Gopher’s got a new gig: Grandy’s new love is talk ra­dio

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Chris­tian Toto

Fred Grandy says strangers rarely stop him on the street th­ese days to say, “Hey, it’s Gopher from ‘The Love Boat.’ ”

The for­mer television star doesn’t miss the at­ten­tion. Young, naive Gopher has done more than his share for Mr. Grandy.

Television star. Con­gress­man. Non­profit leader. And to­day, Mr. Grandy co-hosts “The Grandy and Andy Morn­ing Show” on Wash­ing­ton, D.C. ra­dio sta­tion WMAL from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. week­days.

He cred­its “the house that Gopher built” for his ca­reer zigzags, but in per­son it’s ob­vi­ous why Mr. Grandy suc­cess­fully segued from one field to the next.

Mr. Grandy, 58, can­weavea­yarn from dusty anec­dotes and drops heavy words like “de­tri­tus” into con­ver­sa­tion with­out break­ing a sweat. He’s equally con­ver­sant on the ra­dio, ban­ter­ing with co-host Andy Parks about pol­i­tics, cul­ture and break­ing news.

Mr. Grandy, who joined WMAL full time in 2003, says he started out in­pol­i­tics af­ter “crash­ing and burn­ing” at at­tempts to crack film and law school. TheIowa na­tive worked briefly as a con­gres­sional aide to Rep. Wi­ley Mayne, a fel­low Repub­li­can from Iowa.

“It was a means to an end un­til I knew what I wanted to do,” Mr. Grandy says overa por­to­bello sand­wich­lunch ear­lier this month.Once he de­cided on act­ing, he moved to NewYork,wherehe even­tu­ally was spot­ted by television pro­duc­erNor­man Lear of “All in the Fam­ily” fame.

A re­cur­ring role on Mr. Lear’s “Maude”helped­himnab the role of yeo­man-purser Burl “Gopher” Smith. “The Love Boat” be­came a cul­tural tidal wave of silly plots, where-are-they-now?-type guest stars and ro­mances that al­ways steered to­ward a happy end­ing at the 45-minute mark.

It wasn’t Shake­speare, and Mr. Grandy didn’t care.

“It was great fun, hand­somely com­pen­sated, a dream job, and it pro­vided me with all the re­sources I needed to re­ally plot what I wanted to do,” he says.

Even at the crest of television fame he un­der­stood his ca­reer could sink with­out warn­ing.

“I knew the life cy­cle in Hol­ly­wood is usu­ally nasty, brutish and short,” he says. “I started think­ing, ‘What do I want to do next?’ ”

Not bad fore­sight for a young man, but Mr. Grandy’s prag­ma­tism was born of ne­ces­sity.

“Be­cause I had chil­dren so early I never had the lux­ury of in­dulging in my art ormy fan­tasies,” the fa­ther of three says.

“I just kind of plunged in, and the next thing I knew I was in an­other ca­reer,” says Mr. Grandy, who left ‘The Love Boat’ a year be­fore its demise in 1986 to run for an open seat back home.

At the time, few ac­tors —be­yond Ron­ald Rea­gan — en­tered pol­i­tics, and few in the po­lit­i­cal arena took Mr. Grandy se­ri­ously.

“Now, pol­i­tics and­show busi­ness are so in­ter­twined you al­most ex­pect peo­ple to be pro­fi­cient in both,” says Mr. Grandy, who ran against a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent and won.

His four-term ten­ure proved eye­open­ing on a num­ber of fronts. He sur­prised many skep­tics with his mod­er­at­e­views—andhe sur­prised him­self with how much he en­joyed the grit­tier parts of the job. He rev­eled in the town hall meet­ings, the nuts and bolts of farm leg­is­la­tion and mak­ing small but sub­stan­tial changes for his con­stituents.

Ted Lange, who played the suave bar­tender Isaac on “The Love Boat,” re­calls play­fully bick­er­ing with Mr. Grandy over the day’s head­lines.

“He’svery as­tute po­lit­i­cally,” says Mr. Lange, cur­rently star­ring on VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club 4.” “He al­ways did his home­work.”

Mr. Grandy’s po­lit­i­cal luck ran out in 1994, when he de­cided against an­other con­gres­sional run and ran in­stead for gov­er­nor of Iowa. He would lose the gu­ber­na­to­rial bat­tle and exit pol­i­tics.

A call from a head­hunter led to an­other job ti­tle, pres­i­dent andCEO of Good­will In­dus­tries. Through the Bethesda, Md. non­profit’s out­reach, he helped the coun­try adapt to the changes brought about by the mile­stone wel­fare re­form leg­is­la­tion passed in 1996.

He spent more than five years at Good­will be­fore be­com­ing a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, wherehe taught grad­u­ate stu­dents about the in­ter­sec­tion of non­prof­its and pol­i­tics. He also en­rolled in a Shake­speare pro­gram at Ge­orgeWash­ing­ton Univer­sity, fan­cy­ing a sec­ond, more se­ri­ous chap­ter in his act­ing ca­reer. He aban­doned the plan af­ter the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks.

At the same time, WMAL be­gan of­fer­ing around-the-clock war cov­er­age and reached out to Mr. Grandy for oc­ca­sional fill-in work.

Lit­tle did he know he was au­di­tion­ing for a job.

“Talk ra­dio al­lowed me to put all th­ese skills to­gether in a dis­ci­pline that was stim­u­lat­ing but not ter­ri­bly stress­ful,” he says. “It’s re­lent­less, repet­i­tive and rel­e­vant. That’s what I like [. . .] It’s like what live TV was in the ’50s.”

Th­ese days, Mr. Grandy’s chil­dren are work­ing in show busi­ness — one will soon ap­pear on Broad­way— while their fa­ther scours the In­ter­net for news at 2 a.m. each week­day to prep for his show.

His morn­ing show has got­ten a re­cent rat­ings boost from its new for­mat — no com­mer­cials dur­ing the first 20 min­utes of each hour — but still trails news ri­val WTOP-FM.

The erst­while ac­tor doesn’t ex­pect to rein­vent him­self any­time soon.

“I’d like to see [the ra­dio show] through,” he says. “That’s as far as I’m look­ing right now.”

Astrid Riecken / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Fred Grandy calls talk ra­dio “re­lent­less, repet­i­tive and rel­e­vant.”

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