The Love Boat dominated the airwaves on Saturday nights throughout the late ‘70s and on into the early ‘80s. The show was the creation of Aaron Spelling, who has been responsible for creating more hit shows than any other television producer. It wasn’t universally loved, as its critical reviews will testify to, but The Love Boat wasn’t made for the critics. Its fans loved the odd blend of aspiration and straight-up cheese. Here’s what you need to know about The Love Boat.
Gavin MacLeod Nearly Gave the Show a Pass
Gavin MacLeod, who played Captain Merill Stubbing, was almost never involved in the show. When his agent received the script, he hated it and advised McLeod to walk away. Instead, McLeod decided to read through anyway and he felt that the show had huge potential – so he defied his agent and jumped onboard The Love Boat, and the rest is history!
Good Thing Gavin Ignored His Agent
Gavin MacLeod recalled that his agent said “it sucks,” referring to the TV show’s pilot script. MacLeod decided that the show deserved a read regardless of his agent’s first impression. “I believed in it. I said, ‘I’m going to make people forget their own problems and vicariously see the rest of the world.’ I did it because I thought it would be a hit.”
ABC Nearly Decided Not to Make the Show
Aaron Spelling’s prolific tendencies meant that he rarely had one idea on the table for a show. When The Love Boat was proposed, so was another show, The San Pedro Beach Bums, and that was that show that the executive team at ABC preferred. If it hadn’t been for ABC Entertainment’s President Fred Silverman being sweet on The Love Boat and driving its acceptance through it might never have happened. San Pedro Beach Bums was still made but was canceled after a half-season run.
It Was Written in a Formulaic Way
Shows that run as long as The Love Boat did (nine seasons in total) always have something special that makes them identifiable in the minds of the public. In The Love Boat’s case, this was a formula for each episode: there had to be a romantic story, a comedic story, and a dramatic story and each of them had to come to a happy conclusion. The writing team called this method the “Page 58 resolution.”
Critics Called It “Dreadful Porridge”
While the series may have been popular with the people at home, it was nearly universally loathed by television critics. The most famous review was written by the New York Times. They NYT gave a totally brutal review calling The Love Boat “dreadful porridge.” Bad reviews meant that writers didn’t want to put their name to working on the show and the producers had serious challenges recruiting enough able bodies to get the scripts penned.
The Night Before Shooting and the Role Goes To…Laruen Tewes
Lauren Tewes was notified the night before the series started shooting that she had landed a lead role. Years later told the story about needing to borrow money to buy a new tire for her 1962 Volkswagen Bug so she could make it all the way to San Pedro in time to start shooting for the TV series.
Lauren Tewes Ended up a Coke Fiend
Lauren certainly had luck on her side after getting cast the day before filming not to mention overcoming car trouble, but luck was not to remain with her. Sadly, while her role as the Cruise Director, Julie McCoy, was a success, Lauren’s personal life was not. Her marriage collapsed at around the same time and she took solace in snorting coke. Fortunately, she kicked the habit a few years later.
The Ship’s Doctor Was a Fraud
As you might expect, a show set on a cruise liner does a fair amount of actual cruising. To make certain of the safety of everyone on board, the show had a real-life ship’s doctor. Although it turns out, he wasn’t a doctor. Unfortunately, actor Fred Grandy found this out the hard way when he got burned on shore and returned to the ship for treatment. The phony doc admitted he wasn’t a physician but rather a first-year medical student who’d lied to get the job. Fred finally got treatment from a crew member with a drug habit.
Lauren Tewes Was Dropped
Ratings from season 6 on were on a gradual downward slope and the producers soon found themselves operating on a tighter budget. Lauren Tewes was initially asked to take a pay cut and she claims that she agreed to this but then the studio decided to drop her contract instead. Of course, the papers needed something a little more salacious than this and led with, “Tewes demands one million dollars for The Love Boat.”
Jill Whelan Didn’t Join to Save Ratings
Jill Whelan, who played Vicki Stubing the Captain’s daughter, was reputed to have joined the show to aid its fledgling ratings during season 3. That’s not quite the case, as there weren’t any real problems with ratings, but the producers had decided to broaden the show’s demographic. They felt they needed someone younger in the cast to bring on younger viewers and thus Jill was hired.
