THE tall, slender Marine got up from the barber's chair, took a look in the mirror, and gingerly ran his hand over the stiff stubble that barely covered his scalp. Here was Gerald McRaney, in uniform for his new CBS-TV series, ``Major Dad,'' at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif. As he walked toward his car, three enlisted men saw him and promptly snapped to attention, saluting. A few feet away, they stopped and turned. ``That looked like ... no, what would he be doing HERE?''
The actor heard the comment and couldn't resist a twinkle of a grin. If a high school football injury hadn't scuttled his plans, he probably would have chosen to enlist in the Marines, since so many of his buddies did.
How was this new series born?
``The eighth and last season of `Simon and Simon,' we began to get the skeleton of an idea,'' the actor explains in an interview. ``It centers around a rather conservative, peacetime officer who falls in love with a newspaper reporter, who is rather liberal. She's a single parent raising three daughters. They get married, and then the real fun begins.
``When we were discussing which branch of the service he'd be in, I voted for the Marines.'' McRaney also had a vote as co-executive producer, so he won.
Mac, as he's called by his friends, was at Pendleton to soak up the atmosphere, talk with people, hear their stories. Also, to be outfitted with Marine uniforms, and along with three other actors on the show, get an authentic Marine haircut.
What did Mac's wife, actress Delta Burke, say when she saw the crew cut?
``You mean after the tears?'' he asks. ``Well, she said, `Either go bald or grow your hair, don't tease me like this!' She's more resigned to it now,'' he adds.
``Major Dad'' has the Monday, 8 p.m. time slot, leading off CBS's Monday night ``comedy block.'' They predict a hit, and the signs are good, for one of its executive producers is Emmy-winning Earl Pomerantz. Mr. Pomerantz is a writer/producer and has received awards for such high-rollers as ``The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'' and ``The Cosby Show.''
``Major Dad'' is a lead-in for another new show, ``The People Next Door,'' followed by last season's champ, ``Murphy Brown,'' then another new series, ``The Famous Teddy Z,'' followed by ``Designing Women'' and ``Newhart.''
Did Mac model the role of his Marine major after anyone? ``A little after my brother-in-law, who is a captain. Nothing phases this man, he can do anything. choWell, it's like this. I accompanied Delta to San Antonio where she was giving a speech. Just before we were to leave for the ballroom, she ripped her dress.
``When she realized this was the only one she could wear for the formal event, panic hit. I told her, `just sit there and don't stew. I got a needle and thread and sewed the dress, and handed it to her. `Where in the world, did you learn to do that?' she gasped. I replied: `from my brother-in-law, the Air Force captain. He even makes clothes for his kids.'' Who do you think sews those patches on a uniform? You don't think soldiers, on their pay, send them out?'''endcho
This season, with both Mac and Delta starring in their own series, one might think that would be a problem, but it isn't. As Mac explains, ``I film at Universal Studios on Tuesday evenings, Delta does `Designing Women,' across the street at the Burbank Studios on Thursdays. Basically, we're busy rehearsing our series at the same time, so we don't visit each other's set,'' Mac continues. ``But that's OK, for we also have the same time off, and that's the important thing.''
McRaney and Burke were married, honeymooned in Europe for a month, came home to help add ``some bells and whistles'' to his eldest daughter, Jessica's wedding, and then resumed their respective series. ``We haven't spent a lot of time in our new house,'' he confides. ``But, we really love it. Property in Beverly Hills costs too much, but we discovered Pasadena, which is kind of an old fashioned city where wealthy easterners used to come to spend their winters back in the 1920s.
``It's becoming popular again. In Pasadena, we could afford a two-story home, with a garden and big backyard. My two favorite places are the family room, that's where we sit around and watch old movies and things like that. The other is the sun porch ... but we can sit there have our breakfast, look out on the garden, and watch the flowers grow.'' Remember we both have our roots in the South, so we grew up surrounded by lots of trees and flowers.''endcho
McRaney seems to apply the early advice of Jeff Corey, his acting coach, to a lot more than his career. He recounts one conversation they had once: ``I guess I was really chewing the scenery doing this scene for him. I was so intense. He said, `Gerald, why do you think they call it a play? Have some fun with the role, don't be so serious. I don't care if it's ``Lear,'' ``Hamlet,'' or ``Othello,''double quotes. if you're not enjoying it as an actor, you're doing it wrong.'
``I've learned that as intense as the role gets, there should still be that part of you that says, `Boy, I'm being good here,' you've got to enjoy your work. If you don't, you'd go mad and start biting yourself.
``There was this time when I wasn't making a whole bunch of money, that was in my cab-driving days. I was told I was just right for a proposed series.
``I went to the audition, and they liked me. They said they'd pay $25,000 to do the pilot and $8-$10,000 a week if the series sold. It's awful to have to wrestle with that. That's a tough decision. You think of that money and how it could bale you out. Then, I remembered my coach's advice, I knew I'd never enjoy playing the role. I turned it down, even though I was unemployed.''
Even when he was in a hit series like ``Simon and Simon,'' it can be rough.
As McRaney says, ``We finished our first season in 58th place. My co-star, Jameson Parker, and I both knew we'd done our best, but when we saw that rating, we agreed, ``We're history.' I did another pilot, and Jameson was cast in another show.
``The network put `Simon and Simon' on a summer replacement, in a different time slot and we took off. The show was brought back, and for the next three to four years, we were in the top 10. Then, we started that roller coaster, we never knew if we'd be picked up or not. The last four years were always a question mark.''
But McRaney has a good feeling about ``Major Dad'' and admits, ``It's not about Marines and politics, but about personal relationships.... When it comes to acting, I'm a workaholic. Get me away from this, and ask me to do real work, and I turn lazy, fast. I'd hate to have to work for a living.''