Gavin MacLeod, familiar to TV fans as sarcastic news writer Murray Slaughter on Mary Tyler Moore and as no-B.S. Capt. Merrill Stubing on The Love Boat, died Saturday, May 29, at his Palm Desert, California, home.
He was 90.
MacLeod's death, following several months of failing health, was confirmed by his nephew and by his first wife, who were unable to pinpoint a cause.
He was born Allan See on February 28, 1931, in Mount Kisco, New York.
After he graduated from Ithaca College and served in the U.S. Air Force, the aspiring actor moved to New York City, where he adopted the surname of a beloved teacher, Bernice MacLeod, and took his first name from a disabled character he saw on television.
In 2019, he spoke about the woman who inspired his soon-to-be-famous name with his Mary Tyler Moore on-screen wife, Joyce Bulifant:
MacLeod made his TV debut in 1957, on a teleplay presented by The Walter Winchell File. His credited debut in the movies in 1958 was in the hit I Want to Live!, starring Susan Hayward. It seemed at first he may have a solid career on the big screen — he had parts in the important pictures Compulsion and Operation Petticoat (both 1959) — but it was TV where he found his fortune.
It just took a little while!
MacLeod worked steadily on TV in the late '50s and early '60s, including gigs on The Thin Man (1958), U.S. Marshal (1958), Whirlybirds (1958), the Peter Gunn pilot (1958; a job he was hired for by Blake Edwards), Steve Canyon (1959), Manhunt (1959), The Untouchables (1959-1962), Perry Mason (first appearance in 1961) and Dr. Kildare (1961). A spot on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961) in the Season 1 "Empress Carlotta's Necklace" episode — playing the wholesale jeweler cousin of Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon) — placed him in the orbit of Mary Tyler Moore for the first, but not the last, time.
Cast as Happy on Ernest Borgnine's McHale's Navy (1962-1964), he was enjoying his first lasting success, yet was feeling less-than.
In his 2013 memoir This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith and Life, MacLeod recalled his emotional distress, telling Extra:
“I started to drink. I thought it would help me. It made it worse. I thought, ‘I’m not worth anything’ and I was so self involved. I didn’t have God and I tried to go off the top of Mulholland Drive to end everything, but something stopped, I put my foot on the brake. It wasn’t me, it was something else.”
He recovered and went to his friend Robert Blake's house, and would later attribute this episode to his eventual conversion to Evangelical Protestantism.
Post-McHale's Navy, MacLeod appeared in feature versions of the series, McHale's Navy (1964) and McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965). He continued to be omnipresent on TV, including on episodes of My Favorite Martian (1965 & 1966), more Perry Mason episodes (1965), Ben Casey (1966), The Rat Patrol (1966), Combat! (1967), Death Valley Days (1960 & 1968), Ironside (1968), The Flying Nun (1969), Hawaii Five-O (1968 & 1969), The Big Valley (1967-1969), Hogan's Heroes (1966-1969), Judd for the Defense (1969), It Takes a Thief (1968-1970) and The Name of the Game (1970).
In 1970, he made his debut as Murray Slaughter on Mary Tyler Moore, playing one of TV's most lovable smart-asses. As part of a cast that went down in TV history, he was twice nominated for a Golden Globe.
With his death, only Ed Asner and Betty White remain from the main cast.
Squeezing in other work, including on Wonder Woman (1978), Charlie's Angels (1979), in the hit miniseries Scruples (1980) and the TV-detective parody Murder Can Hurt You! (1980), in which he energetically spoofed Kojak, he spent most of the next 10 years as Capt. Merrill Stubing the taskmaster with a heart of gold, on The Love Boat (1977-1987).
For nine seasons — plus TV movies to follow — The Love Boat charmed audiences in some 90 countries with its whimsical tales of romance on the high seas, brought more or less to life by a lively, rotating passenger list of aging Oscar winners, currently hot ABC stars and future sensations. Who but Gavin MacLeod can say he tap-danced with Ginger Rogers and worked with stars like Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Ann Miller, Jane Wyman, Luise Rainer, Debbie Reynolds and Florence Henderson?
Not to mention Charo!
MacLeod revisited Stubing for TV movies and spent the rest of his life gamely talking up the show on TV at and conventions, in-between his duties on Evangelical television.
His acting work cooled significantly from the '90s on, but he still managed appearances on Oz (2000), The King of Queens (2001-2002), JAG (2003), Touched by an Angel (2003), That '70s Show (2006), Disney Channel's The Suite Life on Deck (2009) and his last TV gig, The Comeback Kids (2014). He made his final movie appearance in 2008's The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry.
MacLeod was married from 1954-1972 to Joan Rootvik, and married actres Patti Kendig in 1974. They divorced in 1982, but would remarry a few years later after both found religion. He is survived by her and by four children.