Gavin MacLeod was a versatile and dependable actor who was a good friend to his co-stars during the seven-season run of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Ed Asner told Variety in paying tribute to the TV veteran who died Saturday at the age of 90.
MacLeod was an ally to his co-stars in any scene, recalled Asner, who played the voluble WJM-TV news director Lou Grant on the groundbreaking comedy that aired on CBS from 1970 to 1977.
“He made everything easy,” Asner said.
Off the set, MacLeod was also generous. In the years after the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Asner and his wife were having marital troubles. MacLeod and his wife, actor Patti Kendig, made a point of reaching out to the couple out of friendship and concern.
“I realized that whenever I was tense, (MacLeod) was there to relieve it,” Asner recalled. “I treasured his friendship.”
MacLeod himself was a lot like the character he played on “Mary Tyler Moore,” the slightly neurotic news writer Murray Slaughter, Asner recalled. “They patterned the character quite well after him,” Asner said of the show’s writers.
MacLeod may have sealed the deal for Asner to land the role of Grant. MacLeod was next in line to read for the part when Asner first auditioned for series creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. At the time MacLeod had generated some notice with his guest star role as a heavy (“Big Chicken”) on the CBS detective drama “Hawaii 5-0.” He’d also been a regular on “McHale’s Navy” from 1962-64.
“He himself when he was in for his interview told them he thought he was more right for Murray than for Lou,” Asner recalled. “He made the job the easier for me to get.”
MacLeod’s friends were happy for him in 1977 when ABC’s “The Love Boat” made MacLeod a celebrity in his own right. He’d been “overshadowed” by the wealth of talent on “Mary Tyler Moore,” Asner recalled, a murderer’s row that included Moore, Ted Knight, Betty White, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman and Georgia Engel.
“He was a very strong and capable fellow,” Asner said, noting that MacLeod was gracious in his stardom. But the “Love Boat” did not join Asner in becoming active in Screen Actors Guild politics in the years after “MTM,” as Asner did while he toplined the drama spinoff “Lou Grant.”
MacLeod “was a staunch union member but he was not a confederate,” said Asner, who was president of SAG from 1981 to 1985.
In the “MTM” days, Asner and his wife had a semi-regular series of Friday night dinners with MacLeod and Kendig and Ted Knight and his wife. Those are treasured memories for Asner that cemented what became enduring friendships.
“He was a lovely soul who will make heaven brighter,” Asner said of MacLeod.
(Pictured: Ed Asner and Gavin MacLeod in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”)