Greg Mullavey, who plays Louise Lasser’s Hubby on
“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” says:
“I Adore Louise . . . But Sometimes I Hate Her Too!”
By Valerie Kent
He is one of those actors about whom people often say, “I know him; say who is he, anyway?” Although he has appeared regularly in countless television, movie, and stage productions – often in starring roles – his name has yet to become what one might call a common household word.
But now as Tom Hartman, TV husband of controversial “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Greg Mullavey seems finally to be achieving the recognition a regular series role can provide – the recognition he certainly deserves.
Greg Mullavey? “Sure,” people can now say, “I know who he is.”
On this particular afternoon, however, sitting amid the comfortable clutter of his small dressing room, waiting for the day’s shooting to resume, Greg’s thoughts are not so much on what he has achieved so far in his career, as on what he has yet to achieve. His face strains for expression, and his voice is colored by – could it be frustration? – as he wonders out loud, “I want a lot in life; we all do...But what the hell can I really have?”
It is one of those universal questions, of course, like what is the meaning of life; and Greg, who graduated from college with a degree in philosophy, asks it, not because he expects an answer, but simply to illustrate the point he is making. The point is that he and Tom Hartman are, in many ways, alike.
“Tom is a bit of a rebel. Yeah, he’s like me in that respect, he’s a bit of a rebel. He wants more, but he doesn’t know what he can have. And it’s gnawing at him. He doesn’t know what life can give him – what he can hope to have, what he can expect to have, what he can get.
“A lot of us are like that,” Greg confesses. “As you get older...” – he pauses before allowing the words to come – “...a lot of doors start to close.”
As Greg Mullavey speaks, one moment about his own life and the next about Tom Hartman’s, and then again about which one? – it becomes apparent that he feels very close to the character he has helped to create.
“I’m not schizophrenic or anything; I mean, I know the difference between myself and Tom Hartman. But do I bring it – the Tom Hartman role – from my own life? Yeah, part of it. I mean, every actor works from himself. That’s why Alec Guinness’ Hamlet is different from Richard Burton’s.”
“I bring stuff from my life into the show, and I also take stuff from the show that I put into my life. It works both ways.”
It is understandable that Greg would feel close to Tom Hartman. To some extent Greg has lived and experienced a “Tom Hartman’s” life. In New York, where he was born and grew up, Greg worked variously in factories, shining shoes, and setting pins in bowling alleys. Although he did attend college, Greg hoped to make a career for himself in baseball – “I was a helluva good baseball player,” he admits frankly – until an injury to his right knee forced him to change plans.
After graduating from college he entered the insurance business, and later went into advertising. It was at a party in Manhattan that Greg met and auditioned for a casting director, thereby winning his first stage role. In 1966, Greg moved to Hollywood, and since then he has worked steadily in TV and movies.
When an opportunity came to try out for the Tom Hartman role, Greg was at first reluctant. “What happened,” he recalls, “was I got a call one day from my agent, and he told me, ‘We’ve got some kind of cockamamy soap opera that Norman Lear is gonna do...”
“I said, ‘Soap opera? I don’t want to do a soap opera.’
“He said, ‘Well, why don’t you go over and read it anyway, after all, it is Norman Lear!”
“So I told him, ‘Yeah, well, if it’s Norman Lear, I guess I will.’
“I went over and read the script, and I didn’t like it. Frankly, I didn’t really think it was my cup of tea. But I went in anyway and read for Joan Darling, who was the director of the show...and I fell in love with her!
“We just had a ball! I read for her, and got up on the table and we improvised, and I thought, ‘My God, if she’s going to direct this show, then I want to do it!’ Unfortunately, Joan is not with the show anymore, and I’m very disappointed that she isn’t.
“But Joan had me come back and read with Louise Lasser, who plays Mary Hartman. Joan had told Louise that she thought she had found a husband for her; they’d been looking for a long time. So Joan introduced me to Louise, and we read together, and Louise liked me. We went out afterward and talked a little bit, chatted, and we liked each other. We just felt that we could work in similar ways.
“That started our marriage,” Greg concludes, “and here we are, a year-and-a-half later.”
