Gavin MacLeod, a sitcom veteran who played seaman “Happy” Haines on “McHale’s Navy,” Murray on “Mary Tyler Moore” and the very different, vaguely patrician Captain Stubing on “The Love Boat,” has died. He was 90.
MacLeod’s nephew, Mark See, confirmed his death to Variety. MacLeod died in the early morning on May 29. No cause of death was given, but MacLeod’s health had declined in recent months.
MacLeod played a relatively minor character on ABC hit “McHale’s Navy,” starring Ernest Borgnine, but as news writer Murray Slaughter, he was certainly one of the stars of “Mary Tyler Moore,” appearing in every one of the classic comedy’s 168 episodes during its 1970-77 run on CBS. Murray was married to Marie (Joyce Bulifant) but was in love with Moore’s Mary Richards. His desk was right next to Mary’s in the WGN newsroom, so MacLeod was frequently in the shot during the sitcom, and Murray, like all the other characters, was richly developed — a hallmark of MTM shows.
MacLeod originally tried out for the part of Lou Grant, which went to Ed Asner, but claimed to be happy that he ended up playing Murray. He also auditioned for the role of Archie Bunker on “All in the Family,” but of reading the script for the first time, he wrote in his memoir, “Immediately I thought, This is not the script for me. The character is too much of a bigot. I can’t say these things.” When Norman Lear called the actor to say that Carroll O’Connor had gotten the part, MacLeod was relieved.
The “Moore” cast — MacLeod, Asner, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White and Georgia Engel (Ted Knight had died in 1986) — reminisced with Moore in 2002 on CBS’ “The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion.”
Asner paid tribute to MacLeod on Twitter, writing: “My heart is broken. Gavin was my brother, my partner in crime (and food) and my comic conspirator. I will see you in a bit Gavin. Tell the gang I will see them in a bit. Betty! It’s just you and me now.”
MacLeod may, indeed, hold a record for consecutive long-running series: He went straight from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (168 episodes) to “The Love Boat” (249 episodes).
The New York Times said in 2010: “Perhaps no actor has embraced a signature role the way Mr. MacLeod has with Captain Stubing. Since ‘The Love Boat’ went off the air, he has been a spokesman for Princess Cruises.”
In 1997, the actor joined the rest of “The Love Boat” cast on “Oprah” in what was the first full cast appearance since the show was cancelled. Another cast reunion occurred in 2013 on “The Talk.”
MacLeod was born Allan George See in Mount Kisco, N.Y. His mother worked for Reader’s Digest, while his father was an electrician who was part Chippewa. He grew up in Pleasantville, N.Y., and went to Ithaca College, where he studied acting and graduated in 1952. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he moved to New York City and worked at Radio City Music Hall as an usher and elevator operator while seeking work as an actor. During this time he changed his name.
After a few uncredited film roles, MacLeod made his credited big screen debut in the 1958 Susan Hayward vehicle “I Want to Live,” playing a police lieutenant, then played a G.I. in Gregory Peck starrer “Pork Chop Hill” the next year. His supporting role in Blake Edwards’ WWII comedy “Operation Petticoat,” starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis and focusing on the chaotic goings on aboard a submarine, gave the young actor a flavor of what he would be doing a few years later on “McHale’s Navy.” In the meantime he appeared in the 1960 thriller “Twelve Hours to Kill,” which starred future “I Dream of Jeannie” star Barbara Eden; Blake Edwards’ musical comedy “High Time,” starring Bing Crosby and Fabian; and the critically hailed but now forgotten Korean War film “War Hunt.” He also did a boatload of guest appearances on TV before his stint on “McHale’s Navy.”
MacLeod left “McHale’s Navy” in order to be able to appear in a supporting role in the excellent period adventure film “The Sand Pebbles,” starring Steve McQueen, and he appeared in a number of other films throughout the decade: “A Man Called Gannon” and Blake Edwards’ Peter Sellers comedy “The Party” in 1968; “The Thousand Plane Raid,” “The Comic” and “The Intruders” in 1969; and, in 1970, the World War II caper film “Kelly’s Heroes,” in which he played Moriarty, Oddball’s machine-gunner and mechanic.
In the meantime he was guesting on both dramas (“Perry Mason,” “Ben Casey,” “Ironside,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Big Valley”) and comedies (“The Andy Griffith Show,” “My Favorite Martian,” “Hogan’s Heroes”). In December 1961, he guested on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in what was his first time working with Mary Tyler Moore.
After his years on “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The Love Boat,” MacLeod did not work on a steady basis — he did not have to.
He made an impression, however, in a 2000 episode of HBO prison drama “Oz” in which he played the Roman Catholic Cardinal Frances Abgott, with whom Rita Moreno’s nun Sister Pete discusses leaving the order. The actor had assumed a certain gravitas as Captain Stubing, even amid the silliness of “The Love Boat,” that made this role possible in a way that it couldn’t have been before.
In the 2000s MacLeod also guested on series including “The King of Queens,” “JAG,” “Touched by an Angel” and “That ’70s Show.”
MacLeod, who had appeared on Broadway in 1962 in “The Captains and the Kings,” also returned to stage work after “The Love Boat.” He toured with Michael Learned of “The Waltons” in A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters,” and he appeared in musicals such as “Gigi” and “Copacabana” between 1997 and 2003. At a concert in 2008, he conducted the Colorado Symphony in Denver.
MacLeod was first married, from 1955-1972, to Joan Devore, with whom he had two sons and two daughters.
He married actress Patti Kendig in 1974. They divorced in 1982 but remarried in 1985.
During the mid-1980s, MacLeod and his second wife became Evangelical Christians, and the pair credited the religion for reuniting them. He wrote about it in his 1987 book “Back on Course, the Remarkable Story of a Divorce That Ended in Remarriage.” He and Kendig appeared in the Christian big-screen time-travel epic “Time Changer,” along with Hal Linden, in 2002, and he played the title role in the 2008 Christian film “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry.”
His memoir “This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life,” was published in 2013.
He is survived by Kendig and four children by Devore.