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.
Before The Love Boat television series, there were three Love Boat made-for-TV movies. The third of these movies, The New Love Boat (which followed The Love Boat and The Love Boat II), aired on May 5, 1977 and is included on the DVD for Season One, Volume Two of the series.
Like most episodes of The Love Boat, there’s some comedy, some hijinks, and some pathos. The episode opens with Gopher making out with a blonde woman in a tan trench coat. Yes, Gopher, man of my childhood fantasies, gets some action in this movie. As it turns out, the blonde is Cleo, whom he’s just spent an entire weekend with, presumably doing things that The Love Boat always implied but never showed. Cleo is not the brightest bulb in the lamp store and is played by Georgia Engel, who made a career out of playing dingbat characters. Like Georgette Baxter from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
It turns out that the Pacific Princess’s regular captain isn’t going to be sailing with them this trip. Instead, it will be Captain Stubing, who, as Doc explains to the rest of the crew, is the world’s biggest grump. Even Julie’s charms wash over Stubing like a wave crashing on a giant, craggy rock: “For your future edification, I always have the last word,” he retorts.
The passengers include Pat Harrington (Schneider from One Day At A Time) as Ernie Klopman and Stella Stevens (and her amazing mullet) as his wife Leonora. Between the two of them there is enough polyester to smother an entire disco. Ernie is grumpy when he finds out the cabin they’re in only has two twin beds and he’s even grumpier when it turns out that Leonora is an old friend of Doc’s. Not an ex, but his first patient, back when he was in med school. Phil Silvers, playing a very Phil Silvers looking character named Morris Beckman, tries to intervene and lighten things up by offering to switch rooms with the couple. After all, he has a double bed.
There’s another lady on board who’s around Morris’s age but trying her darnedest not to look it or act like it. Her name is Mae Allen but you might recognize her as Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company (Audra Lindley). She is eating lunch alone when the Klopmans join her and, seeing Mr. Beckman at the buffet table, they all invite him over. Mae remarks on the Klopman’s sex life, which causes Mr. Beckman to exclaim, “Well, I never!” Not swayed, Ms. Allen laughingly suggests that “Maybe you should; it’s good for you.”
Beckman is kind of a sad sack. I mean, he’s a funny guy, but he’s convinced that his time has come. He’s outlived his wife, his friends, and his family and he tells Doc that he actually came on this cruise to die at sea. It’s morbid and one assumes he’ll change his mind before the movie ends.
In the meantime, there’s the most awkward pair of newlyweds ever, Stanley (Gary Frank) and Joyce, who is portrayed by an entirely unrecognizable Melanie Mayron (thirtysomething). They are both virgins and so nervous about having sex that they keep coming up with excuses not to. This leads to a lot of tension and arguments, which actually seem pretty realistic for a newlywed couple on their honeymoon.
Remember Cleo from earlier? The dingbat? She ends up accidentally wandering around the ship after Gopher goes to work and in the process, catches the eye of Stubing, who insists that Julie locate the “blonde woman with the tousled” look and invite her to dine at the Captain’s table. Julie eventually finds her… in Gopher’s cabin wearing a towel. Gopher is just as surprised to see Cleo as Julie is, and when it’s revealed that all she was wearing when she accidently stowed away was that trench coat, we realize that Gopher is kind of a stud.
Instead of reporting her as a stowaway, which would probably result in the humorless Stubing firing both of them on the spot, Julie and Gopher decide to pass Cleo off as a paying passenger named “Frankie Roosevelt” and “teach” her how to be a sparkling conversationalist. Well, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. “Frankie” goes to dinner and spends most of the night recapping a children’s book that she’s been reading and the Captain finds this sexy for some reason. When he goes to look for her after dinner, he finds her in Gopher’s cabin and the jig, as they say, is up. The three of them are ordered to report to the Captain’s office the next day.
Meanwhile, Mae is doing her best to make Morris Beckman see the error of his ways. He calls her out on her wig and false eyelashes and she accuses him of thinking like an old man. He’s still convinced he’s going to die on this boat, even though he looks perfectly healthy and doesn’t mention anything about a terminal illness. It’s sad, especially when he starts talking about souls dying and being recycled.
Later an incredibly wasted Ernie confesses to Morris that the reason he’s so upset about Doc is because he and Leonora want kids and haven’t had any success. Morris tries to cheer him up and it seems to work. Mae, still thinking about Morris’s words, decides to dump the wig and the false eyelashes and gets a make-under, then goes to Morris’s cabin to invite him to the farewell dinner on the ship. He’s taken with the new grey-haired, more matronly Mae and agrees to stop by. He stumbles a bit when standing up but assures her that he’s fine.
Leonora is late for dinner but she has a good reason. Apparently, she’s pregnant! Mae says that Morris will be thrilled and then realizes that he’s probably not going to be at dinner when Doc walks by with a sad expression on his face. They are all terribly saddened by the news that Morris has passed away but they agree to celebrate the good news about Leonora’s pregnancy instead. Was the bottle of pills next to Morris’s bed the culprit in his death? We’ll never know.
More good news: Stubing decides that the whole Cleo/Frankie mix-up was just a misunderstanding and Gopher and Julie’s attempt to make the best of an awkward situation. So their jobs are safe! Oh, and by the way, Stanley and Joyce apparently figured out how to do the deed; when they are leaving the ship they remark about how long it’s been since they’ve seen sunlight.
The best news of all? Stubing is going to be the permanent Captain of the Pacific Princess.
Until next week, remember to let it flow, because it always floats back to you.
Fun Fact: The fruit tray scene appears at around 21 minutes into the movie. Comparing it to the scenes from the other episodes, it’s obvious that this establishing shot is the one that has been used in every fruit tray scene of the show thus far.