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WHAT ARE THEY UP TO NOW? : Most of the (work)days of Michael Lembeck now involve directing

August 15, 1993|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's been said an actor never forgets the first line he utters on stage or in front of the camera. Michael Lembeck, who for five years starred as Max Horvath on "One Day at a Time," is no exception.

"It was 1967, in 'Hang 'Em High,' " he recalls, "I play Marvin, the boy who works in the general store. I ask, 'Miss Rachel?' and she says, 'What is it, Marvin?' and I answer, 'Where would you like these blankets?' "

Lembeck, now primarily a television director, but still an actor, laughs at the memory. "It was very exciting."

Although his father, Harvey Lembeck, was an established actor with a well-respected school--Harvey Lembeck's Comedy Workshop--Lembeck's ambition while growing up was to be a sports announcer.

In high school, he got the acting bug, fueled somewhat by his classmates. In his drama class at Beverly Hills High School were Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks. John Ritter was also a longtime friend.

Lembeck went on to summer stock and played Clete Meizenheimer on the '70s cult soap "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (a favorite part, along with that of Abbie Hoffman in the HBO movie "Conspiracy: Trial of the Chicago Eight").

He acknowledges that he's most recognized from his days on CBS' "One Day at a Time," which aired 1975-1984. He joined the show in 1979 as Max, Julie's (MacKenzie Phillips) husband. Drug and health problems resulted in Phillips' character being written out of the show twice--and as a consequence Max also went on hiatus. Finally, in the show's last season in 1984, Lembeck's Max was brought back without Julie.

Despite the roller-coaster ride, he says, "That is as wonderful an experience on an everyday basis as I've ever had."

In his later days on "One Day at a Time" he says he began to observe the proceedings with an eye toward directing.

When the show ended, he taught at his dad's workshop and began, he says, building a reputation of working well with actors. He also continued acting, which included a guest spot on "L.A. Law" and an appearance in an off-Broadway musical.

"I put it out there that I wanted to direct," he says. "It seemed as though I just was talking to my wife about it, and then within 10 seconds, the phone rang and I got an offer."

An old friend asked if he'd like to direct a few episodes of a new show, which turned out to be "Coach." He ended up doing multiple episodes of the show as well as "Major Dad" and "Flying Blind." This fall, he'll be directing the first 12 episodes of CBS' "Love & War." When he's not directing, he helps his sister, Helaine, run their father's workshop.

Lembeck and his wife, actress Lorna Patterson, have two children and are very active in school activities. The family recently bought a home in the San Fernando Valley. "I am most happy when I'm with them," he says.

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