People Magazine, 1982
COUPLES: Who Keeps Love Boat's Doc, Bernie Kopell, On An Even Keel? A Mogul Wife Named Yolanda
In TV's current stormy climate, new series have been sinking as fast as restless viewers and reviewers can torpedo them. Of the 30-plus launched in the past year, such entries as Best of the West, King's Crossing, Code Red, Maggie, and Open All Night have floundered, and only Falcon Crest has wound up among the 20 top-rated shows. So all the more impressive is the survival of that tub of schmaltz, The Love Boat, which ABC has signed for two more seasons. What critics dismissed as an oh-so-saccharine ship for fools when it appeared in 1977 now draws an average audience of 33 million -- not hugely behind top-rated Dallas' 41 million. One week this year Love Boat was No.4 in the Nielsen ratings, behind only Dallas, 60 Minutes, and Three's Company.
How to account for the longevity of
the series, whose formula calls for the
resolution of three romantic tangles
(usually including one farce, one
straight comedy, one tear-jerker) per
60-minute show? Comedian Dick
Shawn, a guest star, found a simple
answer: "If Disney did a porno flick, the
result would be Love Boat." Bernie Kopell, the skirt-chasing "Doc" Adam Bricker on the series' cruise-Iiner set, has a loftier notion: "It's a fantasy that transports viewers out of their very real problems -- crime, inflation, pollution, overpopulation. It's evocative of
the Depression, when people would go
to a show to lift their spirits."
Maybe. But doubtless one reason for the show's success is just the amiability of its good-guy regulars: captain Gavin MacLeod, bartender Ted Lange, cruise director Lauren Tewes, yeoman-purser Fred Grandy and, not least of all, Kopell. The Doc has emerged from the show, at 49, as something of a heartthrob, a fact, he admits, "that still makes my head reverberate."
It should. On Love Boat Kopell is the four-times-divorced M.D. who is forever plotting to put the make on the female passengers he greets at the start of each show. In real life he's reticent with women; he's the sort who admits that his first attempt at a kiss, as a
tremulous Brooklyn kid at summer camp, was a downright "trauma." He's also stuck on his wife of seven years, Yolanda Veloz, 34, a California beauty who quit TV for a career in real estate.
And on the trips that the 150-member Love Boat cast and crew take on cruise liners to shoot part of their 25 annual episodes, Bernie brings Yolanda along. "It's dangerous for people
not to be with each other," he says.
Kopell, the cast cutup, can be a hazard all by himself on the cruises. Ted Lange remembers one night on last year's trip to Australia when he got "a wee tipsy" with Bernie and Fred Grandy: "We were talking about old movies that had people falling downstairs. So we decided to see how it
would work falling upstairs. It was much harder." On this year's voyage, a 54-day May-June jaunt to the Mediterranean, Doc really got to play a doctor. During a call at the port of Kusadasi in Turkey, where Love Boat is popular, an outdoor fete was held for the visitors. Suddenly some hydrogen-filled balloons exploded, leaving Grandy with second-degree burns on his hands. Kopell reports that he and others "stayed with Fred all night to keep him happy
and stimulated -- there's a critical time
for a burned person when his body can go into shock." Grandy soon recovered -- though he played a few Love Boat scenes with bandaged hands.
"I didn't want to marry an actor," Yolanda once thought. When she did wed Bernie, James Franciscus played best man.
Ashore or afloat, Kopell's favorite Rx is his wife. Though Yolanda is more of a casting director's idea of a sex object than Bernie, she's "not interested in show business," he says. After five years appearing in series like McCloud and Baretta, she traded her SAG card for a real estate license in 1975. She bought the eight L.A.-area houses (seven of them rented out) which she and Bernie own and earns
fat commissions selling prime properties to clients like comedian Jerry Van Dyke and director John (Escape From New York) Carpenter. "Yolanda's a magician," says Ted Lange. "My wife, Sherryl, and I told her what we wanted, and in less than a month we were closing the deal." Bernie's happy too: "Whatever I've made has grown because of Yolanda's financial ability."
