Gavin MacLeod: Murray Slaughter Takes Up Sailing

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As we wind up our up close and personal blog series, we are focusing on Gavin MacLeod. I have mentioned Gavin MacLeod’s name a lot in my blogs, but I have never devoted an entire to blog to him, so today is the day. Gavin had an impressive career; he starred in three sitcoms but those three garnered him almost 500 episodes. In addition, he took on more than a hundred guest roles on both the small and big screen.

MacLeod was born Allan George See in 1931 in New York. His mother worked for Reader’s Digest, and his father was an electrician. In 1952, MacLeod graduated from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, studying acting.

On Perry Mason Photo: imdb.com

He served in the US Air Force where he wrote, produced, and directed plays. After his service, he moved to New York City. While tackling acting auditions, he worked at Radio City Music Hall. While working as an usher there, he met Joan Rootvik, a Rockette. They married in 1955 and had four children. About this time, he took on the name Gavin MacLeod. MacLeod was a tribute to his acting coach at Ithaca, Beatrice MacLeod.

His movie career began with three movies in 1958. He would make 20 more before 2005, including Operation Petticoat and The Gene Krupa Story.

His television appearances began in 1957 on The Walter Winchell File. He would make another lucky 13 performances during the fifties including The Thin Man and Whirlybirds.

On Hogan’s Heroes Photo: pinterest.com

The sixties kept him busy. He took on comedy in The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Munsters, Gomer Pyle USMC, The Andy Griffith Show, My Favorite Martian, The Flying Nun, and several different characters on Hogan’s Heroes. Westerns called him for Rawhide, The Iron Horse, Death Valley Days, and The Big Valley. He landed dramas including The Man from UNCLE, Perry Mason, Ironside, Hawaii Five-0, and Ben Casey.

From 1962-1964 he starred as Happy in McHale’s Navy. The show continued until 1966, but Gavin left the show halfway through. He was dealing with alcoholism, and he received an offer to make the movie The Sand Pebbles with Steve McQueen. However, he remained close friends with Ernest Borgnine, the star of the show, until his death in 2012. (He quit drinking in 1974.)

Murray and Mary Photo: showbizcheatsheet.com

During the 1970s, he appeared on Love American Style, Charlie’s Angels, and Wonder Woman, but the character we loved best during that decade was Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. From 1970-1977, Murray sat next to Mary, helping her through the ups and downs of life. Gavin was originally auditioning for the role of Lou Grant, but ended up reading for Murray. He and Ted Baxter were enemies on the show, but he and Ted Knight were dear friends in real life. They had lived near each other before being cast in the show.

During the run of the show, Gavin and his first wife divorced, and he married his second wife Patti Steele. That marriage also ended in divorce in 1982. Patti became part of a Bible Study group after their divorce and became a Christian. Gavin reached out to her, also became a Christian, and they remarried in 1985.

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Upon the ending of Mary’s show, he was immediately hired as Captain Stubing on The Love Boat. This time he was in charge of his coworkers. One of his best friends was Bernie Kopell who played Dr. Adam Bricker on the show. Gavin was on the seas for a decade. His best friend Telly Savalas (the lollipop-loving Kojak star) popped up on The Love Boat; the two were very close until Telly’s death in 1994.

When the show ended in 1987, he got a well-deserved break, but he still managed to find time to tour with Michael Learned in “Love Letters.”

Celebrating on Murder She Wrote Photo: imdb.com

He landed a variety of television show appearances in the 1990s and 2000s, including Murder She Wrote, King of Queens, JAG, and That 70s Show. His final appearance was in 2014 on The Comeback Kids; then he decided to retire. He also did several musicals after The Love Boat including “Gypsy,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “Gigi.”

MacLeod and his wife hosted a show on marriage on Trinity Broadcasting Network for 17 years. He also served as the honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades from 2006-2011 when Sugar Ray Leonard took over.

The Love Boat was a big part of his life. Instead of being bitter about being typecast, he embraced the role. He celebrated his 80th birthday in 2011 aboard the Golden Princess with his family, celebrating with a 3D replica cake of The Pacific Princess, his boat on the show.

Photo: princesscruises.com

In 2013, MacLeod joined his former coworkers on The Talk for a cast reunion. Several members of the cast including Gavin took part in The Rose Bowl Parade in 2015.

