In 1977, when other kids were discovering The Sex Pistols, I was discovering The Love Boat. I stayed at my grandparents’ house on most weekends, so on Saturday nights at 8 p.m., I’d settle down on the sofa with the two of them to watch Aaron Spelling’s marine masterpiece. This column is my attempt to reclaim the wonder of those weekends.
Please note: I accidentally switched the discs on the DVD set! I will pick up with episodes 13 and 14 next week.
Julie’s Old Flame /The Jinx / The Identical Problem
Anyone who’s seen The Wizard of Oz as many times as I have (or listened to the 1956 MGM soundtrack album as many times as I have) will be delighted and amazed to see that Ray Bolger is one of this week’s guest stars. It absolutely boggles the mind that he was still going strong at age 74. One thing about 1970s TV that I miss is the abundance of older actors and actresses. But I digress.
In “The Jinx,” Bolger plays Horace McDonald, who along with his wife Henrietta, are survivors of The Titanic, which sunk in 1912. The McDonalds are celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary which means that Bolger was playing a character at least 15 years older than his actual age (he was born in 1904). Things get off to a rocky start when Gopher, en route to get a brochure for the couple, trips over a pile of luggage and sprains his wrist. He’s immediately convinced that the McDonalds are bad luck.
No one believes him until Isaac, Doc, Julie, and some other crew member named Vince all become injured in turn. This leads to some seriously hilarious hijinks involving a lot of physical comedy, which is, as per usual on The Love Boat, legitimately laugh out loud funny.
Also funny is “The Identical Problem,” in which Diana Canova (Corinne from Soap) fulfils a double role as identical twins Ellen and Helen Edwards, who have the bright idea to buy one ticket and pretend they’re the same person to save money. Since one of them is grumpy and wears glasses and the other is hot to trot for Doc, this naturally results in a lot of confusion for poor Doc. When the grumpy sister realizes she also fancies Doc, it gets more complicated. The segment is filmed in a surprisingly cohesive and believable fashion, which is ironic since one actress was playing two people pretending to be one person. Confused yet?
“Julie’s Old Flame” is also on board this cruise and as soon as she sees him she freaks out and runs away. It was a few years ago (when she was “young”) that she spent three romantic weeks in Paris with him, even moving to Los Angeles to be closer to him, only to find out he was married. His name is Buddy Stanfield and he’s played by an unctuous David Hedison. None of the crew members are happy about this development, even when it turns out that Buddy divorced his wife a year ago. He makes a lot of romantic promises to Julie but stops short of actually “popping the question.” She decides that she doesn’t want to be someone’s girlfriend after all, but not before Isaac and Gopher meet Buddy’s new wife, who he conveniently forgot to mention to Julie. Thankfully, the two of them spare Julie that additional heartbreak. I should also mention how much I love the chemistry between Gopher and Isaac in this episode. They play so well off of one another that at times the dialogue seems almost unscripted.
Lost and Found / The Understudy / Married Singles
Julie has a trainee, Connie Evans, who is the titular character in “The Understudy.” When Gopher, Isaac, and Doc hear about it, they make plans to woo her but Julie reminds them that “she’s here to learn the business, not get it.” BOOM. It becomes quickly obvious that Connie has got eyes for Captain Stubing however, as well as plans to steal Julie’s job.
Another passenger this time around is Theodore Dennison, Jr. played by the cutest child actor in history, the interestingly named James Bond III. He claims that he bought the ticket with money saved from his paper route, and after a few scenes in which he reveals himself to be utterly charming, smart, and well-dressed, you have to believe him. He ran away from his parents when he thought they were getting a divorce but they run into problems when trying to meet up with the ship.
When Doc and Gopher are dining with Theodore (“Mr. D.”), Connie shows up in a slinky red sequined number that’s so scorching, Stubing actually covers Theodore’s eyes and Doc’s eyes almost fall out of his face. The Captain chides Connie for “that dress you’re almost wearing” but she says it was Julie’s idea. Isaac overhears and figures out right away that Connie is conniving.
The second part of “Lost and Found” involves Richard (Jim Stafford, who looks like Elvis) and Sharon Baker (Sandy Duncan), who recently lost their young son to a congenital childhood illness. Sharon is having a terrible time coping but brightens considerably when Theodore shows up. He also takes a liking to Sharon, and even asks if he can call her mom. When Theodore’s parents do meet up with the ship in Mazatlan, he doesn’t want to go back with them, but Sharon lets him know just how hard it is for parents when their kids aren’t around anymore. Everyone cries (including me) and when the Bakers leave at the end of the cruise, they tell Julie their next plan is to adopt a child.
Durwood Moss (Steve Allen) and Maisie Nolan (Jo Ann Bergen) are “Married Singles” who have booked separate cabins under the advice of their marriage counselor, resulting in a lot of genius zingers lobbed back and forth. Maisie flirts with an insurance salesman named Jack to make Durwood jealous, while he does the same with a bubbly blonde named Barbie, played by a not-yet-famous Loni Anderson (not even listed in the opening credits!). Maisie and Durwood try desperately to convince each other that they’re getting it on with Jack and Barbie, respectively, but no one is fooled and they eventually patch things up, though it might be partly due to the insane polyester shirt that Steve Allen wears towards the end.
Meanwhile, Julie refuses to believe that Connie is after her job until Connie steals Julie’s idea for a “Wild West” themed party. (Miraculously, all of the passengers have the appropriate costumes.) Yet because Julie is a decent person, she lets events play out how they will, although she tells Connie she’s onto her. Gopher, Isaac, and Doc, however, intervene and set Connie up to look foolish, part of which entails Gopher imitating Captain Stubing over the phone in the least believable lip sync ever. Their plan works. Connie wears That Dress again and basically offers herself to a VIP on the ship, much to the disgust and dismay of Stubing who tells her to get lost. Connie fesses up to her shenanigans and apologizes to Julie, who forgives her and comes across as shockingly wise for someone so fresh-faced.
There’s an establishing shot of the dining room in almost every episode of The Love Boat this season that includes a bizarre fruit and vegetable tray with kale, cherry tomatoes, cantaloupe, grapes, and citrus fruits. I didn’t see it in episode 7 and was overjoyed when it reappeared in episode 8.
Until next week, remember to let it flow, because it always floats back to you.
Fun Fact: David Hedison played Felix Leiter in the 1973 James Bond film, Live and Let Die.