With the recent passing of the world’s most famous cruise ship captain, it’s time to reminisce about The Love Boat and find out what’s happened to the ship and the rest of its crew.
Gavin MacLeod, the veteran actor who played Captain Merrill Stubing in The Love Boat television series, sadly passed away on May 29 at the age of 90, leaving many fans feeling nostalgic for the old hit show and its memorable cast of characters.
The Love Boat was one of the most popular TV series of its time when it aired from 1977 to 1986. The show was set on a cruise ship sailing from Los Angeles along the Pacific coast of Mexico, with calls at Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco. The plot revolved around the ship’s captain (played by MacLeod), key officers, and several passengers having romantic adventures at sea.
The one-hour show was usually set aboard the MS Pacific Princess, at the time a real-life Princess Cruise ship. Interestingly, the series was based on a non-fiction book by a cruise director, Jeraldine Saunders.
Until he landed the lead as Captain Stubing in The Love Boat, MacLeod had been a journeyman actor playing supporting roles in movies and TV, including as news writer Murray Slaughter in the Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 to 1977. MacLeod originally tried out for the part of Lou Grant, but felt he was more suited to the humble character of Slaughter after seeing Ed Asner ace his audition for the role of the gruff newsroom boss. It worked out well for both as they joined a star-studded case with Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Betty White and Georgia Engel. The show went on to win an amazing 29 Emmy Awards.
During filming, Asner and MacLeod became close friends, and remained so for the rest of their lives. In fact, after news of MacLeod’s passing become public, Asner wrote on twitter:
“My heart is broken. Gavin was my brother, my partner in crime (and food) and my comic conspirator. I will see you in a bit Gavin. Tell the gang I will see them in a bit. Betty! It’s just you and me now.”
MacLeod had the good fortune to go from one long-running hit show to another when in 1977 he won the starring role of Captain Stubing on The Love Boat during the same year that the Mary Tyler Moore Show stopped filming. As a result, he may hold the record for consecutive appearances in two back-to-back TV series with 168 episode of the Moore show and 249 episodes of The Love Boat.
While MacLeod did a great job playing two very different roles in each series, it was his endearing portrayal of a gracious and beloved cruise ship captain that will always be remembered. In fact, in 2010 The New York Times wrote:
“Perhaps no actor has embraced a signature role the way Mr. MacLeod has with Captain Stubing.”
Indeed, even after The Love Boat went off the air, MacLeod continued to serve as an ambassador and spokesperson for Princess Cruises right up until his death this year. And in 2013, he built on his Love Boat fame by publishing a memoir called This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life.
In addition to MacLeod, The Love Boat starred five other notable characters in key supporting roles: Bernie Kopell as the ship’s doctor, Adam “Doc” Bricker; Fred Grandy as Yeoman Purser Burl “Gopher” Smith; Ted Lange as bartender Isaac Washington; Lauren Tewes as Cruise Director; and Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the Captain’s daughter. MacLeod, Kopell and Lange are the only cast members to appear in every episode of the series as well as three made-for-TV movies.
Bernie Kopell was a well-known television talent prior to being cast on the series, with previous roles on shows like Bewitched and Get Smart. I particularly enjoy watching him on reruns of the comedy series Get Smart where he plays Ziegfried, the comical KAOS officer who is constantly trying to kill CONTROL secret agent Maxwell Smart (played by Don Adams). Despite his advanced age (Kopell was born in 1933), he is still active in film and television.
Lauren Tewes played Cruise Director Julie McCoy, and The Love Boat was her first major role. However, after a few years she left the show to deal with a substance abuse issue. By 1984 she had overcome her medical issues and returned to the show. Since the series ended in 1986, Tewes has combined acting with her love of cooking by working as a sous-chef for a catering company in Seattle.
Before going into acting, Fred Grandy was as an aide to Congressman Wiley Mayne, and he returned to politics for an extended period once The Love Boat pulled into dry dock for the last time. In 1987 Grandy was elected to Congress as a Representative from the State of Iowa, a seat he held until 1995, after which he returned to acting. Since then, Grandy has appeared in a variety of shows, including the final episode of the Netflix miniseries Hollywood in 2020.
Ted Lange, who played the affable bartender Isaac Washington, is an accomplished actor, director and screenwriter. While Lange has acted in a variety of shows since The Love Boat ended, he has spent most of his time behind the camera directing dozens of productions including The First Family. One of his most recent roles as a director was in 2020 for an episode of the television series The Myth of Control.
Jill Whelan, who joined The Love Boat cast in its third season as Captain Stubing’s daughter Vicki, was the youngest member of the cast at 11 years old. She originally came on board in a guest role, but later became a series regular. After the series ended, Whelan appeared in many other TV series including Diagnosis Murder, The Young and the Restless and Criminal Minds. Like Gavin MacLeod, Whelan maintained a connection with The Love Boat after the show ended, becoming a “Celebrations Ambassador” for Princess Cruises.
The setting for most episodes of The Love Boat was a cruise ship called the Pacific Princess, which was built in 1971 for Flagship Cruises and sailed under the name Sea Venture until 1975 when it was sold to Princess Cruises. Interior scenes of the show were mostly shot at the old 20th Century Fox lot in west Los Angeles.
In comparison to today’s ships, the 19,903-ton Pacific Princess was small (600 passengers) and provided modest accommodations (there were no balcony cabins). The ship was used in most episodes of the show except when episodes were set in foreign destinations like England, the Mediterranean and Australia that required other ships to be used.
In 2001 Princess Cruises sold the ship to a Spanish company, who moored it in Genoa for 11 years before selling it to a scrapyard in Turkey.
While it may have been ignominiously reduced to scrap metal, the Pacific Princess and the television series it spawned have left a lasting impact. Indeed, many travel industry executives credit the top-rated show with exposing millions of people to cruising as a mainstream vacation, and for igniting a boom in cruise bookings that continues to this day.
And while The Love Boat is no longer with us, its catchy theme song lives on.
The Love Boat theme song was composed by Charles Fox and Paul Williams in 1977 and was originally recorded by American singer and actor Jack Jones. The Jones recording was used in every season of the show except for the ninth, where it was replaced by Dionne Warwick’s version. While Jones has an extensive repertoire of songs, he is still best remembered for The Love Boat theme song, which I once saw him perform during a Caribbean cruise on the old SS Norway of Norwegian Cruise Line.
In honour of Gavin MacLeod and his wonderful crew aboard the Pacific Princess, I leave you with the some of the lyrics to The Love Boat theme song. Feel free to sing along as you read them.
The Love Boat Theme Song
Come aboard, were expecting you
Love, exciting and new
Come aboard, were expecting you
Love, life’s sweetest reward
Let it flow, it floats back to you
Love Boat soon will be making another run
The Love Boat promises something for everyone
Set a course for adventure
Your mind on a new romance
Love won’t hurt anymore
It’s an open smile on a friendly shore
It’s love…It’s love…It’s the Love Boat
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Great read about the legacy of Captain Stubing and the Pacific Princess. Also sad that another Princess vessel – 1991’s Regal Princess – well known to the author of this article, has also been scrapped, having served post Princess with another line. Covid has taken its toll on this industry, but it will come back as the love of cruising will never go away.
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Yes Ron, I remember the Regal Princess very well. Sailed on her twice, once a Trans-Atlantic voyage from Venice to Ft. Lauderdale, and the other as part of a company convention at sea in the Caribbean. The latter resulted in some memorable moments including an all-night hot tub experience with several scantily clad people drinking wine as we pulled into San Juan at 6:00 am the next morning. One of our tub mates was a Princess executive, so the crew let us be!