The cast apparently was very close. Ted Lange who played bartender Isaac Washington mentioned the crew in an interview in 2017 with “The Wiseguyz Show,” saying “Oh yeah, sure, Gavin was wonderful. Gavin lives down here in Palm Springs and we’re still tight, all of us, Gavin and Bernie and Jill; we still see each other. Fred [who played Gopher] lives in a different state, we’re still close, we’re still good friends.”

In his spare time, Gavin enjoyed traveling, playing tennis, dancing, golfing, sailing, reading the Bible, and watching movies. Gavin passed away in May of 2021 at his home.

Photo: twitter.com

During the past decade, he released a memoir, This is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life. He explained his goal for writing this book: “My life has taken one incredible turn after another,” writes MacLeod. “I’ve gotten to do what I wanted to do. I’ve been a captain! I’ve been given this incredible gift of life and now I want to use it to give back. That’s why I’m sharing my story here, the fun parts and even some not-so-fun parts, in the hopes that maybe someone will take a nice walk down memory lane with me – and maybe I’ll even give someone a little bit of hope.”

Good memories and a little bit of hope is all we can ask for; thanks, Gavin, for giving that to us.

Kojak: The Cool Detective

As we continue with a new blog series, “One-Named Detectives,” we find ourselves in New York City on the search for a bald man with a lollipop in each pocket on Kojak

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From 1973-78, Lt. Theo Kojak (Telly Savalas) fought crime in the city with an amazingly upbeat personality. The first choice to play Kojak was Marlon Brando; he was willing to do it, but I never could find out why the network would not approve him. Kojak is known for his catch phrase, “Who loves ya baby.” And that lollipop fetish?  Kojak was trying to cut back on his smoking habit and used suckers as a way to do so.

The show was created by Abby Mann, a television writer. The series had an interesting back story. Universal Television asked Mann to write a story based on a 1963 murder/rape case of Wylie and Hoffert, two women from Manhattan. Because of the attitude of many police about African Americans, after a shoddy investigation, the murders were blamed on George Whitmore Jr. A second investigation proved he was innocent and identified the real killer, Richard Robles who was then sentenced to life in prison. The story Mann created was titled the Marcus-Nelson Murders and Telly Savalas starred in the movie as “Kojack,” and the movie became the pilot for the television show.

32 Kojack ideas | actors, actors & actresses, hollywood
The cast of Kojak. Photo: pinterest

There were several other cast members on the show including Telly’s real-life brother George who played Detective Stavros. Other regulars were Captain Frank McNeil (Dan Frazer), Detective Bobby Crocker (Kevin Dobson), Detective Saperstein (Mark Russell), and Detective Rizzo (Vince Conti).

It has a little bit of 1940s noirish feel mixed with seventies details. Plots frequently deal with the Mob. There were also several jewel heists, bad cops who were murderers, and serial killers.

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A lot of guest stars appeared on the show and so did many of Telly’s friends including Tige Andrews, Jackie Cooper, Michael Constantine, Vincent Gardenia, Daniel J. Travanti, Bernie Kopell, Shelley Winters and Danny Thomas.

Two different theme songs were used for the show. Seasons one through four used “We’ll Make It This Time” composed by Billy Goldenberg with lyrics written by Bill Dyer. The last season’s theme was composed by John Cacavas.

In season one, Kojak was in the top ten. The show aired Wednesday nights on CBS following Cannon, the show we learned about last week.  In season two, the show moved to Sunday nights after Cher and before Mannix (which we’ll discover next week). Seasons two and three the show was in the top twenty. The show had decent ratings the fourth season, but it declined for the fifth season which is when it was canceled.

Two CBS movies were made later–Kojak: The Belarus File in 1985 and Kojak: The Price of Justice in 1987. In 1989 ABC tried to revive the series again with five more movies.

Savalas was won an Emmy in 1974. The show was nominated for best drama series that year as well but lost to Upstairs Downstairs. That exact scenario also occurred in 1975.

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Photo: pinterest.com

I learned a few fun facts researching the show. One was that Savalas was typically cast as the villain before getting the role of Kojak. Savalas was also a singer who had released five albums between 1972-1980.

