‘We’re all still friends’: A generation later, ‘The Love Boat’ crew sails on

Original “Love Boat” cast members Jill Whelan and Ted Lange aboard a Princess cruise ship docked in San Pedro. Whelan and Lange reunite on “The Real Love Boat,” CBS’ dating reality series inspired by the beloved vintage series.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

More than 35 years have passed since the last voyage of the TV classic “The Love Boat”, aboard a luxury cruise ship that aired in 1986. changing rotation of big and small celebrities involved in various rom-com adventures about the ship.

Through nine seasons and several reunion specials, more than 500 celebrities from classic Hollywood (Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Lillian Gish, Joan Fontaine, Eva Marie Saint), Broadway (Ethel Merman, Robert Goulet, Tammy Grimes), TV (Don Adams, Lorne Greene, Florence Henderson, Eve Arden), music (The Pointer Sisters, Janet Jackson, Engelbert Humperdinck) and sports (Dick Butkus, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Joe Namath) appeared on the ABC series. Also boarding were unlikely guest stars (Halston, Bob Mackie and Andy Warhol among them) and up-and-comers (such as Martin Short and Tom Hanks).

Interacting with the colorful passengers and guiding them through their romantic highs and lows in each episode, was the attentive crew, led by Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod). The crew members also engaged in many of their own hijinks.

Two of those members – Ted Lange, who played bartender Isaac Washington, and Jill Whelan, who played Stubing’s daughter, Vicki – are back on the high seas this week as they join forces for a reality series inspired by the vintage comedy unite.

The two will enter CBS’s “The Real Love Boat,” featuring singles looking for love and competing in “chemistry and compatibility challenges” aboard a Princess Cruises liner. The winning couple in the show, premiering Wednesday and hosted by Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn, will receive a cash prize and the “ultimate” luxury princess cruise.

“This is a cool way to bring back the essence of our show in a fresh and different way,” Whelan said last week, during a visit to ViacomCBS headquarters in Hollywood. “It’s a fun opportunity for me and Ted as elder statesmen to talk to these kids about what love and romance really looks like.”

Sitting next to her is Lange, who praised his former co-star. Whelan continued to write, act and produce various projects, while Lange remained active in the theater world as a director and playwright, with a special passion for Shakespeare.

Lange said the experience of being on “The Love Boat” was life-changing. “When I look back, I realize now how lucky I was. I was just trying to build my career, and then I hit this home on this show. At the time, I thought it was supposed to happen. But now I say to myself, ‘You be a happy sonofabitch.’

“The Love Boat” was a Saturday night staple throughout its run, and the formula never deviated: three different stories all blended together during the hour-long installments. A year after its 1977 premiere, the series was paired with “Fantasy Island,” another anthology with new guest stars each week. Both were produced by TV mogul Aaron Spelling.

“I think people remember it fondly because they were younger when they watched it, and it reflects the pop culture personality of the time,” said Neal Sabin, executive vice president of Weigel Broadcasting, which owns the MeTV Network. monitored. The digital network, specializing in vintage TV shows, will air episodes of the series next year (“The Love Boat” is currently streaming on Paramount +).

“For parents, they could see these big stars of movies mixed with young people and with TV stars who were part of the zeitgeist,” Sabin said. He also said that the series had the quality of many series that last through time: “The key is, are these people you want to be friends with? The characters in this show were written and acted like when they really love each other.

Whelan and Lange’s love was evident as they talked about the show and each other about the show and cast members Fred Grandy (Yeoman Purser Burl “Gopher” Smith), Lauren Tewes (Cruise Director Julie McCoy) and Bernie Kopell (ship doctor Adam “Doc) screamed. ” Bricker). MacLeod died in May 2021.

On a table in front of them was a huge plate of cookies – a publicist had brought them to celebrate Whelan’s birthday – but she and Lange were so focused on their memories that the treats remained untouched.

In this 1983 photo, “The Love Boat” cast poses on the Great Wall of China near Beijing. From left: Fred Grandy, Ted Lange, Jill Whalen, Gavin MacLeod, Lauren Tewes and Bernie Kopell.

Did you know at the time that the show would be such a hit, and still be loved decades later?

Jill Whelan: There is something special about that time. We were just coming out of a recession when it started and people didn’t have a lot of money. They couldn’t go anywhere. But this show made cruising more accessible. Before, only rich people had done it. Now everyone could have the same cruise experience. They could live in their own fantasy if they could book a cruise, or they could enjoy it from their armchair in their living room.

Ted Lange: “The Love Boat” changed the world. Before that, cruising was unattainable. But we have shown that you can take your child on a cruise. It is what the universe wanted. Now, cruising is not a million-dollar business. It’s a billion dollar business.

A key to the show’s success were, of course, all the guest stars.

Whelan: The guest stars were either on their way up or on their way –

Lange: Some of them we actually resuscitated.

