Gavin MacLeod went from playing villains to being considered a comedy hero

When Gavin MacLeod lost his hair, he started getting typecasted as the big, bald, bad guy.

On Now
MeTV Presents the Best of Gavin MacLeod
Up Next:

Gavin MacLeod was one of Hollywood's biggest bad guys and at one point in time, it seemed like there wasn't a crime he wasn't involved in on TV.

Before his role as Captain Merrill Stubing on The Love Boat, MacLeod played a string of bad guys on TV. One of these roles included Big Chicken on Hawaii Five-O, which many consider one of the most memorable villains on classic TV. 

The Hawaii Five-O fan response to his character was so strong that MacLeod was brought back for another episode. These episodes include: "The Box" and "... And They Painted Daises on His Coffin."

"I made a living doing that," MacLeod said in a 1979 interview with Tampa Bay Times. "Once I lost my hair I couldn't play leading men anymore. I played pushers, perverts and wife beaters. It was good money."

Playing a bad guy meant good money for MacLeod. However, playing the bad guy isn't always a good thing, MacLeod said he found the roles to be challenging.

"I played every villain as though he felt what he was doing wasn't wrong," he said. "Big Chicken was tough. I really had to rationalize his motivation. I don't know if I could play that kind of role again. If I did I'd certainly do it differently." 

MacLeod became bald at the age of 18, and it would be one of the main reasons he got typecasted as a villain.

His roles on My Favorite Martian, The Big Valley, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat were all important to break the chain of the typecast. Thanks to these and The Love Boat, he would become known for so much more than just a balding bad guy.

"One reason I love The Love Boat is because of the happy endings," he said. "I don't care if it reflects real life or not, I love happy endings. Life's so heavy these days that people want to escape."

In a 1977 interview with The Daily Herald-Tribune, MacLeod talked about his hair loss.

"I lost my hair because I was 18 years old and put something on it when I was doing a play in college that I never should have put on," he said. "I was playing a father role and decided to put some grey in my hair."

MacLeod said that instead of washing it out every night, he would leave it in for the entire run of the play, which was two weeks. After he tried washing it out... that's when the surprise came.

"Clumps of my hair started to go down the drain, but only hair from the middle of my head," he said. "For some strange reason, the hair remained on both the sides. That's how I became bald."

Hair or no hair, MacLeod proved he had talent beyond playing a villain.


Watch The Love Boat on MeTV!

Sundays at 5 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

26 Comments

Moverfan 11 months ago
Loved the Hawaii Five-O episodes. He had one hell of an attitude for a guy whose nickname was Big Chicken...
Bapa1 12 months ago
He loved The Love Boat because of it's 'happy endings'. To me, the best happy ending for The Love Boat would be if it was, hit be a torpedo, struck an iceberg, attacked by Godzilla, and (fill-in-the-blank). In all seriousness, he was a good actor, and did well in all the many different roles he played.
MOT1970 12 months ago
I recall him being a bad guy on Gomer Pyle and he made at least 2 appearances on Hogan's Heros.
Bret 12 months ago
Wasn't he a good guy on McHale's Navy?
Bapa1 Bret 12 months ago
For two years. His character's name was Happy.
Mike Bapa1 12 months ago
In his memoir, Gavin MacLeod makes it clear that he wasn't "happy" on McHale's Navy - because his character had so little to do.
Eventually, MacLeod met up with an old friend who had a supporting role in a McHale's episode, who saw how unhappy he was and advised him to quit - which he ultimately did.
The old friend actor, who was playing a stick-in-the-mud senior officer, was Ted Knight.
The rest is history ...
RS1515 Bapa1 11 months ago
I remember that.
Runeshaper 12 months ago
"Life's so heavy these days that people want to escape." Sadly, this is still true, but I always welcome an escape.
JHP 12 months ago
The story about his baldness reminds of the 3 stooges short - They were in a hospital and they were selling Brighto and they rubbed it on a male patients head:)
Andybandit 12 months ago
I liked Gavin in TMTMS and TLB.
JHP Andybandit 12 months ago
yeah his character was good at 1 line insults for sure
Adanor 12 months ago
Of course let's not forget that he played opposite a gorilla on Perry Mason. And on that episode he wasn't the heavy (ha ha), oh well, maybe he was after all.
AnnaRentzVandenhazel 12 months ago
I thought he was a "good guy" as Happy on McHale's Navy. OK, the sailors were gamblers but they didn't really harm anyone, and they did good deeds in some episodes.

The only "bad guy" role I can recall seeing him in was the Andy Griffith Show episode where con artists were pretending to be TV producers so they could get access to the bank and rob it.

And I saw him play both good and bad characters on That Girl.

Speaking of That Girl, Bernie Kopell (Doc Bricker on TLB) was a series regular as Don's coworker and was Ann's neighbor in later seasons. Mr. Kopell also played half a dozen goofy characters on Bewitched, such as the old man in the witches' apothocary shop, a German scientist trying to catch the Loch Ness monster, and a hippie warlock that put a spell on Larry Tate so he liked the warlock's bizarre advertising slogans.
Pacificsun 12 months ago
I'm sorry. But didn't his stint on The Mary Tyler Moore Show rewind his on-screen personality? Or maybe I wasn't reading carefully. On MTM, he was sandwiched into that Series pretty carefully. Meaning, he had to be different than comedy-pros Ted Knight, Betty White and Cloris Leachman. And couldn't be as serious or (emotionally) multifaceted as Ed Asner. And needed to be the flip-side of Mary Richards with his use of sarcasm, I'd say he took on a very hefty role, with no mention of here. Of course, I'll look under the table, just in case.
KawiVulc 12 months ago
Always a bit disconcerting to see the good captain turn up as a bad 'un... my favorite role of his though is Moriarity in Kelly's Heroes... Whatever you say babe!
birddog KawiVulc 12 months ago
Ya! that was a great movie, with a great cast one of my favs of all time :))
MrsPhilHarris KawiVulc 12 months ago
He was great in that movie!
JHP KawiVulc 12 months ago
Kelly's Hero's - in my top 10 flicks:) - star studded movie

"quit with the negative waves"

JHP KawiVulc 12 months ago
am sure he played a SS officer in Hogans Heroes too
lynngdance KawiVulc 12 months ago
For a minute a thought you meant Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes lol 😝
RS1515 JHP 11 months ago
I remember that.
justjeff 12 months ago
Hair today... gone tomorrow...
LoveMETV22 12 months ago
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 12 months ago
😉 Yet another actor incredibly under appreciated for his range and courage in taking so many different roles. Sometimes, he's almost lost in some of the oldest Classic's we're watching. It's his voice which usually gives him a way, before looking closely. And if he's made up in terms being another nationality, forget it. I can think of one Series where that happened!
BrittReid 12 months ago
Made a great bad guy everytime on Hogan's Heroes.
Pacificsun BrittReid 12 months ago
Yeah, he's like a chameleon among those German villains!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?