Mary Hartman’s Greg Mullavey
Identifies more than you’d think with his TV role…
“I love Tom Hartman. I love him a lot more than some audiences to. I would like him to be my friend if he’d stop drinking.”
This season he does stop drinking—thanks to his real-life alter ego, Greg Mullavey, who takes Mary Hartman’s husband in a new direction. Tom Hartman goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, becomes a recreational-vehicle salesman, and gets rid of his high-school baseball cap and jacket.
Yes, Tom Hartman is finally maturing, and Greg Mullavey is the first one to admit it. “Basically, he’s a good American guy caught up in a system that was not of his own making,” explains Greg. “I think he’s going to try to overcome it, so we’ll see him with some courage this season. He’s going to become a success.”
Success is what “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” is all about. Spawned from the seemingly infinite energy of Norman Lear, “MH II” (as it is known in Hollywood) has become the most talked about, most controversial, and most ambitious show that has appeared on television in many years. Mullavey says it is what television has needed for a long time.
“We struck a nerve in the American public for better programming that the networks do not and have not seen,” Greg emphasizes. “They misjudge the American character. The public is ready, willing, and wants good stuff.
“We’re doing something fresh, different, and unusual. The public is ready for it and wants it. Norman Lear proved that with “All in the Family,” and he’s proved it again with “Mary Hartman.” Our show has opened the door to the syndication market, which is trying to be a fourth network—an alternative network.”
Greg says he is pleased the networks turned down the show because he doesn’t think it would have been nearly as successful. “The reason for that is that the networks are so sensitive to public criticism and the FCC that no one would have been bold enough to go on in the face of criticism.
“In network television, you have built-in censorship because they’re so afraid of losing their jobs that they rarely make bold moves. The American public is ready for some adult language. I think Nixon proved that,” he adds with a wide grin.
His boyish good looks, charm, and natural acting instincts are qualities that very few actors can combine, but Greg admits that he got the part by sheer luck. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he says. “My agent called me and said, ‘Do you want to go on this soap opera?’ And I said, ‘Soap opera? I don’t do soap operas.’ He said it was for Norman Lear, and I said, ‘Oh, Norman Lear. That’s different.’”
According to Greg, the first script he read was “terrible,” but he impressed director Joan Darling with his audition and eventually secured the job. “I approached the character of Tom Hartman as I would any role—with trepidation and a lot of fear. I said, ‘Who is this guy?’
“He was a factory worker who got caught in a web of circumstances. He was a high-school athletic hero who got married when he was very young. “They originally had him written as a beer-guzzling slug, and I told them I didn’t want to play that kind of character. I wanted to play somebody who had tried and lost and was a little desperate.
“I know guys like that who are still working in factories. I grew up with them. And the difference between us was the fact that I went to college and they did not. If I hadn’t gone to college, I would be a Tom Hartman, too.”
For the moment, Greg gets very somber and reflects on his high-school days as if he were talking to an old friend. “Your life ended when you got out of high school,” he continues. “The minute you got married, you became an old man. I know guys like that. They’ve been making livings and supporting families for a long time and they look back to the past for all their adventures. For them, there is really nothing to look forward to anymore. They tell stories about how good they were during those years.”
Having had the good fortune of attending college (Hobart College in Geneva, New York), Greg is thankful that he was given such an opportunity. It was during those years that he got his first taste of the acting profession.
“I got into acting in a very strange way,” he says, looking back with relative ease. “I was not an actor, I was a jock. In college I was captain of the baseball team. I played basketball, too, and I was a big man on campus.
“I was working for an ad agency in New York and a girl I was going with dared me to read for a play. We had been drinking a little bit and I said, ‘I’ll take you up on the dare. I’ll go ahead and read.’ And, sure enough, I read for a play called Ah! Wilderness by Eugene O’Neill, and I got the part of Richard in an off-Broadway production. I thought I was brilliant in the part,” he adds with a laugh, a grin, and another laugh. In actuality, Greg received “mixed reviews.” He recalls, “I started studying and realized I was terrible. But at that time it was very exciting.”
He landed a role in “Ben Casey” after that, but then found himself out of work for eight months. He worked at several jobs, including being a cashier at a Hollywood health food store and a proofreader for the Los Angeles Times.
From there, he went to acting school where he met, fell in love with and married actress Meredith MacRae, in 1969. “I liked him at first because I felt he was the best actor in the class,” says Meredith. “I found Greg to be very poetic and very romantic, and kind of idealistic. All of those things attracted me. The rehearsals became longer and longer and we found ourselves falling in love, and that was that.”
At their home in Encino, California, the Mullaveys and their two-year-old daughter, Allison, are enjoying the freedom that “MH II” has afforded them. But Meredith is quick to point out that her husband’s instant stardom was not without its problems.
“The only negative effect it had on our marriage was in the very beginning when he started taping the show last season. He was never home. He would leave at five in the morning and he wouldn’t get home until midnight. I was very lonely and very depressed and it was very hard for me to adjust. He also shared equally in raising Allison the first year, and suddenly, Allison lost her daddy and I lost my husband for about a month.”
That was a year ago. Now, Greg works from nine to five, thanks to a schedule change by Norman Lear. Meredith is happy again, the baby is happy, and Greg has approached this season with the enthusiasm of a big-league ball player in his first World Series.
“We’re getting into a whole new area of sexuality on “Mary Hartman” this season that I think is going to fare well with the American public. A sexual relationship between Mary and Tom that grows as they overcome their own hang-ups, shyness, and sexual difficulties will be seen for the first time on American television.
“We’re going to explore how-to’s,” says Greg with that sheepish grin beginning to surface. “How to do it better and niftier. And we’re going to do it in non-booklet form,” he adds jokingly. “Tom Hartman had a big problem because he was threatened by his wife’s aggressiveness.”
Helping Tom with some of his problems have been the viewers who write to him with kind words of advice. “I’ve gotten a lot of mail from women,” beams Greg. “Most of them are very sensitive and loving letters. I’ve gotten vocal feedback from feminists also. They don’t like Tom Hartman too much because he represents a male chauvinist.
A lot of fan mail has been very sexy. Sergeant Foley got the teenage fan mail. I got the late-blooming teenagers in their late 20’s and early 30’s. A lot of women have fallen in love with Tom Hartman, which is kind of nice.”
Another nice thing for Greg Mullavey is the recognition, both on and off the streets, that has come his way since “MH II” took off like a rocket. Greg says, “I used to revel in my anonymity.” He is now being noticed all the time.
Meredith MacRae summed it up the best when she said, “I think Greg feels better about himself being so successful now. When he feels better about himself, he’s a lot easier to live with. For quite a few years, he was known more as Meredith MacRae’s husband than as Greg Mullavey. Now he has an identity of his own that he’s wanted for a long time.”
As for Tom Hartman…Greg Mullavey is certainly one of his best friends!