This is one happy man.
—David Doyle about himself
And why not? He’s Bosley, after all, the only male regular on the greatest girl-watcher’s show in TV history, Charlie’s Angels. Sure, Doyle suffered a bit of panic earlier this summer when the superdraw of the gumshoe series, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, announced her departure. The unseen Charlie of the show’s title was not modeled after Finley of the Oakland Athletics, but there was some resemblance to whoever was in charge—the producers or the ABC network. There was no way that Farrah’s take was going to be bumped from $5,000 to $75,000 a show (if that’s what she really wanted) or that she would be let out of her contract altogether.
By the time Doyle had calculated how long his savings account could survive if Angels folded its wings (18 months), he had recovered his sense of proportion and humor. “I figured there are four, maybe six good-looking girls who come to Hollywood every year,” he cracks. In any case, at that point all the press clamor over Farrah’s fate had hyped Charlie’s Angels into the highest-rated show on the tube—which it had not been before. Just as fortuitously, Cheryl Ladd, 25, had been signed to play Farrah’s younger sister should she belatedly return—or as her replacement. “Pinup-wise, Cheryl is just as impressive,” Doyle glows, “and she’s as gifted as, if not more so than, Farrah. I think it’s a stronger show now.”
That’s the closest Doyle’s ever gotten in his 47 years to an invidious statement. If there were a sealed intra-Angel ballot tomorrow to choose the most beautiful human of them all, the vote would go to David Doyle, 4 to 0. That counts fallen-away Angel FF-M, who remains as fond of him as he is of her. “She’s a sweet girl,” David says, “and if she has a fault, it’s that she thinks with her heart rather than her head.
“We all knew the problems Farrah was having,” he elaborates. “She is crazy about husband Lee Majors and anxious to spend more time with him. But she would be up at 5 a.m., work all day and then get home around 7.” As for her $6 million man, “Lee would get home from tossing buildings around about 7:30, just in time for a bite to eat. Then they would study their scripts and go to sleep. On weekends Farrah was off shooting commercials. It wasn’t any bed of roses.
“We all know what Farrah did for the show. Why resent it? I realize,” David adds, “that’s easier for me to say than for one of the girls.” But what is astounding is that Charlie’s two other charter Angels, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, are equally sympathetic to the show-stealing Farrah. “That’s where their maturity comes in,” David says, modestly downplaying his own decisive influence on morale on the set.
“If you want to sink into problems,” notes Kate, “you’d better stay away from him—David’s never down and keeps everyone else up.” To her and Jackie, the other unmarried Angel, Doyle doubles as a confessor (heavy subjects arise, though—reports to the contrary—Warren Beatty isn’t one of them). “He treats me like a daughter,” says Jackie, “and I love him personally.” When Ladd first arrived, feeling “like the new girl on the block,” Doyle was a one-man welcome wagon. “Within two weeks, we were all friends,” Cheryl smiles, “and I feel like David is my adopted dad.” Says “Dad”: “She was eager, a little nervous, but a pro.” Cheryl had sung and worked in movies (on one set she met her husband of four years, David Ladd, the son of the late actor and brother of 20th Century-Fox chieftain Alan Ladd Jr.). But Doyle hastens to insert, “No one did this girl a favor by giving her a job. She can cut it, which we all knew after a couple days of shooting.” Returning the compliment, Cheryl notes, “If anyone should act like a star, it’s David Doyle. He really knows his craft the way I hope to someday, and he has real sensitivity.”
That has come to him partially through tragedy. Doyle’s first wife, Rachael, died in a freak staircase fall in 1968 when their daughter, Leah, was 7. And his second wife, Anne, suffers from a hereditary eye disease, Retinitis pigmentosa, that gives her night blindness and tunnel vision and could eventually cost her her sight. That just deepens the traditional closeness of the Doyles. David himself grew up in a very tight Nebraska-based family of lawyers (grandfather, father, brother, nephew).
Rambunctious as a kid, he once ignited his parochial school fire escape and by 13 was stealing his dad’s Packard. Grabbed by the collar by an irate nun on one occasion, he recalls, “I fell to the floor in a phony faint. She thought she’d killed me, and there was quite a flap.” His next showbiz audition was delayed by two years of prelaw majoring in Latin at the University of Nebraska. A summer at Virginia’s Barter Theater ended all that, and in 1950 he switched his studies to New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, where he was a classmate of Joanne Woodward. With Korea, he enlisted in the Navy in hopes of becoming a pilot, but his blood pressure was too high. “I blame that on the beautiful girl I would stay with until the wee hours of the morning,” he quips. He fetched up as air controller, and later radio deejay at the U.S. base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Doyle’s career got rolling after he replaced Walter Matthau on Broadway in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (His visiting mother lamented his working “in-such a dirty little vehicle.”) His subsequent credits onstage included The Beauty Part with Bert Lahr, and he’s also directed 60 plays. Among his films were Vigilante Force, with Kris Kristofferson, and David established his face on TV (to the extent it’s still not confused with Tom Bosley) as the Irish dad in Bridget Loves Bernie and as the star’s boss on The New Dick Van Dyke Show.
After his first wife’s death, Doyle vowed never to marry again and “was resigned to a life totally focused on my daughter and career.” Then, while in a revival of South Pacific, he met singer-dancer Anne Nathan. “Two weeks before he proposed he told me I really ought to be seeing other people,” she grins. So when he did propose she said, “You’re kidding.” Explains Doyle: “By then I figured that eventually I would want to get married again, and if I waited for five years or so Anne wouldn’t be around.” She recalls that the initial months were “rocky.” She’s Jewish, and her mother had opposed her marriage to a Catholic. Also, Anne found herself “paranoid” in trying to take over as mom of Leah Doyle, then 8.
When away from their rambling Encino ranch house, David is a member of the so-called Hollywood Hackers, a hang-loose golf group consisting of Efrem Zimbalist Jr., David Wayne and Sheldon Leonard. He also keeps up with his old New York Players Club cronies like Jimmy Cagney, Pat O’Brien and Harry Morgan.
During the latest Angels recess he shot three films: The Comeback, with singer Jack Jones; a cameo as Elliott Gould’s boss in the upcoming Capricorn I; and a larger role in an ABC movie-of-the-week with Desi Arnaz Jr. and Bill Bixby. His main professional objective right now is to get some “real dimension” written into his role on Angels. The first season, he feels, “Bosley was sort of an officious, effeminate snip. I fantasize Charlie really works for Bosley, who’s the brains of the operation—a man with style, class and the nerve of Napoleon.”
With a more favorable time slot (one hour earlier on Wednesday), more persuasive scripts, plus Cheryl Ladd, Doyle anticipates that the Farrah-less Angels can be still more formidable in the ratings. (And about the reviewers: “I’m tired of critics who think that if they’re sarcastic enough people will mistake it for intelligence. To those demeaners,” snorts David, “I say, ‘Try to imagine how little I care.’ “)
What Doyle and the new Angels do care about—and genuinely—is FF-M herself. “We all feel she is making a terrible mistake leaving the show. One flop movie can put you out of action.” “I just hope she’s done the right thing for herself,” chimes in Kate Jackson. Then she adds with a Sabrina smile: “I think it’s about time everyone stopped asking us about last year—dragging up stuff—and started thinking about this season. Everybody knows when you look back you turn to salt.”