Whelan: People would see Gene Kelly or Cab Calloway, who had only seen them on the big screen before. To see them in your living room interacting with these other people you thought of as family—it was like meeting them.

Was there a favorite, or one that stood out?

Lange: Can’t do that. That would be like naming your favorite country. But I remember talking to Martin Short and saying, “You’re a funny mother -. You’re going to hit it big.” He said, “Really?” Nobody knew who he was before he was on our show. We had Tom Hanks before he did “Bosom Buddies.” We had people who became insanely famous, and old pros like Milton Berle.

Whelan: I started on the show when I was 11, too young to understand the enormity of the people we were working with. For me it was just fun. Ginger Rogers would come on, and I would get to dance with her. I would sing with Ethel Merman and Carol Channing. I would go around with Tom Hanks, Lillian Gish, Michael J. Fox. There was a party every week, a playground, and I was just a kid who had to do this thing every day that I loved the most.

“The guest stars were either on the way up or on the way,” recalls Jill Whelan, who started on “The Love Boat” at age 11.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

And it’s clear that you all had real chemistry.

Lange: That’s the beauty of our show – we’re all still friends. Usually when a show is over, it’s all over and you say goodbye. But “The Love Boat” crew loves and protects each other. I just directed Fred in “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry” in Warsaw, Ind., and I’m going to New York to stay with Bernie and his wife. He is doing a play on Broadway, “Two Jews, Talking.” Bernie is more like my brother, and Fred is like my best friend.

Whelan: I just spoke to Tewes this morning.

Lange: I was the first cast. I don’t even have a screen test to do. I came from this show called “That’s My Mama.” The producers knew I could laugh. Fred and Bernie had to do a screen test. Bernie would say, “I didn’t see you at the screen test. Were you there before?” I told him, “Well, really good actors don’t have to screen test.” From that point on, if he went missing during a scene, I’d look at him and say, “That’s why you need to screen test.”

What they didn’t know was that I have chemistry with Fred and Bernie. That was the surprise. The three of us together was gold. Fred and I would get a scene, and it wasn’t quite right. We would go into the dressing room and massage – we were both writers and knew comedy. Then we came out. We would do the scene as written, and then we asked if we could do it the way we worked it out. They would always choose our path. It was stronger.

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Whelan: I was on this Aaron Spelling show called “Friends.” Not the “friends”, or I would drive a much nicer car. It involved three small children in different financial positions. I also guested on “The Love Boat” as Vicki. We were up against “60 Minutes,” so of course it got canceled. I got a call and was asked if I really wanted to do “The Love Boat”. I was told that it had been a great response to me.

Lange: The whole cast had this meeting with Aaron and other producers, and Gavin said, “I’m a f— appendix to the guest star. I want a story! Every week it’s Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Ruth Buzzi or some lady who comes on board and I help her with her story I want the captain to have a story.

Then I said, “I’m not at the front of the show when we greet the passengers, or at the end when they leave. I’m only in the middle. I’d like to be like the rest of the cast when they greet the people, and i would like to say goodbye after they solve their romantic problems.

Gordon Farr, who was the showrunner, told Aaron that we have to serve the wishes of the actors because they keep Gavin happy. The emergence of Jill and Gavin as father and daughter probably came out of that meeting. And then Gavin started romances with women like Marion Ross or Elke Sommer.

How was your relationship with Gavin, Jill?

Whelan: He was this incredible, protective man. He was just like a father. When he passed, I was able to eulogize him at his funeral.

“There were little racist jabs,” Ted Lange recalls of his experience as the only black person in the “Love Boat” cast. “People would get invitations to things, but I wouldn’t get any. The first year I wanted to quit.”

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Ted, where did Isaac’s signature finger-white salute come from?

Lange: We shot the title shot for the lifeguard at the beginning of the show. This producer Henry Colman was in charge of that, and he says, “Ted, just look into the lens and smile for 30 seconds.” I said, “Henry, what am I doing?” He said, “Think of your salary.” It was like, “Say no more,” and I did the finger thing. Black guy who makes good money. That’s where that comes from.

You were the only black member of the cast. Did you encounter any problems?

Lange: There were some people who didn’t do such great things. There were little racist jabs. People would get invitations to things, but I wouldn’t get one. The first year I wanted to quit. There were other actors like Robert Guillaume (“Soap”), Don Mitchell (“Ironside”) and Ron Glass (“Barney Miller”) who were in the same situation – black actors on white shows. I would call them and ask “What should I do?” Don said, “You can’t stop. If you do, someone else will come in and do whatever he’s told to do. Fred and Bernie saw racism and saw me the system, and they wrote a story , who gave Isaac a love interest.

But you still love the show, yes?

Lange: It was so much fun. We made good money. We have to go around the world, and they filmed us.

Whelan: I studied the Great Wall of China while I was sitting on the Great Wall of China.

Lange: What can be better than that?

Rating: TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under 14)

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