Since that time, Greg and Louise Lasser have developed a close relationship – as make-believe husband and wife, as colleagues, and as personal friends. “How do I feel about Louise? How do we get along? It’s funny – I adore her, but sometimes I can hate her, too. As a person, I love her. She’s a wonderful person, a great person to work with.
“But like any ‘married’ couple, sometimes there are problems. Louise is something of a perfectionist, and I am, too. The problem is that sometimes our ideas of what is perfection aren’t exactly the same. So it’s a matter of give and take. I respect her opinions, and listen to what she has to say, and she does the same for me.
“But she is the star of the show,” Greg adds, “I mean, it’s ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.’”
In real life, Greg is married to actress Meredith MacRae. “She and Louise get along very well,” he says. “We started to become very close, in fact, during the filming of the pilot. We had Louise over to the house a lot, and she got to know our daughter, Allison.
“But since the show started, neither of us has so much time. Plus, Louise was just out from New York then, and she didn’t know a lot of people. Now she does know a lot of people, she has her own life. I mean, Meredith and I are a married couple. My wife doesn’t have any spare boyfriends around, and I don’t have a lot of guys that I know who aren’t married or attached. And Louise, naturally, is looking for unattached males.”
Before the camera, as husband and wife, Greg and Louise Lasser portray a relationship which they see as more than mere comic entertainment. Viewers, they hope, will be able to recognize something of themselves and of their own problems in the lives of Tom and Mary Hartman. And as with producer Norman Lear’s other television shows – “All in the Family,” for example – the subjects dealt with on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” are as often as not...well, controversial.
Male impotence is one of those subjects. It is a problem, in fact, which plagues Tom Hartman; and although not every viewer will agree that impotence is an appropriate topic for a would-be comedy to deal with, Greg feels rather strongly that it is.
“One of the reasons why Tom Hartman is temporarily impotent,” Greg explains, “is because of what they call ‘performance anxiety.’ He is worried because his wife wants him to perform well, because of what she’s been reading all these magazines...
“Have you looked at women’s magazines lately?” he demands, his voice rising. “I was reading some of them on the set yesterday, and it is just incredible what a woman is expected to want sexually. And the demands that she’s expected to make on her husband when she reads all this stuff...I mean, it is just incredible!
“American women’s magazines seem to be intent for the most part on reaching some kind of sexual Nirvana. Read them sometime! Jesus, God,” he shakes his head with obvious dismay, “all it is is sex, sex, sex, sex, and how important it is!
“And in the show, Mary has picked up on this – what the New York Times called ‘the garbage of our culture’ – and made it a raison d’etre, a reason for her living...a thing that she’s got to accomplish in order to be a full woman. She’s got to somehow or another get sexual fulfillment.
“But the kind of sexual fulfillment some women’s magazines are talking about is almost impossible in a marital situation, at least, you know, on an everyday basis. Maybe once a month, or once every three months...or maybe when you go away to Hawaii,” he laughs, “or wherever you go to reach sexual gymnastical heights.
“But Mary is interested in having Tom perform all these acts so she can reach sexual Nirvana, and she wonders why the hell he doesn’t, and why she isn’t that pleased. And that puts a lot of pressure on a relationship...”
Although he feels that it is justified – in fact, important – that such “taboo” topics as impotence be dealt with openly on television, there have been occasions when Greg, himself, was reluctant to explore certain subjects.
“Yeah,” he admits, “there have been times when I’ve balked at certain things. For instance, I was told that I was going to have VD on the show. I called up Norman and said, ‘I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to have VD, you know? Are you kidding? Venereal disease? I don’t want to do this! I mean, that’s bad for my character. I’m supposed to be the, quote, here, right? I don’t want him to have VD.’ I just didn’t want to do it.
“Well, we had a long talk, and Norman convinced me that it was socially significant. We talked about the raging epidemic of venereal disease, and that it would be treated in an adult manner. He convinced me that it was worthwhile to do it, so I agreed. Not because he forced me to do it, but because he literally convinced me.
“And also I got . . . well, he gave me something, which was that ultimately I did not have venereal disease. It was a scare. So we compromised.
