HOLLYWOOD (UPI) - The man who plays the biggest horse's neck on television doesn't care much for this distinction but as Ted Baxter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" he has become a certified celebrity.
Ted Knight sighed deeply: "It used to bother me playing a national dummy on television. But I've got enough confidence to overcome that now."
He even has enough selfconfidence to live down his real name, which happens to be Tadeusz Wladziu Konopka.
On the weekly CBS comedy series, Knight is the ultimate fatheaded, egotistical, inept newscast anchorman audiences would happily strangle.
The portrait of Ted Baxter resembles Knight in physical characteristics only. At least the actor hopes that is the extent of it.
I didn't believe people could have as much pomposity, vanity and bigotry as Ted Baxter," said his alter ego. "When you think about it I'm the only one in the series who doesn't play a hero."
There was a touch of regret in Konopka's voice. But he brightened when reminded he also gets the biggest laughs on the show.
"Ted Baxter is the butt of all the jokes," he continued. "They all bounce off him. But it's been rewarding where the public is concerned. Viewers all love Ted and sense his innocence and vulnerability.
"He's escaped into a bubble of unreality. And a lot of people in this country would like to find a bubble like that.
"The character may be somewhat exaggerated. But I've bumped into people with an ego almost as big as his."
To break the monotony of rehearsals, directors on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" often ask Knight to stay in the Ted Baxter character between rehearsal scenes.
The rest of the cast picked up on the inside joke and were loosing zingers at KnightBaxter as they do in the script.
"I started getting paranoid about it," Knight, nee Konopka, reflected. "They began laughing at me when I was trying to be serious. The first two years it was touch and go whether I was a Jekyll and Hyde character. Now Ted Baxter has become a classic. An original."
Last year Knight played television's biggest dunderhead with such authority he was nominated for an Emmy award.
Why, one asks, is a dumbbell kept on in his anchorman post. Knight answers: "Comedic license is all that keeps him on the job."
Knight's role has been beefed up the past season to wring as many laughs as possible from Ted Baxter, whose only virtue is his love for his mother.
There is an almost LaurelHardy relationship between the characters of Ted Baxter and Lou Grant, the beadyeyed boss of the show's news operation. Most of the comedy is played off the two of them.
"Lou and Ted are funny guys," Knight said. "Ed Asner and I work well together. The important thing is that it works. And so does the show."
[The Hartford Courant, Saturday, February 3, 1973]