Many moons ago, before the advent of email, my cousin Suzanne sent family members postcards promoting the television appearances of her husband Stephen Macht. Across the top – somewhat wistfully I thought — were the words “Mighty Macht Productions.”
Little did she realize that those little cards represented the first stirrings of an acting family that would find fame on large and small screens, Broadway stages, and beyond.
Now that the Macht family has grown to four children and nine grandchildren, the careers of Stephen, 71, and Gabriel, 42, have grown in direct proportion.
In fact, they’re working together for the second time – in a hit cable show called Suits.
Suits sits alone atop the television world: a dramatic show that makes viewers think. There’s no laugh track and no violence but lots of clever banter that suggests its characters really did go to Harvard Law.
The show’s name derives not only from the well-tailored clothes worn by the actors but also because everyone involved seems to be filing suits when they’re not filing their nails.
Even if cousin Gabriel didn’t play leading man Harvey Specter, I’d love it. The only thing like it on TV is The Good Wife, another legal show, on CBS.
Now in the second six-show arc of its third season, Suits is about to get even better.
Steve Macht joined the USA Network show for the first time March 13 as a crusty but handsome Harvard professor on a collision course with Harvey.
That presents a dilemma for Gabriel, one of the nicest people ever placed on our planet. Polite and soft-spoken when he’s not playing Harvey, he has to call his loving father “a pretentious son-of-a-bitch!”
“On the show,” Steve says, “Louis Litt suspects Mike is a fraud. So he invites the character I play, Professor Gerard, to come to Pearson Specter to deliver an ethics lecture. Every student at Harvard Law School has taken my course so I am a threat to Mike and Harvey if I appear at Pearson Specter and discover Mike’s true identity. Harvey tries to prevent that by blackmailing me. We have a sharp difference of opinion as to what the law is all about.”
Though filmed in Toronto, Suits is set in New York – a fitting place for an acting family with strong New York roots. Gabriel was born in the Bronx, mom Suzanne was born in Manhattan, and Steve spent his youth in Brooklyn rooting for the Dodgers before the family moved to Mystic. He later spent five years at Queens College, where he became a tenured professor in dramatic literature at the ripe old age of 33 while acting in Broadway plays.
“It was a hustle for five years,” he admits. “We were living in Pelham and I was driving to Queens, then into Manhattan, then back home. That triangle was what I was doing for five years.
In 1975, the director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival saw Steve in the off-Broadway show When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder and brought him to Canada. His work there prompted a Universal Pictures scout to offer him a one-year, nonexclusive movie contract. Her name was Eleanor Kilgallen, sister of What’s My Line panelist Dorothy Kilgallen.
“She’s the woman who really built my career,” Steve says. “She found me, sent me out (to Hollywood), and really set me up. That’s when my career took off.”
Since then, he’s played everyone from Yoni Netanyahu, the lone Israeli lost in Entebbe, to David Keeler, boyfriend of Sharon Glass in Cagney & Lacey. Steve has also been on The Six Million Dollar Man, Knot’s Landing, Boston Public, and a miniseries called The Immigrants. Plus plenty of plays and movies that include Mountain Men, The Choirboys, and Monster Squad. Soap opera fans remember Steve as lawyer Trevor Lansing on General Hospital.
The Machts worked together on TV once before, when Stephen Spielberg cast them as father and son in a short-lived series called The Others. Gabriel also played the lead in that show.
The third of four Macht children, Gabriel was only 8 when he broke into show business in the movie Why Would I Lie? but his parents refused multiple offers, insisting he have a normal life rather than working as a child star. He starred in plays at Beverly Hills High School, then spent four years in Pittsburgh at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. After that, he launched his acting career in New York.
Suits has made Gabriel such a star that every woman who’s seen him seems to be lovestruck (don’t tell his wife and mother of two, Australian actress Jacinda Barrett). When the cast was invited to UCLA Law School, his appearance was like the second coming of The Beatles. His dad says the law students were screaming, especially when Gabriel walked onto the stage and did his Michael Jackson spacewalk.
After spending time on the Suits set in Toronto, Steve says his son made him proud just by being the fine young man that he is in real life.
“They can’t get over him,” he says of the Suits crew. “He sets the tone that creates a very giving, very warm atmosphere on that set. It was a great thing for a father to see. Everybody I spoke to, from the producers to the actors, said he the guy. They all told me they have never worked with a more giving actor. I was really happy to hear that.”
The Machts created a stir at Yankee Stadium last summer when Gabriel surprised Steve by inviting him to a game in which he led Bald Vinny’s player roll call from the right-field bleachers. When Gabriel’s picture was plastered on the enormous scoreboard, fans who recognized his blond hair from Suits gave him a vociferous Bronx cheer.
It was not his first Yankee Stadium appearance. While watching the postgame show from his Beverly Hills living room after the last out of the 1999 World Series, Steve saw Gabriel’s head pop up from the pitcher’s mound.
As Steve tells it, “Joe Torre was being interviewed with a camera that was aimed toward center field and all of a sudden, I saw Gabriel. He had gotten a press pass from Nickelodeon so he was able to walk around. I called up my son Ari and said, ‘Gabriel’s on television!’ Ari said, ‘I know – I’m directing him!’ Ari was telling him where the camera was. Before it moved, I saw Gabriel do a wheelie on the pitcher’s mound. When a female guard finally challenged him, he put up his hands and danced with her – he even gave her a dip. Then he walked right toward the camera. I saw him walking and waving at the camera.”
Gabriel’s impromptu routine is preserved on tape as a treasured family heirloom. It has not yet found its way to YouTube but Steve concedes it’s a possibility.
His baseball memories began in Brooklyn, where he and his brother took a trolley car from Borough Hall to Ebbets Field. He remembers watching Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Carl Erskine board a team bus in front of the Bossert Hotel but return in defeat when the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series whenever they met. He changed his allegiance in 1949 and has been a Yankee fan every since.
When Gabriel was still in high school, he and his dad often went to see the Yankees play the Angels and even went to the World Series when the Yankees played the Dodgers. “To this day, Gabriel remembers seeing Ron Cey hit right in the head by a Goose Gossage pitch,” Steve says.
According to the 71-year-old family patriarch, the real Yankee fan of the family is Jesse, a 31-year-old singer and songwriter who plays in two hardball leagues. He befriended Nick Swisher, then with the team, and even went to the slugger’s wedding. Swisher, in turn, came to hear Jesse perform.
Gabriel’s older siblings are Julie, a former attorney who is now director of development for a Jewish children’s camp, and Ari, a lead editor for reality television programming.
All have an affinity for New York. “I really got my spurs in New York,” Steve says. “I worked on and off-Broadway for five years from 1970-75. That catapulted me into a lot of work in television and movies. I made a lot of good friends, some of them still active in the business.
“I’m still at it too. I’m auditioning for several pilots and am making good use of the experience and playfulness. I’ve got a lot of mileage left.”
As a more-than-interested observer, I know he’s not just whistling Dixie. When Steve attends weekend conventions for horror film fans, his table is among the most popular in the place. He also works as a Jewish chaplain – presiding over weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, and other life-cycle events. Just a month ago, he officiated at the bar mitzvah of his grandson Isaiah.
To get him ready, Steve studied with Isaiah for 60-90 minutes every Sunday morning for eight months. “Nothing could be sweeter than that,” he says.
For a guy once named “Villain of the Year” by Soap Opera Digest, nothing could be.