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Jeraldine Saunders, whose book inspired the hit TV series ‘The Love Boat,’ dies at 96

Jeraldine Saunders, whose book inspired the hit TV series ‘The Love Boat,’ dies at 96
Jeraldine Saunders with Gavin MacLeod at the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in May. (Lozzie Media Services)

Jeraldine Saunders, whose book on romance and adventure aboard a cruise ship inspired the long-running prime time comedy-drama “The Love Boat,” has died at her home in Glendale. She was 96.

Saunders died Monday due to complications from kidney stone surgery she underwent in December, her spokesman Edward Lozzi said.

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“The Love Boat,” which ran from 1977 to 1986, was based on Saunders’ 1974 nonfiction book “Love Boats,” which recounted tales from her time as a cruise director on a passenger ship. The hit television show revolved around the adventures — both romantic and comedic — of Capt. Merrill Stubing and his crew. Stubing was played by Gavin MacLeod.

The series, which was produced by Aaron Spelling, ran for more than 240 episodes and was preceded by the 1976 made-for-TV movie “The Love Boat.” The popularity of the show was long lasting enough that it was followed by a series of TV movies, including “The Love Boat II” and “The New Love Boat.”

The cast of "The Love Boat" in 1984, from left, Fred Grandy, Patricia Klous, Ted McGinley, Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Jill Whelan and Ted Lange.
The cast of "The Love Boat" in 1984, from left, Fred Grandy, Patricia Klous, Ted McGinley, Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Jill Whelan and Ted Lange. (AP)

In a 1972 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Saunders said the basis for her book, and ultimately the television show, was culled from her observations as a cruise director.

“You cannot imagine the things that happen on cruise ships,” she said. “The sex lives of the officers, deaths, suicides, marriages, romances … I was pretty shocked at first.”

In May, Saunders celebrated with the original cast of the TV series when they received an honorary star plaque on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Unlike Walk of Fame stars, which are on public sidewalks, star plaques are placed on private property.

Saunders also was the author of Omarr’s Astrological Forecast, a horoscope column originally penned by Sydney Omarr.

She was recently honored with the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to her by Bernie Kopell, who played Dr. Adam Bricker on “The Love Boat.”

“Jeraldine was my pal,” said Kopell, now 85. He said he first met Saunders on the set and the two quickly became friends.

“She was a beautiful lady and was honored in so many occasions for ‘The Love Boat.’ I never thought of her as a great author or anything, just as someone who jotted down her experiences … she just jotted down the truth.”

“She was a terrific, grateful, class act who refused to grow old,” Lozzi said. “She was indomitable. She broke the gender barrier in a major industry, the cruise lines.”

At the time of her death, Lozzi said, Saunders was working on what she hoped would be a Broadway adaptation of her adventures-at-sea story — “Love Boat, The Musical.”

Saunders’ daughter Gail died of hypoglycemia in 1970, inspiring her to write “Hypoglycemia: The Disease Your Doctor Won’t Treat.” She had no immediate survivors.

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