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Actor Owes Debt of Gratitude to President Bush

If Gerald McRaney looks like a natural as a CIA liaison in J.J. Abrams' sexy new "Undercovers," premiering tomorrow (9/22), it could be because he has pals who know the spy game inside out.

"As luck would have it, I've actually worked with people in the past who are retired from or associated with the CIA," the well-liked star of shows including "Simon & Simon," "Major Dad," "The Promised Land," "Deadwood" and "Jericho" lets us know. For instance, "The gentleman who helped us coordinate a movie I worked on in Thailand, 'Vestige of Honor,' and some other people."

Other people indeed. McRaney happens to be friends with George H.W. Bush, who, you'll recall, was director of central intelligence — the head spook himself — before he became president.

"I suppose that if I needed technical advice, I could get it from him," observes McRaney with a smile.

That would work.

In fact, McRaney's relationship with the 41st president and Barbara Bush helped save his life. Years ago, as part of a celebration of George's and Barbara's respective birthdays, McRaney took part in a charitable fundraiser for MD Anderson Hospital in Houston. "I did the tour, met some of the doctors," he recounts. Later, "When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I turned to the staff at MD Anderson and asked if I could come down there and get a second opinion." He went on to have surgery and follow-up treatment at the esteemed facility.

"I wouldn't have even known about the hospital if it hadn't been for President Bush," says McRaney. He also says he left a thank-you message for Bush, and was surprised awhile later, when he picked up his ringing phone and found himself chatting with the former prez. Talk about something to bolster one's spirits.

These days, McRaney's spirits are soaring. He's now six years' cancer-free, he reports, having just received his annual clean bill of health. His 23-year-marriage to Delta Burke still gets him gushing like a newlywed. And he's loving his latest TV gig, as the boss of super agents Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. "I come in two or three times an episode and tell these young people what to do. They do all the heavy lifting, all the stunt work," he says. "I have never been around two more beautiful people, I don't think. And then both of them, being that gorgeous, have the temerity to be nice guys, too."

SHHHHHHH: Fans of "MADtv" no doubt remember Will Sasso's hilarious imitation of William Shatner playing Captain Kirk on "Star Trek." Now, Sasso's on Shatner's "(Bleep) My Dad Says," debuting Thursday (9/23). His impression, he says, "hasn't come up. I don't think Bill knows I do an impression of him. Frankly, it's something I can tell you I've been trying to keep from him. I sort of see that as something that may draw a line between us as actors," confesses the funnyman. However, Sasso has resigned himself to the fact that Shatner is going to find out.

"It was just an overt caricature of Captain Kirk, not really Bill at all," adds Sasso, an irrepressible mimic from childhood on. Being around Shatner every day, surely Sasso has burnished his impression by now. "I'll do it with maybe one, two people around. It's something I have no practical use for," he says.

Sasso says he's been convinced of "(Bleep) My Dad Says" having an excellent chance for success ever since the first time he and the company did their show before an audience last spring. "It was the first time a lot of people saw what Shatner was going to be doing with this role — this immediate marriage of material and Shatner's style, his Shatnerisms, if you will. He's so comfortable and playful with the audience. Bill will sit on a joke and hold it until he feels ready to let it pop, and the audience is like they're on springs waiting for it."

Sasso also says that although the profanity has been toned down from the show's real-life roots on Twitter, "It's not exactly clean. There's times we're saying stuff I literally can't believe we're saying on television."

LOOKING FOR GIRLS: William Friedkin is planning an early November production start in New Orleans for his Matthew McConaughey-Emile Hirsch dark comedy, "Killer Joe," which Tracy Letts ("Bug") adapted from his own play. Still to be cast is the role of Dottie, described as an ethereal, childlike beauty with an innate sexuality, 20 years old, who lives in a trailer in a rural areas of Texas.

Casting is under way for a pilot presentation called "Olivia," that has to do with a 10-year-old girl who's in a sketch comedy show. Sounds like a younger "Sonny with a Chance."

To find out more about Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and read their past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 MARILYN BECK AND STACY JENEL SMITH

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