HANDS up, those who’ve never watched so much as a single episode of The Love Boat. The Mary Tyler Moore Show? No-one?
Aside from being two of the most crisply written, longest-running and most commercially successful US TV comedies of the late 20th century, these international hit series have one more thing in common: now-84-year-old actor Gavin MacLeod.
Raised in small-town America, MacLeod – or Allan See, as he was known then – was from an early age a natural performer. However, his childhood was far from privileged and his transition to working professionally was a challenging and at-times-conflicted process.
Beginning with bit-parts alongside iconic film stars such as Gregory Peck and Cary Grant, MacLeod slowly and steadily earned increasingly lucrative roles. For the diligent, ambitious up-and-comer, these achievements had their drawbacks, though: namely, the frustration of playing unsatisfying peripheral characters. With that boredom came drinking, and with drinking – as MacLeod admits – followed the dissolution of his once-stable homelife and a need to rethink his choices.
This autobiography – just released in paperback – is simultaneously open and honest and heavily optimistic, presenting a glass-half-full account of MacLeod’s relationships on- and off-screen as he regrouped to become pivotal in the ensembles of Mary Tyler Moore (as writer Murray Slaughter) and then Love Boat (as father figure Captain Merrill Stubing). His generally positive, will-do attitude to life is evident throughout as he details his experience as a divorced Catholic who rediscovers Christianity and becomes passionately “born again”. (Warning: the final third of the book is particularly rich with religious references – something that may not always sit comfortably with Australian readers unaccustomed to middle America’s proclamations of faith.)
As one of the world’s most recognisable comedy actors, MacLeod writes with insight on not only himself but also Hollywood peers including Robert Redford, Bette Davis, Aaron Spelling and Marilyn Monroe.