- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

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 WMAL’s “The Grandy and Andy Morning Show” from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on 630 AM.

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, can weave a yarn 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 in politics after “crashing and burning” at attempts to crack film and law school. The Iowa 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 over a portobello sandwich lunch earlier this week. Once he decided on acting, he moved to New York, where he eventually was spotted by television producer Norman Lear of “All in the Family” fame.

A recurring role on Mr. Lear’s “Maude” helped him nab 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 or my 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 and show 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 eye-opening on a number of fronts. He surprised many skeptics with his moderate views — and he 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’s very 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 and CEO of Goodwill Industries. Through the Bethesda 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, where he taught graduate students about the intersection of nonprofits and politics. He also enrolled in a Shakespeare program at George Washington 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 103.5.

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.”

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