The Show Had More Than 1,000 Guest Stars
While The Love Boat had a lesser than stellar reputation with the critics, one thing it never lacked for was guest stars or fans for that matter. If you are a major fan of the show or simply watching carefully you might have spotted Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Andy Warhol, Ginger Rogers, and Vanessa Williams among so many others. The Love Boat was truly a showcase of America’s top talent.
The Guest Stars Were Given Gifts
One of The Love Boat’s best connections with the audience and best ways to get people to tune in was the seemingly endless supply of guest stars. Some notable moments include Kristy McNichol, Scott Baio, Loretta Swit, Linda Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis. These stars were all drafted weekly to supply fresh faces and content for the show. How did the show manage to get these A-listers to appear? They gave them and their families free cruises! Let’s take a look at some of these amazing guest stars.
Kristy McNichols and Scott Baio
Teen icons Kristy McNichols and Scott Baio appeared very early on The Love Boat in Season 1 Episode 2 in 1977. In their episode, Barney Mason played by Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed and his ex-wife Terry Larsen played by M*A*S*H star Loretta Swift end up going on a cruise and meeting with their respective new spouses. Meanwhile, an older lady is on vacation with her grandson Graham played by Scott Baio and he meets Kelly played by Kristy McNichol who quickly find love with one another.
A Mysteriously Masked Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal appeared in Season two episode 6 of The Love Boat back in 1978. Billy stars in the episode as a shy young man who attempts to overcome his shyness by wearing a mask and kissing various girls on the ship. At one point, he makes a connection with one girl played by Laurie Walters. This was one of Billy’s very early acting roles!
Remember Janet Leigh in Psycho?
Psychoactress appeared in Season 2 episode 8 called “Till Death Do Us Part-Maybe/Locked Away/Chubs” of The Love Boat back in 1978. Janet is probably most remembered for her iconic shower slasher scene in one of Hitchcock’s most beloved flicks. She appeared again years later on The Love Boat in Season 8 on episode 16 in the episode called “Instinct/Unmade for Each Other/BOS.”
They Were Lucky to Get Ginger Rogers on the Show
Oscar–winning actress Ginger Rogers appeared on Season 3 episode 10 and 11 in a two-part episode. The singing and dancing Ginger was most famous for her work with the iconic Fred Astaire. The lucky casting agents at The Love Boat were able to get her on their show!
Helen Hayes is an EGOT
Helen Hayes was a classic movie star who appeared on The Love Boat. She appeared during Season 3 episode 28. Her episode was called “No Girls for Doc/Marriage of Convenience/The Caller/The Witness” and she appeared as a character named Agatha Winslow. Helen is one of the few people throughout history who is an EGOT winner (winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award).
A Very Young Tom Hanks
Beloved American actor Tom Hanks appeared in The Love Boat Season 4 episode 1. In the episode, Gopher gets Julie to play his girlfriend to try to impress his old college buddy played by Tom. This was one of Tom’s early roles before he became the massive movie star that he is today!
The Late Debbie Reynolds
The late great Debbie Reynolds might be remembered for being Carrie Fisher’s mom but she was also a triple threat screen goddess in her own right. She too had to make a stop on The Love Boat and appeared on three different episodes of the show. First, she appeared on the two-part episode back in Season 4 episodes 2 and 3 called “The Family Plan/The Promoter/May the Best Man Win/Forever Engaged/The Judges” and later in Season 6 episode 14 in “Paroled to Love/First Impressions/Love Finds Florence Nightingale.”
Donald O’Connor Made Some Appearances
Donald O’Connor appeared in three different episodes. He first showed up on screen in Season 4 episode 13, in the episode titled “Isaac’s Teacher/Seal of Approval/The Successor”. Later he appeared again in season 8, episode 13, “Paying the Piper/Baby Sister/Help Wanted,” and then again in season 9 episode 19 in the episode called “Second Banana/The Prodigy/What Goes Around”.