“But that is what we’re attempting to do on the show, to examine our culture...not just all the neat things about it, but some of the not-so-nice things, too. This is a weird culture we live in, man. It’s not all Mom and apple pie anymore. Sure, part of it is, but there’s a lot that’s gone wrong.
“I just read an article this morning in the paper, that fifteen and sixteen-year-old girls are afraid to walk the streets at night in Los Angeles, in their own neighborhoods, because a lot of weirdos follow them. There are a lot of weird things going on in this country, especially in the big cities.” Greg pauses a moment to gather his thoughts, then adds, “...and in the small towns, too. I mean, there’s dope in Fernwood, Ohio. And by God, we’re taking a look at it. We may not like it, folks, but we’re taking a look at it.
“There’s an epidemic of VD in this country. We don’t like it, but it’s there. There are a lot of problems. What we are trying to do is show it, put a little humor into it, and make people aware of it. We don’t offer a solution, necessarily, but we look at it.
“We want to look at some of the nice stuff, too,” Greg points out, “at some of the love that comes out of the things that happen in our culture. That’s part of it, too. People are in love, people do enjoy their selves. [sic] So we want to show that, too.”
One of the criticisms often made about “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” is that it is, not so much risqué or overly realistic, but just plain in bad taste. One of the show’s characters, for instance, who is crippled, [Mary Kay Place’s character, Loretta Haggers] is sometimes referred to as a “gimp.”The same character has turned to religion for comfort, and this, too, is made fun of.
“Well, I gotta tell you,” Greg begins, explaining how he feels about criticism. “All of us have learned to take in life...if something is made a joke of, somehow the humor helps to lighten the load.
“When I was in high school, they used to call me ‘Tipper the Greasy Weasel’, and do you think I liked that? I was a baseball player in high school, and they used to call me ‘Tiptoes’ because I could run fast...‘Tipper’. Where the ‘Greasy Weasel’ came from, I’ll never know.
“I didn’t like that nickname too much, but I learned that it was done with endearment, and done with a little bit of love, and I learned to turn it around. The humor somehow took away the edge of the blade.
“And I think that terms like ‘gimp’, or we have a deaf mute on the show...somehow or another, if it is dealt with with humor, it takes the onus of it’s being so sacrosanct that you can’t say anything about it.
“And I think that people who are handicapped would rather be treated much more humanely, and called a nickname, than be dealt with like a freak. On our show we deal with people who have handicaps as human beings – they get nicknames, we label their infirmity with slang – and by using humor, we somehow break through that sacrosanctity, and make them more human. And I think they like that, I really do.”
Greg continues to talk – “I’m the nonstop mouth,” he jokes – shifting positions on the small couch, clasping his hands behind his head in a temporary posture and then leaning quickly forward to illustrate some point with a gesture. He discusses the fact that the show has no laugh track, commenting, “We are all like sheep... we’ve been conditioned by laugh tracks,” and then moves on to talk about the nature of Man.
And all the while one is struck by the genuine concern in Greg’s voice as he discusses his character, Tom Hartman, and the problems Tom must deal with...the problems, according to Greg, that face us all. “Our show asks you to think,” he says.
The “soap opera,” which Greg didn’t want to do in the first place, and which he didn’t really like at first, has gotten hold of Greg Mullavey...and made him think.
Also in the issue was:
Who’s Who on the Mary Hartman Set
by Amanda Murrah Matetsky
LOUISE LASSER is an excellent dramatic actress, as well as a fine comedienne – and she uses both of these talents in her role as Mary Hartman. Though most of us would probably define Mary as a comic figure, Louise Lasser doesn’t see her that way. “Mary’s as sad as any person I’ve ever heard of in my life,” she says, “unless they’re in a wheelchair somewhere. This is a person who gets up and dresses in pink and blue, thinking it’s all going to be fine – and it just falls down on her every single day. She has trouble with her daughter. She has a husband who doesn’t understand her. And she’s just trying to figure out what’s wrong with her. That’s not sad? She’s a total victim. But what’s sweet and sad about her is that she’s a survivor. She survives in a world that may not be worth surviving for.”
