Review of This is Your Captain Speaking, by Gavin McLeod

I basically grew up watching the great Gavin McLeod, albeit mostly in re-runs. After school, we’d come home and turn on the TV to channel 17 where McHale’s Navy would be playing. We’d switch to channel 4 where the Mary Tyler Moore show would be playing. And occasionally, we’d watch brand new episodes of The Love Boat, although growing up a good little boy at church, it was always a dilemma as to whether that show was appropriate viewing. After all, there were people who were unmarried who were together on that boat and–kissing each other! (My, oh my, how times have changed.)

The one constant through all those shows was Gavin McLeod, in various stages of age and on-screen color fidelity. His part in McHale’s Navy was a bit part, of course, but he was brilliant in the Mary Tyler Moore show, and just plain likeable in the Love Boat. Which is why when the opportunity came up with review his new autobiography, This is Your Captain Speaking, I couldn’t pass up the chance.

The one thing that I never knew about Mr. McLeod–and that hardly anyone in Hollywood admits to–is that he’s a devout Christian. In a world where everyone and everyone is being encouraged to come out of various closets, but Christians are more and more expected to go into them, it’s a refreshing read.

I should say the book is not a “Christian” book, at least not for most of it. McLeod doesn’t proselytize nor get preachy. But in a way, I think he does the most powerful thing of all, which is to talk about his life and looking back, see how God’s hand was in it the whole time.

He shares his entire life story, from his early childhood growing up in Pleasantville, New York, to his college days and early struggles as an actor on the stage, to his early roles on TV. He doesn’t sugarcoat the tough times, from losing his father as a teenager to bouts with addiction to two divorces (the second one which ended in remarriage).

He also shares plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, from the time as a young actor he made Marilyn Monroe laugh to lots of behind-the-scenes stories as a character actor on shows from The Big Valley to My Favorite Martian. Did you know, for example, that he was once considered for the part of Archie Bunker in All in the Family?

And of course there are plenty of behind-the-scenes stories from the Mary Tyler Moore show which captures the cameraderie and fun not just among the cast but the crew and production people. Again, more interesting tidbits. A young Helen Hunt played his daughter on the show. The primary director wouldn’t touch the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode. And it was fun re-living old episodes like the ones with Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, Betty Ford, and others.

He goes on to talk about The Love Boat, recounting all the famous stars who guest stared on that show. Admittedly, I wish I knew back then who stars like Milton Berle, Olivia de Havilland, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Ginger Rogers were back as a kid, because today as a bit of a cinephile today I would have loved it. He also gives the inside story on has co-stars–nothing scandalous which again in a world of tell-all books is refreshing.

It’s toward the end of the book that McLeod talks about his finding Jesus Christ in the mid-1980s around the middle of the Love Boat run. He talks about how his and his second wife’s faith helped them reconcile and remarry after getting divorced (and the marriage is still going on 30 years later). And he tells an incredibly moving story about an encounter with his beat friend Ted Knight towards the end of Knight’s life.

Toward the end of the book, McLeod talks about how in 2010 he left show business for good and never turned back. And he talks about how the rest of his life is being dedicated to being an ambassador for Christ.

Overall, this was one of those kinds of books I had a hard time putting down. It was fun reading stories of old Broadway and Hollywood, reliving some of my own past through McLeod’s, and hearing such inspirational words from someone who found the narrow way. This probably isn’t a biography that’s going to sell a billion copies, but I for one am glad I read it.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”