Olivia de Havilland Is Alive and over 100 Years Old
The beautiful actress and screen legend starred as the character Aunt Hilly in episode season 4 episode 23 called “The Duel/Two for Julie/Aunt Hilly.” Olivia was nominated for many awards over the years including multiple Academy Awards. She won the Best Actress Oscar for the 1946 film “To Each His Own”. Olivia is still alive today at 100 years old!
A Classic Film Star: Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
In the Ginger Rogers episode, she appeared on in Season 5 episode 3, she co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The episode was called “Two Grapes on the Vine/Aunt Sylvia/Deductible Divorce.” Fairbanks was a classic film star who appeared in films like Sinbad the Sailor alongside the equally iconic actress Maureen O’Hara.
A Musical Version with Ethel Merman and Ann Miller
Actresses and Broadway stars Ethel Merman and Ann Miller used their amazing talents to turn The Love Boat into a musical in the episode called “The Musical/My Ex-Mom/The Show Must Go On/The Pest/My Aunt, the Worrier.” Ethel Merman was known for introducing tons of Broadway standards including “I Got Rhythm”. Ann Miller was known for various amazing stage and film performances. Her last ever role was in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Carol Channing and Della Reese also appeared in the amazing episode.
Everyone Loves Mickey Rooney
The amazingly loveable actor Mickey Rooney also took a cruise on The Love Boat, in a season 6 episode 13 episode called “The Christmas Presence.” In the episode, he comes across some equally iconic actors the Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick and Donny Osmond who played newlyweds. Mickey plays a kindly gentleman who shows up to give them some advice.
Westside Story’s Rita Moreno Is Also an EGOT
Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican actress most famous for her role in the iconic musical Westside Story. She is another one of The Love Boat’s guest stars who won the iconic EGOT. She later made an appearance on the beloved show. She took part in a two-part episode in season 7 episodes 7 and 8 called “When Worlds Collide/The Captain and the Geisha/The Lottery Winners/The Emperor’s Fortune.”
The Legend Andy Warhol Played Himself
The acclaimed artist who is now the stuff of legend, Andy Warhol, appeared on The Love Boat as himself in 1985. In episode 3 of season 9, Andy appeared as himself when he recognizes a wife with a wild past of a rather conservative businessman. Of course, all kinds of drama ensues throughout the episode. Andy passed away only two years later in 1987.
Vanessa Williams and Her Penthouse Photo Scandal
The beautiful actress and singer Vanessa Williams also had an early start on The Love Boat back in season 9 episode 24 which first aired in 1986. In the episode, Vanessa plays the girlfriend of the assistant cruise director played by Michael Winslow. Vanessa was the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America before her crowned was taken away unauthorized photos of her were published in Penthouse.
Florence Henderson and Robert Reed Switching It Up
Florence Henderson and Robert Reed are undoubtedly most famous for their roles as the Mike and Carol Brady from The Brady Bunch. In fact, in real life many fans have trouble separating the two actors from their characters. Even despite the fact that Robert Reed was gay! Needless to say, they both appeared at various times on The Love Boat. Florence actually appeared eight separate times as different characters! On one episode, in which she appeared alongside Robert Reed, they passed each other and give each other a long comedic double take!
Ronald Reagan Said No, and So Did Nancy
While the series managed to land so many other amazing guest stars with relative ease, there were a few people who turned down the opportunity. One such person was the future President of the United States and former star of the silver screen, Ronald Reagan, who politely declined. When he did so the recruiting team went right back and asked for Nancy instead. Apparently, that request was greeted with laughter.
Charo Built Her Career on Guest Appearances
Charo was a relative unknown at the time but she still broke the record for the most guest appearances on the show (she appeared eight times in total). Aaron Spelling had been impressed by her Las Vegas act and helped her out by giving her multiple appearances in order to gain a public following. It worked and Charo was later to remark of The Love Boat.
Where Are They Now? Gavin MacLeod
Gavin MacLeod was Captain Stubing for nine seasons of The Love Boat and he also starred in three made-for TV movies of the show too. The series made him a star and he’s stayed with boats since leaving as the spokesperson for Princess Cruises. He also starred in Oz, That ’70s Show, and The Suite Life on Deck as he has continued his acting career into his eighties and beyond!