But though she essentially sees Mary as a tragic heroine, Louise still manages to portray her character in a way that makes us laugh. Her befuddled expressions are priceless. The long pauses in her speech (when we can almost see the inner workings of Mary’s confused mind) are always timed beautifully to bring out the most humor in a situation. And it’s this ability – the talent to make people laugh as well as cry – which makes Louise such a top notch actress.
Louise was born in New York City and she attended several private progressive schools before enrolling at Brandeis University to study political theory. After three years, however, she returned to New York to study philosophy and literature at the New School for Social Research and improvisational acting as a cast member of Elaine May’s revue, The Third Ear (which convinced her that acting was the profession she wanted to pursue).
The acting career which followed includes Broadway roles in The Chinese and Doctor Fish, Henry, Sweet Henry, and a part in the movie, Slither. She is probably best known, however, for the three movies she made with her former husband Woody Allen – Bananas, Take the Money and Run, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.
MARY KAY PLACE as Loretta Haggers
You know those crazy songs that Loretta Haggers, Mary Hartman’s best friend and neighbor, is always writing and singing on the show? Well, some of them were actually written by Mary Kay Place, the actress who plays Loretta on the series. And this fact alone ought to give you some idea of the unusually wide range of Mary Kay’s talents.
She was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma [sic, she was born in Port Arthur, Texas] and, after she graduated from the University of Tulsa, Mary Kay took off for California to pursue an acting career. But, like Loretta (whose desire for a country-western singing career has taken her as far as the lounge at the Fernwood Bowling Alley), Mary Kay found the going to be rough. For years, her biggest claim to fame was the fact that she had a regular role as Fleagle the Dog on a local children’s show.
But, like Loretta, Mary Kay never gave up and her persistence, as well as her talents, eventually landed her guest appearances on such TV series as “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” “Insight,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” And that’s not all! Mary Kay also discovered along the way that she had a talent for writing comedy and, as of today, she has partnered scripts for episodes of such top-rated comedy series as “Phyllis,” “Rhoda,” “Maude,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “M*A*S*H” (for which she and her partner were nominated for an Emmy). She and her partner have also written comedy material for comedienne Lily Tomlin.
GRAHAM JARVIS as Charlie Haggers
To look at Graham Jarvis you’d never guess that he once weighed 250 pounds! You’d also never guess that he used to be a change-maker in one of New York’s 42nd Street penny arcades, or that he once tried to make ends meet by selling encyclopedias door to door. Nevertheless, these were the sort of jobs Graham Jarvis accepted during the lean years when he was trying to make a name for himself as an actor.
Jarvis was born in Toronto, Canada, but he attended college in the states (Williams College in Massachusetts), and after graduation he moved to New York City to study acting at the American Theater Wing. Though success came to him slowly, he eventually made a name for himself in such Broadway productions as The Best Man, The Investigation, Halfway Up the Tree, Orpheus Descending, and Much Ado About Nothing. His highly acclaimed performances in these plays then led to a long string of film credits including Cold Turkey, What’s Up Doc?, The Out-of-Towners, The Organization, A New Leaf, Alice’s Restaurant, and, most recently, Russian Roulette.
On television, he has appeared in such films as It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy and Your Money or Your Wife, and he has shown up in innumerable guest roles on such comedy and drama series as “Sgt. Bilko,” “All in the Family,” “Gunsmoke,” and “The Defenders.”
In other words, Graham Jarvis is a very successful actor – in spite of the fact that most of us are not too familiar with his name. He belongs to the breed of character actors who rarely become famous, but who are among the most talented people in the entire industry. But this is a fault which, in Jarvis’ case at least, may be corrected soon. His excellent, heart-warming portrayal of the honest, optimistic, love-struck Charlie Haggers may turn the name of Graham Jarvis into a household word.
DODY GOODMAN as Martha Shumway
When she was a little red-haired girl growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Dody Goodman spent all her free time taking dancing lessons. And she was good at it. So good, in fact, that she headed for New York right after her high school graduation to dance with the ballet companies of the Radio City Music Hall and the Metropolitan Opera. She also appeared in such Broadway musicals as High Button Shoes, Call Me Madam, Miss Liberty, and Wonderful Town.
