Ridiculous but aspirational, cheesy but salacious, it was the ultimate guilty pleasure. The Love Boat sailed into its “graveyard” time slot, pulling Fantasy Island in its wake, and made Saturday nights the hot night for TV in the late 1970s and early '80s. Aaron Spelling was the producer behind both shows, and had the Midas touch: he still holds the Guinness World Record for being the most prolific television producer, ever.
Formulaic as it was, The Love Boat broke ground in its own way. Where else could you see Marcia Brady romantically paired with Welcome Back Kotter’s Juan Epstein, or notorious rivals Carol Channing and Ethel Merman sitting at the same piano bench? Their arguing was so loud you could hear it from the neighboring set; apparently soundstage walls were not built to contain The Merm.
The glitterati that graced The Love Boat’s decks as guest stars ran the gamut. There were old school Hollywood stars: Olivia de Havilland, Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes, Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Debbie Reynolds, and Cab Calloway. There were fashion designers: Halston, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Bob Mackie. There were stars who weren’t stars just yet, like Michael J. Fox, Billy Crystal, and Tom Hanks, and a who’s who of 70s TV: Willie Aames, Kristy McNichol, John Ritter, The Osmonds, and the Brady Bunch kids. Cast members from Happy Days, M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, Eight is Enough, Leave It To Beaver, and The Dick Van Dyke Show turned up in various groupings. There were also the ones who were big at the time, but forgotten by those who weren’t around in the 70s: The Hudson Brothers, Bobby Sherman, Bert Convy, Charlene Tilton, and Quinn Cummings. And then there were just flat-out surprises, like Janet Jackson and even Andy Warhol.
But while people do remember the guest stars, they also never forget the show’s regular cast. Let’s get caught up.
Gavin MacLeod — Captain Merrill Stubing
When he was cast on The Love Boat, MacLeod had just wrapped up seven years on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His agent told him The Love Boat script “sucked” but added that Spelling really wanted MacLeod for the part, and the industry-savvy actor recognized it immediately for what it was: a gold mine. A feel-good show was just what he was looking for, and he took the job.
After The Love Boat, he appeared in some musicals, co-hosted a wacky airline safety video (“Safety Old School Style”) with Betty White for Air New Zealand, was the honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades for five years, and even got a chance to conduct the Colorado Symphony.
He also has a rich spiritual life. He turned to religion in the 1980s, and remarried his second wife Patti, whom he’d divorced three years earlier. They even co-wrote a book about it: Back On Course: The Remarkable Story of a Divorce that Ended in Remarriage. It was his religious conviction that led him to some of his favorite projects: he played the lead role in the 2008 Christian film The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, and co-hosted a show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network about marriage called Back On Course for 17 years.
Most recently, he wrote his memoir, This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith, & Life. He’s still close with friends Bernie Kopell and Ted Lange, and went to Jill Whelan’s wedding in 2004.
Bernie Kopell — Doctor Adam Bricker
Kopell was already well known to TV audiences long before he set sail on The Love Boat. Oddly, he started out his acting career playing mostly Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. He taught himself to do a Russian accent, which snagged him the recurring role of Maxwell Smart’s nemesis, Siegfried, on the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry-created series, Get Smart. He was also a regular (and versatile) visitor to Bewitched, playing a couple of psychiatrists, a warlock, a client of Darrin’s, the witches’ Apothecary, and a German Baron.
A smart man with a happy heart, Kopell knew a good thing when he saw it. The Love Boat paid him a great salary, allowed him to see the world, work among friends and meet his Hollywood idols. He used to joke that he got away with murder: as his character, the lecherous “Doc,” he could tell every attractive woman on the ship to take her clothes off, legitimately. He flexed his other muscles too, co-writing several of the show’s “story-segments” with co-star Fred Grandy.
After the series ended, he did the requisite guest spots on other shows like Fantasy Island, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, and Chico and the Man, and got a chance to focus on his tennis game, often winning the charity celebrity tournaments he competed in. He continues to do TV appearances and guest spots, most recently appeared on Raising Hope with Cloris Leachman, who also had been on The Love Boat back in the day.
Fred Grandy — Yeoman Purser Burl "Gopher" Smith
Up until The Love Boat, Fred Grandy’s biggest break was a recurring role as Carol’s boyfriend on the show Maude. While his acting resume was somewhat limited, his academic history was anything but: he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, and had good connections too: at Phillips Exeter Academy he was roommates with David Eisenhower (grandson of Dwight D. Eisenhower) and then was best man at David’s wedding to Julie Nixon in 1968.
