 movie “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry.”
“That’s the only thing I want to do now. There’s a great purpose to doing those films. Nothing else interests me,” he said.
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