Go Behind The Scenes of Ethel Merman and Carol Channing's Time on The Love Boat | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Go Behind The Scenes of Ethel Merman and Carol Channing's Time on The Love Boat This week, Seth Rudetsky learns how soap operas are surviving in the COVID-era and relives a harrowing SNL quick change.
Ethel Merman and Carol Channing

What’s that you say? Yes! It is two weeks until my birthday, February 28th. But let’s talk other birthdays first. Melissa Manchester just had a birthday, so we’re going to celebrate on Stars in the House this Wednesday night at 8 PM ET with some very special guest stars from her amazing career.

Then on Friday it’s my good pal Andréa Burns’ birthday, so we’re going to dedicate Stars in the House to her that night. Speaking of our live streaming series (which has raised around $760,000 for the Actors Fund so far), sometimes we dedicate an evening to a different charity and last Friday we raised money for Cancer Support Community. If you or anyone you know is dealing with cancer, you must contact them. They are a one-stop center and can help you with every aspect: money for gas, information about experimental drugs, a safe ride to chemo (public transport is considered too dangerous if you have a compromised immune system), help for caregivers, etc. Katherine Kelly Lang (The Bold And The Beautiful) was one of our guests and told us that her Dad was the Jolly Green Giant on TV back in the day. He passed away from colon cancer when she was 13 and she’s been involved with Cancer Support Community for more than 25 years now.

The Bold And The Beautiful was the first TV show to go back into production and, amazingly, they haven’t had any COVID-19 problems. Since there is so much making out on soap operas, they had to figure out a way to give the audience what they wanted but keep it safe. So, now they have the actors make-out with mannequins! They shoot it from behind the mannequin’s head so you’re looking at the live actor smooching. And they have one more trick: using the actor’s significant others. Yes, Kelly’s boyfriend comes on the show when there’s a big kissing scene and replaces her co-star during the make out session. How does it work so the audience doesn’t know? He literally wears a wig to look like her co-star. I love it!


We also had a reunion of The Love Boat on Stars in the House with all the original leads. We asked about how people got cast, and Gavin MacLeod told us that he when The Mary Tyler Moore Show was going off the air he had lots of offers, but he didn’t like the roles. He remembers one was like Murray but in a cowboy outfit (what the hell show was that?). He decided that his post-Mary Tyler Moore life would be touring the country and doing a club act with his wife Patti. Well, before they left, his agent told him he had an offer to be the captain on a new show called The Love Boat. However, his agent thought the script stank! Gavin asked to see it anyway and his wife read it first. She told him she thought it would be a big hit and she was right. He wound up having a job for many, many years and going all over the world!

Ted Lange, who played the Bartender, told us that even though he played Isaac the bartender, he didn’t know anything about making drinks. He feels he is one of the few actors who didn’t have a side job as a bartender. For the first year, he faked it and just kept putting umbrellas in drinks. Finally, he went to bartending school before the second season so he knew what the hell he was doing.

Fred Grandy (Gopher) remembered Ethel Merman (Gopher's Mom Ros) very fondly. However, Ethel was allegedly not fond of Carol Channing, who was a guest star on a few episodes. Fred was filming a scene while Carol and Ethel rehearsed on another sound stage. During rehearsal, Carol reportedly accused Ethel of wading up pieces of tissue and throwing them into Carol’s purse. Ethel and Carol then got into a tiff and it kept escalating until Ethel bellowed “Oh, shut your hole!” Fred remembered they had to stop filming because Ethel was so loud, even though the sound stage from which Ethel yelled was soundproof. That is some old school no-mic projection! Ethel and Carol were joined by Ann Miller and Della Reese on that episode and it ended in a big production number. Watch it here.

Ana Gasteyer and Seth Rudetsky in Provincetown, MA. Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

I had a concert with Ana Gasteyer last Sunday to help the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio, and we had such a great time. She told a Saturday Night Live quick change story that had me so anxious! After she left the show, she came back for a Mother’s Day Special hosted by Betty White. The show opened with a Lawrence Welk skit, a monologue, and then the Betty White NPR episode that Ana co-wrote (Betty was hawking her “Dusty Muffin”). Here it is for reference!

Anyhoo, Ana was relieved it went really well and immediately had to get ready for her next sketch. I knew there were quick changes on SNL but I didn’t realize it’s unlike Broadway: On Broadway, you know what costume you’re changing out of and in to. On SNL, because the sketch order isn’t decided until “places,” there’s no way to practice the quick change. Ana had to go from her NPR outfit into a sexy look and sexy dress for “The Manuel Ortiz Show.” Ana goes into the audience where there’s a little quick change area. She takes off her outfit, puts on a new wig, and goes to step into her dress which has a slip built-in. For some reason, she cannot get the dress on. It’s almost like it’s sewn closed. Whatever it is, it’s not possible to get on. The total time she had to change was two minutes and time’s up. She hears from someone that the people in the sketch know she’s having trouble and will hold for her, but Ana knows that’s not possible with the way the sketch is written. Ana looks to the dresser to help, but she has a mini-breakdown and literally falls to the floor. What to do? Ana is standing in a bra and stockings and has a “show must go on” mentality so she thinks “This is it. This is the day I go on TV in just my bra and stockings.”

It is getting extremely close to Ana’s cue to enter the scene, and suddenly Donna Richards appears. I know Donna because she was Rosie’s dresser on The Rosie O’Donnell Show and Ana told me that Donna is now the host dresser on SNL. Even though she only deals with the main star, she heard what was happening and walked over to help. Ana said Donna is always completely unfazed by any emergency. The unflappable Donna picks up Ana’s sexy dress, rips off the slip, puts that on Ana and within seconds, Ana walks onstage. It was harrowing but amazing. Here’s the actual sketch. Watch and you can’t tell anything terrifying was happening backstage. Ana enters and goes right into the sketch!

Santino Fontana, Seth Rudetsky, and Jonathan Groff Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

My live concert series is going so well. It really is incredible I’m able to play the piano live while each week’s star can sing up a storm with no time delay! Coming up this Sunday I have Santino Fontana. I remember seeing him for the first time in The Importance of Being Earnest and I was so blown away by his acting. It wasn’t until months later that I heard him on the recording of The Fantasticks and I thought “Wait. He has the nerve to be a great singer, too!?!?!” #Furious. I’m sure we’ll do stuff from shows he’s starred in like Cinderella, Tootsie, Hello, Dolly!, and the film Frozen (he voiced Prince Hans). But I don’t think we’ll do this risqué version of “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” that I asked him and Jonathan Groff to do when they performed at the release of my novel My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan. (Warning: blue language!)

Get tix for me and Santino (And my February 28 concert with Brian Stokes Mitchell!) at TheSethConcertSeries.com. Peace out!

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