Anyone who’s worked as a newswriter in a local television newsroom, putting words in the mouths of the fifty-dollar haircuts, making them sound witty, urbane and knowledgeable, has been called “Murray” at one time or another. Even those of us who didn't watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show got all the references, and knew what it was like to be Murray Slaughter, playing the ventriloquist with his typewriter.
Now Murray Slaughter is going to be our mayor.
We live in a town at the end of Sunset Boulevard, out where the road meets the Pacific Ocean. Lots of celebrities live here, mostly established and older, especially in the area they call "The Riviera," near the Riviera Country Club, where OJ Simpson was seen on his cellphone, having one last—or second-to-last-- fight with Nicole on the day she was murdered. The Reagans lived on Amalfi, Arnold Schwarzenegger still toots by in his touring car, Spielberg and Billy Crystal can be seen and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman had a place high on the hill.
The real Palisades celebs are the ones we bump into at the supermarkets or the Sunday farmer’s market. Sydney Pollack and Peter Graves pushing carts and doing their own shopping at Gelson’s. Carl Lewis. Dom DeLuise. Larry David. A couple of character actors and comics who’ve wound up on Curb Your Enthusiasm (including the great Stuart Pankin). Jennifer Garner. Mary McDonnell from Dances with Wolves (we had to look up her name). Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and her husband. Ron Shelton and Lolita Davidovich, out a lot.
It’s a Hollywood town with small town pretentions. There’s a church school down the hill that has an annual carnival with Tom Hanks acting as emcee every year. A couple of years back, he took a break, let Kurt Russell take over and then gave the mic to Glenn Frey to sing Happy Birthday. We thought we’d walked into a bad Ron Howard movie, which in some ways we did. Every year, there’s an old-fashioned Fourth of July parade, and old stars like Nanette Fabray and John Raitt are boosted up on the back seats of old cars to wave to the crowd. Well, not John Raitt anymore. He died before last year’s parade.
Our town also has the tradition of an honorary celebrity mayor. Anthony Hopkins was mayor here for awhile, before he moved to Bill and Cindy Hudson’s House in Malibu (see Cloud 9).
For the past four years, the role's been played by Steve Guttenberg, who lives single in the Highlands, a planned community way up in the hills, with one lone, long access road, that guarantees privacy. Steve has played mayor as Nice Jewish Boy, showing up at Mort’s Deli, walking and pressing the flesh in the parades, and showing his punim around town. The most high-profile gig he’s had during his term was directing, producing, and starring in P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, based on a play about an actor who ties up and pulls down the pants of a gay burglar. Anyway…
Mayor Guttenberg’s term ends in June. And the Chamber of Commerce has picked Gavin MacLeod, Murray Slaughter, to replace him. Gavin MacLeod, who turns 75 this week, is better known as Captain Stubing from Love Boat, and in fact, still cashes in on the image. He told the local paper he’d agreed to be mayor after he was assured that his frequent business trips wouldn’t conflict. He's been a spokesman for Princess Cruises since 1986, and often travels on various cruise ships to participate in naming ceremonies and other events.
He says he’ll “keep in touch with the community” by writing letters to the paper when he's out of town, a tradition started by former honorary mayor Jerry Lewis (1953) and continued today with Guttenberg's "Gute News." He’ll also make hay by having his installation dinner videotaped by a crew from the reality show, Living In TV Land.
We said hello to the future mayor at the parade a couple of years back—shook his hand and told him he was an inspiration to TV newswriters everywhere. But MacLeod was surprised when we offered the compliment. It took him a moment for it to register that his role as Murray had an impact greater than the Love Boat (even though Ted Knight was the honorary mayor here from 1981 to 1983).
Then again, maybe he forgot because Murray Slaughter, the character from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, was a Jew (at least MacLeod always played him like a bisexual Jew). And we tabloid babies also remember Gavin MacLeod as the swinging television star who dumped his wife in the early Eighties, then suddenly remarried her (with Pat Boone as his Best Man) a few years later when he came out as a weeping Born Again Evangelical Christian and spokesman for something called “Born Again Marriages.”
Murray Slaughter is a Pentacostal evangelizing Christian, starring with his wife Patti on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the Benny Hinn hucksters that get poor people and old ladies to send in their money.
He recently talked about his marriage and mission with the Evangel News:
“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 didn’t think about how she would feel. We were divorced for three years and I didn’t 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... had a cyst the size of a baseball in her brain... 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 didn’t even care if I acted anymore. I was living in a big house in Beverly Hills all by myself… But how vacuous that is if Jesus isn’t 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, 'Can I come over and see you?' I didn’t 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, 'I’m sorry, Gavin. Your dinner is cold. It’s been waiting for three years.' 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."
Is it difficult to be accepted in Hollywood as a Christian?
"I do get a chance to witness to whomever I’m 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 Lord’s will. For some people, my behavior is the only Bible they’ll ever read. I tell anyone who wants to change what a difference it makes being a born-again Christian."
So our Honorary Mayor is Murray Slaughter, Captain Stubing, Princess Cruise spokesman and Honorary Ambassador for Christ. That's what it's like living in TV Land.