Though best known for playing distinctly sunny characters in a trio of long-running and popular television series, Gavin MacLeod was typecast as a heavy for much of his early acting career. Director Blake Edwards first recognized his potential for comedy in 1959's "Operation Petticoat," and he later gained notice as Navy seaman "Happy" Haines on "McHale's Navy" (ABC, 1962-66) and news writer Murray Slaughter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77). But it was as Merrill Stubing, captain of "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) that ensured MacLeod's place in pop culture history, though it would eventually overshadow the large body of work that preceded it. Personal troubles led to a conversion to evangelical Christianity in the mid-1980s, which found MacLeod hosting programming on the Trinity Broadcasting Network while maintaining a reserved presence in secular entertainment.
Born Allan George See in Mount Kisco, NY, on Feb. 28, 1930, he was raised in Pleasantville, NY and studied acting at Ithaca College. Military service in the U.S. Air Force followed his graduation in 1952, and after returning to civilian life, he worked as an usher and elevator operator at Radio City Music Hall, while at the same time, treading the pavement in search of acting jobs. A role in the 1956 Broadway production of "A Hatful of Rain" gave him his big break, and he headed to Hollywood soon after to find regular work in television and the occasional film. He adopted his stage name from his acting teacher, Beatrice MacLeod, as well as a character in a television drama.
Fast-talking and intense, he was ideal for heels and crooks in crime dramas or authority figures like soldiers or the police lieutenant he played in his feature debut, 1958's "I Want to Live!" Blake Edwards saw a knack for comedy in his acting palette, casting him as a nervous Navy clerk in 1959's "Operation Petticoat." But he was soon back to playing nefarious types, including a rogue's gallery of villains on "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963) until he returned to lighter fare as torpedoman's mate Joseph "Happy" Haines on "McHale's Navy" and its two spinoff features, "McHale's Navy" (1964) and "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force" (1965). After the sitcom left the air in 1966, MacLeod divided his time between comic roles and more serious types like the drug pusher "Big Chicken" on "Hawaii 5-0" (CBS, 1968-1980). Though most of his work was in episodic television, he made regular forays into features like "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), "The Party" (1968) and "Kelly's Heroes" (1970) as one of Clint Eastwood's co-conspirators.
That same year, MacLeod was called in to read for the role of grumpy TV news producer Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." He found the smaller role of copywriter Murray Slaughter more intriguing, and won the part - the first for which he appeared on screen with his trademark shaved head - which did much to change audiences' perception of him for good. Despite the efforts of Grant, clueless newsreader Ted Baxter (longtime friend Ted Knight) and predatory Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White) to keep him underfoot, Murray was relentlessly upbeat and harbored a long-standing crush on Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) that never sat well with his wife Marie (Joyce Bulifant). MacLeod's breezy delivery as Murray helped to earn him two Golden Globe nominations in 1975 and 1977.
When "Mary Tyler Moore" came to an end in 1977, MacLeod was immediately snapped up by Aaron Spelling to play Merrill Stubing on a new series called "The Love Boat" that strung together sketches about shipboard romances that were interwoven with and occasionally involved the ship's crew. As Stubing, MacLeod was largely called upon to play straight man to the zany antics of his crew members and the rotating cast of guest stars, though he was occasionally allowed to get in on the fun as Stubing's womanizing twin brother Marshall. A daughter, Vicki (Jill Whelan) was introduced in 1979, and Stubing gained a wife in Emily Haywood (Marion Ross) for the final season run. Though critics who had championed MacLeod during his tenure on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" shook their heads over his participation in what many considered lowbrow entertainment, MacLeod was employed on a top-rated network program for over a decade; one that was popular enough to generate a massive amount of tie-in material, as well as sizable numbers in reruns. It also earned him three Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in 1979, 1981 and 1982.
What "Love Boat" fans did not know was that MacLeod was struggling off-camera with a serious alcohol problem, due in part to the pressures of his career. His disease also contributed to a 1982 divorce from his second wife, actress Patti MacLeod, whom he had married in 1974. However, the couple found solace in evangelical Christianity, eventually reuniting in 1985. MacLeod later made his own struggles with alcohol part of Stubing's storyline on "The Love Boat."
Though happy in his personal life, MacLeod's career waned after "Love Boat" left the air in 1986. Fixed in TV viewers' minds as Captain Stubing, he decided to exploit the connection by becoming the official spokesperson for the Princess Cruise Line, which had provided their MS Pacific as the location ship for the series. There were occasional character parts on "The King of Queens" (CBS, 1998-2007) as Doug Heffernan's much-loved uncle and as a cardinal on "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003), but MacLeod's steadiest work came in regional theater or on Trinity Broadcasting Network's "Back on Course," which he co-hosted with his wife Patti. The show took its name from the 1987 autobiography he penned with his wife, which detailed the ups and downs of their married life. In addition to his acting career, MacLeod also served as the honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades in California.