Before The Love Boat, he waffled between politics and acting. He was a speechwriter for Iowa Congressman Wiley Mayne, and also co-wrote an off-Broadway play with future Saturday Night Live star Jane Curtin. After The Love Boat, he jumped back into politics. When he told MacLeod that he wouldn’t be doing the TV movie sequels because he was going to run for office, MacLeod whipped out his checkbook and became the very first financial contributor to Grandy’s campaign. From 1987-1995, Grandy was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost the election for Governor of Iowa in 1994 by a mere four percentage points.
From 1995-2000, he served as the President and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. Grandy was also a political commentator on NPR and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He co-hosted a conservative radio talk show in DC up until 2011; when his wife’s on-air comments about radical Islam got her banned from future visits, he resigned. Pretty serious stuff for your yeoman purser, but he wasn’t all grim: he happily joined the rest of the cast for their Love Boat reunion on the show The Talk in November of 2013. He also plays Dr. William Ledreau on The Mindy Project.
Ted Lange – Bartender Isaac Washington
Surprisingly, Ted Lange used to co-write a sex advice column for the magazine FHM. Initially, his co-writer was porn star Jenna Jameson and then he partnered up with Beth Ostrosky Stern, wife of Howard.
Additional surprises from Mr. Lange: he was in the original cast of Hair on Broadway in 1968, and he’s written 23 plays himself. He’s an accomplished director, having done shows like Moesha, Dharma & Greg, Fantasy Island, The First Family, The Wayans Brothers, The Fall Guy, and of course, multiple episodes of The Love Boat. What else? He lost 28 pounds on Celebrity Fit Club in 2006, guest-starred on Psych, The King of Queens, 227, Evening Shade, and Scrubs, and did a bunch of Bud Light commercials.
During the run of The Love Boat, bartenders used to offer him their favorite drinks in the hopes that he’d use them on the show, so even offset he was enjoying himself. Onset, he was traveling, getting to know colleagues who would become lifelong friends, and locking lips with one of his favorite movie stars. His first romantic screen kiss was with guest star Diahann Carroll, and it took a while before she and the crew caught on to the fact that he was asking for retakes just so he could kiss her again.
Lauren Tewes — Cruise Director Julie McCoy
Cynthia Lauren Tewes was cast the day before the third Love Boat pilot was shot. Chosen out of a pool of 100 other actresses, she won the role after producer Spelling screened an episode of Starsky & Hutch she’d appeared on, and she was told to report to the set bright and early the next morning. Her car had a flat, and she was broke, so she borrowed the money, fixed the tire, and started the next day as requested. She’d already been in over 20 commercials that year and had one line in a Charlie’s Angels episode, but Love Boat was the break she’d been waiting for.
During the show’s run, she got some small guest roles on other series (including the obligatory appearance on Fantasy Island), and starred in the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders TV-movie, and the theatrical release Eyes of a Stranger with Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Unfortunately, though, her journey from struggling actress to TV star was a rocky one. It was the 1970s, and she was making a lot of money; it wasn’t long before she was spending a large portion of it on cocaine. Things went from bad to worse, and a few years before The Love Boat finished its run, she was replaced after too many no-shows. She admits she would have accepted a pay cut and tried to turn things around, but it was too late, and Pat Klous replaced her as Julie’s younger sister Judy.
Since then, though, she ditched the coke habit and went back to work. She still does some acting when she can, and does voice work for video games. She also went to culinary school to become a cheese specialist, and when she’s not acting, she works as a sous chef in Seattle, for a catering company.
Jill Whelan — Vicky Stubing
Jill Whelan joined the cast at age 11, playing Captain Stubing’s young daughter Vicky. Love Boat changed her life. She made friends with the cast, she got to dance with Ginger Rogers, and became pen pals with Ethel Merman. She also got held up at gunpoint with Debbie Allen in Egypt, all while filming the show. There were happier benefits as well, like her hilarious appearance in the 1980 hit Airplane!, where she played a sick passenger who kept getting her IV knocked out by a well-meaning but oblivious guitar-playing flight attendant.
In contrast to Tewes’ post-show experience, Whelan became a national spokesperson for Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign in the 1980s. But she faced hard times too: while her Love Boat money had been put away in a trust fund for her, her first husband’s failed business ventures wiped her out. When her occasional acting jobs weren’t enough to support herself and her son, she went to work behind the scenes. She was an investigative reporter, an events producer, an associate producer, and a journalist. She kept up some acting and some cabaret work, and hosted a podcast with her friend Brian Phelps called The Brian and Jill Show, available on iTunes. Frequent guests on the podcast included Dave Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, executive producers of Phineas and Ferb, and she’s done some voices on that show as well as providing the Shirley Bassey-like vocals for the song “Ðoofenshmirtz Swanky New Evil Lair” in one episode.