Where Are They Now? Lauren Tewes
Lauren’s career took a temporary nose dive following her dismissal from The Love Boat. She says that she felt blacklisted by Hollywood at the time and couldn’t find another role. She finally appeared in the movie The Fugitive, and then went on to work as a voice actor in the video game industry.
Where Are They Now? Pat Klous
Pat Klous was the smiling and attractive little sister to Julie McCoy on the show, Judy McCoy. As a former model this was her first acting gig and The Love Boat made Pat a household name. Unfortunately, her acting career pretty much finished when the show finished. She would star in a single episode of Murder, She Wrote before throwing in the towel.
Where Are They Now? Fred Grandy
Yeoman-Purser Burl “Gopher” Smith was everyone’s go-to man on the TV show, and although many people will never think of Fred Grandy as anyone else, Fred has left acting behind. Before he was Gopher he was a speech writer for an Iowa Congressman named Wiley Man. After The Love Boat he served as Iowa’s US Representative for several years and after that he began a career in political radio starring as the co-host of The Grandy & Andy Morning Show. He later run for Governor of Iowa in 1994 but lost the election.
Where Are They Now? Bernie Kopell
Bernie Kopell played the ship’s physician on the show. Doctor Adam Bricker had a regular supply of “patients” on the show. He was also well-established before the show started having starred in Get Smart and When Things Were Rotten previously. His acting career has outlasted The Love Boat, as he’s been in Monk and My Name is Earl in the recent past.
Where Are They Now? Ted Lange
Ted Lange became famous for his smile as the Bartender Isaac Washington. Apparently, that smile was money motivated. He’s moved on from The Love Boat with more acting gigs and has starred in the medical shows Scrubs and General Hospital and appeared in Are We There Yet? In addition to acting, he’s also developed his portfolio to include directing and screenwriting.
Where Are They Now? Jill Whelan
Vicki Stubing has grown up and her career path was markedly different from Julia McCoy’s. Instead of turning to cocaine, she turned to Nancy Reagan and starred as the lead in the First Lady’s “Just Say No!” anti-drug campaign in the 1980s. In a strange quirk of fate, when she married Michael Chaykowsky in 2004, the wedding was held on… a cruise ship.
Jill and Michael’s Love Boat Ends
Jill Whelan and Michael Chaykowsky’s marriage was over as of 2016. The two filed for divorce and Jill later claimed in court documents that she was only left with $5,000 in the bank and was basically broke. She requested support from Michael as the two share a ten-year-old son together. While Jill said she was attempting to find work, she said acting jobs are hard to come by as a forty-nine year old woman in Hollywood.
Where Are They Now? Ted McGinley
Ted only joined The Love Boat for its final two seasons and starred as the ship’s photographer, Ace Covington Evans. Ted’s career was, perhaps, the most successful in the post-“Love Boat” era and he later took major roles in Dynasty, Hope and Faith, Sports Night, and “Married With Children.” He’s also been on Dancing With The Stars but was quickly eliminated from the competition.
The Cruise Ship Was Turned into Scrap Metal
One of the two main cruise ships used for filming was the Pacific Princess. The iconic ship was scrapped in 2013 after it was delivered to a Turkish ship recycling yard along the Aegean coast. The boat was 42-years-old and had been decommissioned since 2008. The Izmir Ship Recycling Co. purchased the former cruise ship for $3.3 million. The other main ship used for filming was The Island Princess.
A Bunch Of Ships Were Used… for Longer Episodes
In case you were not aware, the entire series was filmed on real cruise ships. When producers were busy with a 2-hour episode shoot they would often use other ships to assist in the process. Among those ships were the Stella Solaris (scrapped), Pearl of Scandinavia, Royal Viking Sky, and the Royal Princess.
A Laugh Track for an Hour
Laugh tracks were often used for half hour shows but were rarely part of one-hour TV series shoots. The only other hour-long shows to feature a laugh track for one hour were, The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour, Love American Style, Eight is Enough. Critics even called The Love Boat the “Love American Style on a boat” show.
The Lingering Effects of Cocaine Addiction
Lauren Tewes gave up cocaine and went on with her life. Even though she gave up her addiction, the media continued to call her a “coke head” and other names for more than 35 years after the final time she used cocaine. She has said on more than on occasion that her addiction completely stigmatized her and that her former castmates shunned her.