For all you vintage automobile fans, Kojak drove two cars during the series: a 1970 Ambassador and a 1972 Alfa Romeo.

One fact that really surprised me was that Queen Elizabeth was said to be an avid fan of the show.

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Telly Savalas seemed destined to play Kojak. Film producer Howard Koch said, “Telly was great in everything. But he was born for ‘Kojak’—those snappy remarks, they were really him.”

At his memorial service, friends remembered how kind he was. A “little old lady” wanted an autograph from him at the exact moment he needed to pay attention to a blackjack game in Vegas. She got the autograph, and he didn’t get the hundreds of dollars he lost that round. They also told a story about one cold day in New York while they were filming and the only thing available for warmth was a lady’s mink coat which Telly proudly wore.

So, when you hear Kojak ask, “Who loves ya baby?,” you can confidently answer “We all love you.”  

The Man From UNCLE: What Happens When James Bond Comes Out of the Cold and Into TV

We are in the midst of our Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem series this month. In the mid-1960s, westerns were still the most popular show on television with rural sitcoms coming on the scene. Crime shows still had their fair share of air time, but spy shows were non-existent. With the end of the Cold War, Bond movies, and books like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, these types of thrillers were bound to hit the small screen. From 1964-1968, The Man from UNCLE took us behind the scenes to observe the dangerous life of special agents.

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Beginning on Tuesday nights on NBC, the show was produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. The creator, Norman Felton, asked Ian Fleming to act as a consultant. (Some sources list Felton as the sole creator; some credit Sam Rolfe as a co-creator.) The book The James Bond Films mentions that Fleming suggested two characters: Napoleon Solo and April Dancer. Napoleon Solo became one of the main characters on The Man from UNCLE, and we will learn more about April Dancer later. Solo was also a villain in the movie Goldfinger. Originally titled “Solo,image of ” the popularity of the film led to a title change in the television show to The Man from Uncle.

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Solo (Robert Vaughn), being an American, was set up in a partnership with a Russian, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). The duo would take on multinational secret intelligence work under UNCLE, The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. They sometimes worked with Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) who headed up an English organization. They frequently went up against THRUSH. We never learned who was part of THRUSH or what their goals were, apart from taking over the world of, course.

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David McCallum

Solo was supposed to be the typical ladies’ man, with Kuryakin being the intelligent, funny, and loyal partner, but McCallum turned into an instant celebrity. Hysterical fans attended promotional appearances and magazines gave he and his wife Jill Ireland little peace and quiet. One article I read discussed an incident in Baton Rouge, LA when McCallum was locked in a bathroom so the police could clear out the screaming women. When he was supposed to do a spot in a Macy’s store in New York, police had to disperse 15,000 screaming women who made it too dangerous for him to appear and did “a colossal amount of damage” to the store.

Solo and Kuryakin accessed their secret headquarters through a tailor’s shop, Del Floria’s.

Photo: filmandfurniture.com

In an interesting twist, the creators decided to feature an “innocent character,”–a Joe Doe or Jane Smith who the viewers could identify with—in every episode.

The theme music was created by Jerry Goldsmith, changing slightly each season as new composers came on board, eight in all.

Photo: imdb.com

With the exception of one show, the episodes were titled “The ______ Affair.” Every year at least one two-part show was aired. The pair of shows became theatrical films released in Europe. Additional footage was added to the movies. Some of these films were later seen on American television and include To Trap a Spy (1964), The Spy with My Face (1965), One Spy Too Many (1966), The Spy in the Green Hat (1967), and How to Steal the World (1968), among others.

Photo: imdb.com

Although stuntmen were hired for the two leads, they also did their own stunts. Typically, the actor and stuntman did each stunt, and the final version combined the best of them. However, McCallum tried to avoid heights, and Vaughn disliked water scenes.

Like Get Smart, the recurring characters were a small group, and guest stars were necessary for each episode. Both high-profile and up-and-coming actors were eager to appear on the show. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy can be seen together in “The Project Strigas Affair” two years before they starred on Star Trek. Other actors who appeared include Judy Carne, Joan Collins, Yvonne Craig, Broderick Crawford, Robert Culp, Chad Everett, Barbara Feldon, Anne Francis, Werner Klemperer, Janet Leigh, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Ricardo Montalban, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Vincent Price, Cesar Romero, Kurt Russell, Sonny and Cher, and Telly Savalas.

