From 1977 to 1987, Ted Lange played cheerful bartender Isaac Washington, who dispensed tiki cocktails, advice and jokes in equal measure on The Love Boat.
“We were like one big happy family,” Ted tells Closer about his decade on the show. “It was a really special time in our lives, and all of us in the cast felt so grateful to be a part of the experience.”
While Ted, 74, is still recognized by Love Boat fans all the time, he’s no onehit wonder. Ted is also an accomplished playwright, director and a Shakespearean actor who studied at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. “Lynn Redgrave, who made a guest appearance on The Love Boat, suggested that I go because of my love of Shakespeare,” Ted says. “She even wrote a letter of recommendation!”
You grew up in Oakland, Calif. How did you get into acting?
I took drama in high school, and my drama teacher suggested that I might have a career in show business.
One of your early successes was appearing on Broadway in Hair alongside Ben Vereen and Melba Moore.
Yes, I knew Ben and Melba in New York City during my “salad days.” The fun moment is when we all acted together on The Love Boat!
What was the secret of The Love Boat cast’s great chemistry?
We really knew each other’s sense of humor and thought of each other as funny. And we have stayed friends for all this time. Can you imagine how rare that is?
Very! I understand that you and Fred Grandy (Gopher) are especially close.
We’ve had a close friendship, on set and off, for the past 40 years. We are both theater people. We started a production company recently with three other artists called Five for the Show. Our goal is to bring quality theater projects to the general public.
Have you done any shows together yet?
Yes, I directed Fred in the one-man show Give ’em Hell, Harry! at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw, Ind., which was about former President Harry S. Truman in the 1940s. The great thing about Fred is, if I give him a direction, we don’t debate it, he trusts me. And part of that trust was created from us being friends over the years on the show.
Did you have any adventures together while you were filming The Love Boat?
He and I would rent a car and explore the areas the cruise ship visited. One time, we were driving along the coast in Athens, Greece. We found a taverna and decided to have lunch there. Fred ordered the calamari, and being from Oakland, I’d never seen or heard of that! They bring him a huge plate full of squid. But the more he chomped down on that calamari, the more I wanted to taste it! And so I did and it was great!
Do you have a favorite Love Boat guest star?
There were so many classic stars over the years. We really enjoyed them all. One of my very favorite stories happened with Gene Kelly. The producers came to us and said, “Listen, Gene is kind of a grumpy guy. Stay away from him.” Anyway, we’re in Hong Kong, I’m sitting in a van with Gene Kelly. No one is around, it’s just me and him. So I go and plop down next to him, and I tap him on the shoulder, and I say, “Mr. Kelly, can I ask you a question?”
What did he say?
He sighs and says, “What do you want to ask me?” And I said, “How was it dancing with the Nicholas brothers?” They were these amazing Black tap dancers. He looked at me a long time, put down his magazine and told me an anecdote about them. Later on, in reflection, I realized that all the questions he probably usually got were about Singin’ in the Rain. And here is this Black actor who wants to know about his relationship with two Black tap dancers.
That’s nice. Did Gene warm up after that?
Yes, we went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and met in the bar, and sat all afternoon, exchanging show business stories! After we were done drinking, Gene pulled out his wallet and I stopped him. I told him, “Years from now, I want to be able to tell my kids I bought Gene Kelly a drink in a Hong Kong bar.” And he let me, and it was very sweet.
Aw…What was life like after The Love Boat ended?
Right after the series went into syndication, I would pooh-pooh a little bit about my experience being on The Love Boat. But then a woman stopped me and thanked me for being on the show and said her father was dying of cancer. Our show took him out of his pain for an hour, and she said, “Thank you for that.” From that point on, I realized that while our critics were always pretty hard on us, they’re not the general population. The general population loved our show.
In addition to acting, you’re also a writer, director and teacher — which do you enjoy the most?
I love acting, that is how I got into show business. But a funny thing happened along the way — I found out I have a talent for directing and writing. Now I try to feed each one, so I don’t get too hungry for just one.
I bet our readers would be surprised at how prolific you are as a playwright.
I have now written 26 plays. If you go to Amazon, type in my name, you can find a half dozen of my plays, like The Footnote Historian’s Trilogy and Shakespeare Over My Shoulder. I am going to New York City to do a reading for my latest play, I Don’t Remember That.
What inspires you to write?
In my writing, I try to educate audiences on the history of America and of the Black experience in America. I also have a great love for Shakespeare and have written three Shakespeare-themed plays.
What do you know now that you wish you knew back when you started?
I wish I could have been certain that I would have a career in show business. Now that I have gotten to this age, I have relaxed more and can enjoy the ride.