In Which We Raise “The Love Boat”

Having written about Gavin MacLeod (Captain Stubing) and Bernie Kopell (Doc) as well as executive producer Aaron Spelling, and scores of the actors who guest starred on the show, today we select the birthday of Lauren Tewes (Julie McCoy) for a tribute to one of the most successful franchises in TV history, The Love Boat (1976-1987 & 1990).

The Love Boat was a refinement of the idea of Love, American Style — three comic stories per episode revolving around the themes of sex and romance. Like most Spelling successes it was genius producing, if less than stellar writing. For the launch of this vessel coincided with the disco era, and the climax of that halcyon pre-AIDS time when single adults were pursuing companionship with unprecedented, single-minded frankness and vigor. The most common locales for hook ups were naturally bars, night clubs, discos, and the like. Setting the show on a cruise ship, the real-life Pacific Princess, added a dash of potential exoticism and the ability to fold in characters who weren’t necessarily young swingers. The Vegassy theme song, sung by Jack Jones, established the tone with tacky garishness: all swirling strings and cocktail lounge hokum.

Unlike Love American Style, all the stories were set in the same location, which permitted another savvy innovation, a cast of regulars, which proved as strong a lure as the guest stars. Sometimes a stronger one. For much like its sister show Fantasy Island, The Love Boat became a sort of byword for being a kind of show business pasture where former stars went to work after their agents could get them nothing else.

Far more jarring and disorienting than the entirely different crew: the look of Don Adams’ disco phase

This wasn’t true at the beginning however. I well remember the 1976 made for TV movie that preceded the series’ advent. It was promoted with great hoopla, and this was at the height of ABC’s popularity. I practically watched the network every single night. While the pilot did have some washed up stars, it also had several others then at the peak of their popularity: Gabe Kaplan from Welcome Back, Kotter, Tom Bosley from Happy Days, Hal Linden from Barney Miller, Cloris Leachman from Mary Tyler Moore and Phyllis, and Harvey Korman from The Carol Burnett Show. A bit past their prime were Don Adams from Get Smart, Karen Valentine from Room 222, and Florence Henderson from The Brady Bunch. What I had forgotten until I just now looked at the cast list, was that the crew was completely different: familiar character Teddy Wilson (of That’s My Mama) was Isaac the Funky, Funky Bartender, later to be played by Ted Lange; Dick Van Patten, soon to hit with Eight is Enough was the ship’s doctor, later played by Kopell. Sandy Helberg, not Fred Grandy, played Gopher the Purser. Ted Hamilton was the captain, and Terry O’Mara was the cruise director. The irrepressible Richard Stahl played an entertainer in the lounge.

Then in 1977, there was a second TV movie. This one brought aboard about half of the core cast, Kopell, Lange and Grandy, but still with a different captain and cruise director. It is always a surreal joy to report the passengers: in this case, Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch), Marcia Strassman (Welcome Back, Kotter), Kristy McNichol (Family), Ken Berry (F Troop), Hope Lange (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), Lyle Waggoner (The Carol Burnett Show), game show host Bert Convy, Hollywood veteran Celeste Holm, and Diana Canova (soon to be a regular on Soap and I’m a Girl Big Now).

There was an infectious camaraderie amongst the core cast, with a stern Gavin Macleod as comic foil, Grandy as a sort of goofy fool, and Kopell as a sort of avuncular figure, available for advice but on the side of the good guys. If there was a main character there to hold it all together it was wholesome, all-American, perky Lauren Tewes. In the mid 1980s, it emerged that she was so perky due to cocaine abuse, which had grown so drastic she was fired from the show and replaced by Pat Klous as her sister. (That happens all the time in real life, by the way: “I’m afraid we have to let you go. Do you by any chance have a brother or sister we can hire in your place?”) The show only lasted a couple of seasons after that, although it returned for several TV movie reunions.

“Come on, Isaac, just one more bump, huh? I gotta be up — UP!”

If you were wondering just what the internet is good for, I just looked up which guest stars appeared on The Love Boat the most times and got this answer: “Marion Ross (Happy Days) made 14 guest appearances on Love Boat, playing more than one character. However, one of those characters eventually married Captain Stubing, so she may belong more properly in the ‘crew and family’ category than guest star. Next behind her were Charo and Florence Henderson, with 10 appearances each.”  Yes, Florence Henderson and Charo, reviving once again the age-old symbolic dichotomy betwixt Whore and Madonna.