It was during the road show production of Wonderful Town that Dody began to make the transition from ballerina to comedienne. The star of the show, Imogene Coca, was so impressed with Dody’s backstage clowning that she persuaded Dody to take off her toe shoes for a while and concentrate on comedy as a career. And in no time Dody had become one of the “resident zanies” on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show.”
Dody also took her newfound talents back to Broadway where she delighted audiences with her comedic roles in such productions as Period of Adjustment, My Daughter, Your Son, Rainy Day in Newark, and, most recently, the revival of Front Page. She also appeared in the motion picture, Bedtime Story, and as a regular on such TV series as “NBC Bandstand,” “Girl Talk,” “The Merv Griffin Show” and “Search for Tomorrow.”
DEBRALEE SCOTT as Cathy Shumway
Although her high school drama teacher told her she would never be a success in Hollywood, Debralee Scott has – at this point in her career – kissed Paul Newman, danced with Fred Astaire, and appeared in over eight films. The New Jersey-born actress has performed in such movies as American Graffiti, The Candidate, Dirty Harry, and Superdad, Our Time, Crazy World of Julius Vrooder, and The Reincarna-tion of Peter Proud.
On television she played the starring role in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Lisa, Bright and Dark, as well as the lead part in Summer Without Boys. She has been a regular on such series as “Sons and Daughters” and, more recently, “Welcome Back Kotter.”
At present, Debralee is devoting all of her energies to her characterization of Mary Hartman’s boy-crazy sister, Cathy, but she hopes that the future will bring her work in musical comedies as well as her own stand-up comedy nightclub act.
VICTOR KILIAN as Grandpa Larkin
Victor Kilian’s theatrical career has been as unpredictable as the action of Grandpa Larkin, the character he portrays on the “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” series. Though he was born into a very poor New Jersey family in 1891, Kilian was working for a New England repertory company by the time he turned 18. And today he has appeared in over 150 films and 33 Broadway roles.
In the early ‘30's Kilian left New York and headed for Hollywood to make a name for himself in films. He played suspicious and often villainous characters in such movies as The Wider Sex (1932), Air Hawks (1935), Dr. Cyclops (1939), Spellbound (1945), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), and The Tall Target (1951). Then, in the ‘50's, he returned to New York and Broadway plays (including Look Homeward Angel and The Gang’s All Here).
In 1970 Kilian made yet another move – back to Los Angeles (where he now lives with his sister and his son) to begin a new career in television. Since that time he has appeared on such series as “Gunsmoke,” “Planet of the Apes,” “McCloud,” “Kojak,” “Apple’s Way,” and “The Jeffersons.”
PHILIP BRUNS as George Shumway
One would be hard pressed to find a more versatile and talented man than Philip Bruns. He is a former athlete, a one-time Fulbright scholar, a successful businessman, and one of the most in-demand character actors in Hollywood today. To date, his professional acting career includes some 26 off-Broadway plays, six Broadway plays, innumerable roles in motion pictures and television, and nearly 600 commercials.
His many film roles include The Great Waldo Pepper, Harry and Tonto, Jenny, Midnight Cowboy, and A Thousand Clowns, and he has appeared in so many guest roles on television it would be impossible to name them all. Most recently, Bruns has been seen on “Columbo,” “Kojak,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “Maude,” “The Rookies,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” You may also remember him from his regular recurring roles on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “Love of Life,” “Secret Storm,” and “As the World Turns.”
In other words, Philip Bruns has been, and still is, a very busy man. In addition to his many guest appearances and his regular role as George Shumway (Mary’s father) on the “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” series, Bruns is a successful businessman with business interests in both the United States and Europe.
CLAUDIA LAMB as Heather Hartman
Claudia Lamb has been a successful actress for many years – in spite of the fact that she’s only 12 years old. She began her career as a toddler when she started auditioning for (and winning!) many parts in television commercials. To date, she has appeared in 20 commercials and as a regular on the teleseries “Apple’s Way.”
Because her role as Heather Hartman, Mary’s rude and contemptuous daughter, is so demanding (Claudia must be present on the set at least four hours a day), the young actress has very little time for her favorite pastimes – reading, swimming, and baton twirling. But Claudia loves her active life style and the sense of maturity and independence it affords her. And, as one of six children, Claudia has the help and understanding of a large and happy family.