The son of a jeweler, Bernie grew up a loner. "Because I stayed by myself," he says, "I became interested in other people's lives and found I could duplicate their mannerisms." At 13, while
in summer camp, he was drawn to acting. "It was a tremendous opportunity not to be me," he explains. After studying Shakespeare and Shaw at New York University, he started performing
at an upstate theater. He first went to sea as a librarian ("Nobody else wanted the job") on the battleship Iowa. When he got out of the Navy two years later, in 1957, his actor friend James Drury steered him to L.A. Bernie soon
found himself hawking vacuum cleaners and driving cabs for a living.
His first movie role came a year later
when one of his fares, producer Dick
Einfeld, gave him a two-line part in The
Oregon Trail; by then Kopell was broke
and living on an L.A. estate in a tool
shed "small enough to heat with a hot
plate." In 1962 he won work on The
Brighter Day and The Jack Benny
Show, but the next year saw the end of
his brief marriage to actress CeeCee
Whitney. He would later win roles as
the supercilious German agent on Don
Adams' spy spoof Get Smart and as
Mario Thomas' neighbor Jerry on That
Girl. By 1964 Kopell was finding success "difficult to deal with," as he puts
it. In fact, he temporarily put aside Science of Mind, a self-help, positive-thinking philosophy he embraced in 1960, and started psychotherapy.
Gradually his life turned around. In
1973 he met Yolanda on the NBC series Needles and Pins. He played a hot-shot clothing salesman, she a model. They dated, but it was almost a year before marriage was mentioned. Then one night he cracked, "So many of our friends are getting divorced, why should we screw up a good thing?" Her reply: "I hate you, Bernie Kopell." Suddenly he realized that where there's hate, there's real passion. They wed soon after.
On the job in Encino, Yolanda and client Gretchen Braden discuss selling her acre-and-a-half home. Asking price: $900,000
Yolanda was the "very shy" daughter of the ballroom stars Frank Veloz and Yolanda Casazza, who were lionized on a 1939 LIFE cover as America's "greatest dancing couple." She made
her own dance debut at 7 with her 9-year-old brother, Tony. After graduating in 1970 from California State University, Northridge, as a speech major, Yolanda's affluent world crashed. Her parents, separated since she was 10,
not only divorced but lost almost everything in a failed chain of dance studios. "All the money left town," she says. "My parents had more talent than business sense." Then her oldest brother, Nick, died of cancer at 26. Yolanda spent a year in social work in East L.A.'s Mexican-American community. "I loved it," she says, "but I became so involved, I couldn't sleep."
Tragedy struck again in 1972, when
Tony committed suicide at 27, after the
death of his wife in a still-unexplained
homicide. Yolanda plunged into TV
acting, but found it hollow: "I always
played the hooker who gets killed off in
the first scene." She credits Bernie
with her success in business: "My lack
of confidence was so strong, he had to
keep telling me to go out and try."
Their San Fernando Valley house sports a pool, a tennis court and an oversize hot tub in the bathroom off the master bedroom. Though pals like James Franciscus and Dick Van Patten often drop by for tennis, they no longer get Yolanda to play what she calls "mixed troubles" with Bernie. "I kept giving her little suggestions like, 'Bend
your knees, lardass,'" he explains.
Bernie is the California chairman of Jump Rope For Heart, but Yolanda keeps up with him by trampolining on their patio.
Bernie and Yolanda devour health foods and dine two or three nights a week on just popcorn with Parmesan cheese. "You can eat all you want and it doesn't show up on the scale," he explains. They're disappointed at not having had children and are thinking about adopting. Otherwise, their life is smooth sailing -- thanks in large part to Yolanda's touch with both bucks and Bernie. "I'm aware that actors have highs and lows," she says. "I wanted to make our financial life secure. Now Bernie will never have to take a job he doesn't want."
-- by Gail Buchalter