Captain relinquishes ship to original Navigator
No one in history has been on television Saturday nights for a longer stretch (1970-86) than Gavin MacLeod: seven years as news writer Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show followed immediately by nine years as Capt. Merrill Stubing on The Love Boat. Although 74-year-old MacLeod continues to act in plays, TV shows and movies, he now guides his career according to a higher calling. The effervescent, ever-smiling MacLeod spoke recently to Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy.
PE: Why did you decide to become an actor?
MacLEOD: When I was 4 years old I was in a kindergarten play. I took my bow at the end and got applause. That told me, These people like me. I knew from that moment I wanted more of that.
PE: After college and the Air Force you quickly found roles in some well-known movies such as I Want to Live, Operation Petticoat and Pork Chop Hill.
MacLEOD: I got a job at Radio City Music Hall as an usher, then an elevator operator. In 1956 I got a part in the Broadway play A Hatful of Rain and then went to Hollywood. Producers kept hiring me: a young guy with a bald head — and a second-hand hairpiece.
PE: You found steady work playing the heavy as a character actor on TV in the 1960s.
MacLEOD: Those parts are delicious. But I also played a good number of comedy roles, including Happy Haines on McHaleÕs Navy for two years.
PE: Why is marriage so important, and why must married couples reconcile their differences?
MacLEOD: GodÕs Word tells us that marriage is a blessed institution that He prefers for people to raise their children. Marriage is a three-way covenant between God and the couple. I donÕt want to do anything to break that contract with my Lord and Savior. God will see a praying couple through anything.
PE: You and your wife, Patti, wrote Back on Course, which in transparent detail tells the story of your divorce that ended in remarriage.
MacLEOD: In our case we took the extreme route. We were married the first time for seven years, but it was under New Age teachings. We had been taught there was no such thing as sin — we could do whatever we wanted as long as it made us happy.
I became very selfish and when I left Patti I didnÕt think about how she would feel. We were divorced for three years and I didnÕt think I would ever see her again. She was stunned and hurt when I left. Then she went to a weekly prayer meeting of ex-wives of actors and they started praying for me.
Meanwhile, doctors discovered that my mother, who was in her mid-70s, had a cyst the size of a baseball in her brain. The surgeon told me that she might come out of the operation in a vegetative state.
The morning of the surgery I prayed to God, If You give my mother more time on this Earth I will turn my life over to You. It was a sincere prayer. I was still on The Love Boat, but I didnÕt even care if I acted anymore. I was living in a big house in Beverly Hills all by myself. I came from a very poor background. I was always the kind of kid who thought the bigger the house, the happier I would be. But how vacuous that is if Jesus isnÕt living there with you.
Then for some reason I called Patti in Santa Monica. I told her about the operation and she said she would pray for my mom. Then I said, ÒCan I come over and see you?Ó I didnÕt even know I was saying this, but the Lord had set it up because these women were praying.
When she opened the door, Patti said, ÒIÕm sorry, Gavin. Your dinner is cold. ItÕs been waiting for three years.Ó
She told me she had given her life to Christ and explained what that meant. Then she went into the bedroom and came out with a Bible with my name inscribed on it. The next week I went with her to a meeting of Born Again Marriages and I gave my life to Christ on September 14, 1984. Patti and I remarried on June 30, 1985.
My mom lived until she was 97; she passed peacefully a year and a half ago.
PE: Is it difficult to be accepted in Hollywood as a Christian?
MacLEOD: I do get a chance to witness to whomever IÕm working with as an ambassador for Christ. What is difficult is finding work that I can do — projects that God would approve of. I only do things that Patti and I have prayed about and really feel they are the LordÕs will. For some people, my behavior is the only Bible theyÕll ever read. I tell anyone who wants to change what a difference it makes being a born-again Christian.
PE: You attend The Church on the Way.
MacLEOD: Yes, I consider it a blessing just to know Pastor Jack Hayford. Pat and Shirley Boone originally brought us to the church. They were our best man and matron of honor.
PE: You and Patti still show up promoting marriage on Back on Course, which you hosted for years on Trinity Broadcasting Network.
MacLEOD: We finished taping three years ago. But a lot of people know who we are, and they know what we stand for. People still come up to us and say the show saved their marriage.
PE: Looking back on your life, what is the most important thing that happened to you?
MacLEOD: No decision eclipses being truly born again. IÕm humbled every day to think that our God forgives us and gives us a new beginning.
PE: How has living a Christ-centered life changed you?
MacLEOD: After I gave my life to Christ, my co-workers saw there was a change. I used to be a leader of telling dirty jokes, which are very popular in show business. But that no longer had appeal to me.
Knowing the Lord makes all the difference in the world. I wake up and get on my knees and thank God for the day and for blessing my wife, children and grandchildren. I ask Him to use me in any way that He can throughout the day. I give Him praise and glory for my health.
Every morning I stand on Psalm 27:1: ÒThe Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?Ó (NKJV). I donÕt know how anybody makes it without the Lord.
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