The Final Laugh
Hollywood in the 1970s and early 1980s decided that laugh tracks were the worst way to bring out happiness on TV. The laugh track was shunned and shows like “Cheers” made it apparently clear that they were filmed in front of a live audience. When The Love Boat was canceled in 1987 it was the last show of its kind to feature an artificial laugh track.
Debbie Reynolds and Paradise…
Debbie Reynolds was a huge star who appeared on The Love Boat and she would go on to appear in various other Aaron Spelling Productions. Eventually, she starred in Fantasy Island: Aloha Paradise which combined a Love Boat style theme with reality TV. She would later say that the show was one of the “worst experiences” in her entire life. Sadly, Debbie passed away from a stroke in late 2016 only days after her daughter Carrie Fisher succumbed to the effects of a heart attack.
Eight Was Enough for Dick Van Patten
Dick Van Patten starred as Dr. O’Neil in The Love Boat TV Movie and was offered the role for the TV series. However, he was already involved in Eight is Enough and his commitment to that show made it impossible for him to accept the role. The role eventually went to Gavin MacLeod.
A Shared Connection
Ted Lange (Junior) and Teddy Wilson (Earl) both starred in the TV series That’s My Mama and they also played Isaac the bartender on The Love Boat. Wilson also appeared as the character in the movie and Lange took on the role in the popular TV series. That’s a pretty unique set of circumstances to share.
In It for the Long Journey
Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, and Ted Lange all had prominent roles on The Love Boat and perhaps that is why they were the only characters to appear in every single episode of the long-running TV series. Other characters appeared in most, but not all of the shows episodes during its time on TV.
The Love Boats…
While the show definitely had its soap opera feeling moments, it was actually based on a set of real-life experiences from Jeraldine Saunders. She wrote the book The Love Boats which focused on her personal observations while she served as the hostess on a real cruise ship. Obviously, the show over time would take many liberties with her observations.
It Was All about the Money Shot
Ted Lange became famous for Isaac’s signature grin-and-point move. It turns out that he came up with that look after a director told him to “think of your paycheck.” Apparently, that big weekly check was enough for him to grin at the camera lens and offer his now signature move.
A $1 Million Lie
After Tewes was fired from the TV series in season 8, a rumor revealed that she asked for $1 million and was denied by producers. However, it was later revealed that she actually offered to take a pay cut in order to continue on with the series. Instead, she received a call that officially ended her time on the popular TV show.
Cheez Whiz and Ritz Crackers Spelled the End for the Show
Bernie Kopell recounted that it was pretty obvious that the show was nearing its conclusion when Dionne Warwick took over the theme song. However, the real writing was on the wall was revealed when a simple change was made. “One day I went back to craft service. Nothing but a can of Cheez Whiz and Ritz crackers. I said, ‘Well, we’re out of here,'” he explained.
Grandy and U.S. Congress
The Love Boat ended on May 1986 after 217 telecasts. The show simply couldn’t go on without Fred Grandy, who left to begin his own eight-year stint as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He ran Governor of Iowa in 1994 but lost that race and didn’t run again for the same role.
From Jack Jones to Dionne Warwick?
The Love Boat theme song was recorded by Jack Jones and it became a huge hit single when it was released in 1979. As previously mentioned, the song was eventually covered by Dionne Warwick when the TV series started to lose some of its steam. Warwick’s version appeared on seasons 9 and 10.
Different Storylines with Different Writers
One very cool part of The Love Boat was that each episode contained several simultaneous storylines, and they were each written by a different set of writers. That partly explains why episodes could end up with really crazy titles like “Disco Baby/Alas, Poor Dwyer/After the War/Ticket to Ride/Itsy Bitsy: Part 1.” This type of writing format led to some crazy continuity errors that probably could have been avoided.
Long before she set foot on Wisteria Lane as a Desperate Housewife, actress Teri Hatcher got a big break on The Love Boat. She appeared as a “mermaid” showgirl named Amy from 1985-1986. Hatcher has also been on other series such as Quantum Leap and MacGyver during her lengthy career.