Sep 8, 2014

Love Boat/Fantasy Island: Love Won't Hurt Anymore

During the decade that began on September 24th, 1977 and ended on February 27th, 1987, I graduated from high school and college, got my M.A. in English, spent a year teaching at Hell-fer-Sartain State University, and moved to West Hollywood.  I spent my Saturday nights going on dates, going out with friends, cruising in the bars, at movies, dinners, concerts, potlucks, or as a last resort at the gym.

Only when I was sick, studying for finals, or back in Rock Island for the holidays did I find myself staying home on Saturday nights.

And when I was home, I watched Gimme a Break, Love Sidney, We Got It Made, Magnum PI, anything but those nauseating anthology series, Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  

But my parents watched.  All of the older people watched.

Love Boat (1977-87) was set on a cruise ship, where the randy Captain (Gavin MacLeod), ship's doctor (Bernie Kopell), purser (Fred Grandy), bartender (Ted Lange), and activities director (Lauren Tewes) made a hobby of facilitating three heterosexual romances per episode (two serious, one funny).

A sports writer and a tennis pro, a minister and an exotic dancer, a chauffeur and his employer, a rock star and a deaf girl, a celebrity and a tabloid reporter, an advice columnist who can't find love, a magician who can't find love.  It goes on like that. For 248 episodes.

Gay people were unknown, except for an episode where two buddies are mistaken for a gay couple.  By the end of the episode, they both find love (with women).  Problem solved.

But I understand that there were there were lots of guest stars in Speedos lounging around the Cabana Deck, like perennial 1970s fave Bert Convy (top photo).

Fantasy Island (1977-84) was more of the same.  The mysterious Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban, known as Khan on Star Trek) and his assistant Tattoo (Herve Villechaize) ran a tropical resort where, for an additional fee of $20,000 (waived for charity cases), he would arrange to fulfill your "fantasy."  Two or three per episode, alternating between serious and  funny.

In the early years, the fantasies involved nothing more than props and actors, as guests wanted to be Latin lovers or cowboys or movie stars.  Later, Mr. Roarke was able to travel in time, conjure up ghosts and genies, and make a deal with the goddess Aphrodite to fulfill the guests' fantasies.  The Devil even dropped by from time to time.

Here, too, most fantasies ended with hetero-romance.

No gay people existed, but again, there were guest stars with their shirts off, like Bert Convy again.

I always wanted to ask the old people:  why?  Why do you need yet another dose of heterosexism?  You've already married and reproduced, your life is nearly over (actually, in 1977, my Dad was younger than I am now).  What's the "love, love, love!" brainwashing for?

An article in TV Guide explained: "Love Boat for people who live in Iowa and can't get dressed up and go out on Saturday night."

The dig at Iowa roiled me -- hey, we had four-star restaurants, opera, theater, and the symphony!

But I understood -- these Saturday night "love, love, love!" marathons were to keep them assuaged near the end of their lives: yes, yes, it was all worthwhile, hetero-romance was a worthwhile, noble goal, the only thing worth doing.

See also: Love, American Style and Ricardo Montalban.