(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. This month, the August selection, Jeraldine Saunders’s The Love Boats.)
I was somewhat reticent to get into another swingin’ travel industry expose, after the jaw-dropping tastelessness of Coffee, Tea or Me?, but those fears proved unfounded, because despite the hype, The Love Boats proved to be much milder than its predecessor.
Despite Jerry Saunders bragging upfront about conning her way through life, first into a top fashion model position for designer Howard Greer and then, boring of that, into a hostess position on an ocean liner, I am fairly confident that she did actually write this book… mainly because the anecdotes are all pretty boring.
By the time of this book’s initial publication in 1974, Jerry has worked her way up from Hostess to Cruise Director, the first woman to reach that position in her profession. In the breathless first chapter, she describes life growing up in Glendale, California, with several siblings and a widowed mother, who has made a name for herself as an early “house flipper”, making a nice living using her children as unlicensed subcontractors.
Longing for a Jet Set lifestyle, she crashes an open audition for LA designer Greer, pretending to be a New York model whose portfolio has been lost in transit. She later develops a minor stage and TV career, including a star turn in a Las Vegas review “in it I modeled twelve beautiful gowns representing the signs of the Zodiac. The review was very skillfully put together and narrated by my ex-husband, astrologer Sydney Omarr.”
(I assume the divorce was amicable, as both astrology and Sydney are repeatedly highlighted throughout)
Tiring of modeling in “New York, London, and Paris”, Jerry applies for a cruise hostess job that requires she speak Spanish and Italian (she does neither) and be an expert in tournament bridge (ditto), but she fakes her way into the position, and in the next chapter she’s at sea, dealing with a rogue’s gallery of passengers.
Cruise ships circa 1974 come off as across between summer camp (constant sing-a-longs) and an orgy. Jerry describes the passengers in a hurry to leave inhibitions at the docks (she actually uses a long, tedious metaphor about invisible boxes attached to the side of the ship) and young and old, male and female alike are soon getting down to the business of that other kind of “cruising”, seeking out new partners for what she quaintly calls “humping”.
But most of these wild-and-crazy anecdotes are fairly prim. And never does she breathe a word about any of her own indiscretions.
The book reads mostly like a travel guide to the various ports of call she is familiar with (Alaska, the Caribbean and Indonesia) as well as attempting to bring the concept of ocean cruises to a wider audience, who may only be familiar with ye ocean liners of olde.
While most of her descriptions of native peoples are of the “they are just so FRIENDLY!” variety, she scores points for lacking Donald Bain’s open hostility towards foreigners. And she does seem to have a genuine love and some depth of knowledge about the art and culture of Mexico.
On a pacific cruise off Mexico an adult son traveling with his mother takes some bad acid and bites off his own finger.
She also claims to have been on board the ship that disgruntled former Major League baseball player Jerry Priddy attempted to bomb (???), although her version of the events is different than what is contained in the official record…
But most of the stories have to do with something going wrong on a shore excursion (broken bus, disappearing waterfall) and Jerry thinking on her feet, and double-talking the passengers into thinking that they are lucky enough to be getting a real, authentic experience.
And of course, in 1977, The Love Boat singular came to television, where it would reside for a staggering 9 seasons, with Lauren Tewes as Julie McCoy, our Saunders-surrogate.
I feel like I was just a few years too young for the height of Love Boat-Mania, although I do appreciate the Love Boat Insanity Tumblr, in which a true devoté shares his or hers increasingly bizarre dream list of celebrity guest stars.