Photo: theunclefiles.com

Of course, spies need technological gadgets to get a leg up on the competition. Some of their communication devices included a security badge and a business card. They could also communicate with a portable satellite disguised as a cigarette case or fountain pen.

Like all good crime fighters, the duo needed a car, and theirs was a Piranha Coupe, based on the Chevrolet Corvair.

Photo: tvguide.com

Weapons were also a necessity in their line of work. The UNCLE Special was a semi-automatic weapon which was useful except at night when THRUSH had access to a “sniperscope” which allowed the villains to shoot in total darkness.

The gadgets, props, and clothing for the show were so popular that they are exhibited in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The CIA also exhibits some of the show’s items.

Season 1 was a great success even though partway through the season, the show moved from Tuesdays to Mondays. With season 2 came more “tongue-in-cheek” dialogue, and the series switched from black and white to full color. Athough the show was moved to Friday nights, its popularity continued.

Photo: mtv.com

Season 3 added a campy element, a la the Batman and The Monkees craze, against the stars’ wishes. The ratings decreased and the show never attained the same quality and ratings again. It was renewed for a fourth season but cancelled partway through when there was no increase in viewership.

Although the show was only extremely popular for two years, it garnered eight Emmy nominations and five Golden Globe nominations, including a win for David McCallum as best star in 1966.

Photo: filmandfurniture.com

Of course, like all popular shows from the 1960s, a tv movie was made a few years later and a big-screen remake came decades later.

The Return of the Man from UNCLE: The Fifteen Years Later Affair was seen on CBS, not NBC, in 1983 with both Vaughn and McCallum reprising their roles. At the beginning of the movie, we learn that although THRUSH was obliterated with the arrest of its leader, he has now escaped from prison. Rather than stick with the chemistry of the two leads, the tv movie pairs each lead with a younger agent.

In 2015, Guy Ritchie’s big-screen The Man from UNCLE was set in the 1960s featuring Solo (Henry Cavill), Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), and Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander). The trio must work together in a joint mission to stop an evil organization from using Gaby’s father’s expertise in science to build a nuclear bomb. All the while, they don’t totally trust each other, and secretly put their own country’s agendas first. As far as reboots go, the film was actually a good rendition of the original show.

Photo: worthpoint.com

Of course, there was no limit to the merchandising in connection with the show. Several comic books based on the series were published, as well as two dozen novels. In addition to membership cards, viewers could show their love

for the show with board games, action figures, model kits, lunch boxes, and toy guns.

I did promise to get back to April Dancer. Halfway through The Man from UNCLE series, the network released a spin-off, The Girl from UNCLE starring Stefanie Powers as April Dancer. Not as popular as the original, it was cancelled after one season.

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Dancer works with British agent Mark Slate (Noel Harrison). Leo G. Carroll appeared as Mr. Waverly in this series also. Luckily Powers was fluent in several languages, because Dancer often went undercover with a foreign accent.

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Unfortunately, Dancer reeled in the bad guys, but Slate was the one who got to kill them. However, April did get some cool gadgets such as a perfume atomizer that sprayed gas and exploding jewelry.

This show also used Goldsmith’s theme music in an arrangement by Dave Grusin.

Both The Girl from UNCLE and The Man from UNCLE are available on DVD.

Although The Man from UNCLE was only hugely popular for two years and The Girl from UNCLE never attained a fan base, the shows ’ concept spawned a huge pop culture obsession. At one point, more than 10,000 letters a week were delivered to the network. The show sparked an interest in spy shows that would pave the way for future shows such as Mission Impossible; The Wild, Wild West; I Spy; and Get Smart. Like The Man from UNCLE, each of these shows would result in reboot big-screen movies in later decades, as well as a large output of memorabilia.

Photo: oldies.com

It’s interesting that this show feels dated now with the current technology, yet Get Smart continues to be a hit. I think the humor and campiness of Get Smart keeps it relevant which is ironic, because that is what basically brought about the end of The Man from UNCLE. Despite its current non-relevancy, it was an important part of pop culture and deserves to be celebrated for its cult status in the mid-sixties and the realistic portrayal of spies to generations of viewers.