If you were young in the 70s and too poor to go out on Saturday night, you probably spent a lot of time watching Bernie Kopell seduce famous women as charming “Doc” Adam Bricker on The Love Boat. Now the Brooklyn-born Kopell is co-starring in the off-Broadway sex comedy Viagara Falls. Although he plays a geezer who complains about his “anal condition” and has to be talked into taking the little blue pill referred to in the title, in real life Kopell is still fit and flirtatious (and the father of two small children!) at 77. During a post-show chat at the Little Shubert Theatre, he took frequent pauses to greet gushing middle-aged fans and shared the secret to doing eight shows a week when you're pushing eighty.
How are audiences responding to Viagara Falls?
They love it. When I ask people, “Did any of this offend you?” they invariably say, “Oh no, you could have gone further.” There are no dirty words in here, like you have on HBO. When I came into television, you couldn’t say the word “pregnant.” If two people were married, one foot had to be on the floor in bedroom scenes. The change in what people are allowed to do on TV? Holy moly, it’s shocking!
I’ll bet you’re already sick of Viagra jokes.
No, they magnetize people to come and see this play. It’s a brilliant title. People start laughing when they hear it.
So, you don’t mind delivering lines about hemorrhoids and “magic bullets”?
No, because it’s relatable. My father in law is in his late 80s, and he always wants to tell you about his prostate situation. Every man, if I may be so bold, has had issues with his private parts, my darling. When you’re with a woman [the expectation is] you’ve got to have that erection going full out all the time or else you’re less than a man. Well, that’s nonsense. These issues are part of life. Women relate to it even more than men because they live through this with their husbands or lovers.
You don’t have much in common with your character, though—you’re married with two young kids.
Two brilliant, beautiful boys. I didn’t have my first kid until I was 64 years old, and it’s such a gift. Adam, who is 12 years old now, is a straight-A student, and my little guy, Joshie, is seven and has already booked his first voiceover commercial. He’s a little pistol. You know the high five stuff? I put my hand out and he says, “Sorry, I don’t have any loose change.”
Do your boys realize that you’re a TV comedy icon, from That Girl and Get Smart to The Love Boat?
They were sitting and watching Get Smart and my wife, Catrina, said, “That’s Daddy!” And Joshie said, “Daddy’s right here.” Before I came back to New York, Adam did a school play version of 42nd Street, this theater is on 42nd Street, and when I was a kid, my father had a jewelry store on 42nd Street. Crazy!
You live in Los Angeles, now, right?
I’ve been in L.A. for 52 years. Because of The Love Boat, I’ve got this gorgeous old property, an acre and a half with a pool and a tennis court. I can shut the gate and it’s like a little park for the kids and their friends.
Do you mind being reminded of The Love Boat every day of your life?
It’s a gift! That show was like a paid vacation. When I give talks at schools, I say that this is a privileged business. It’s not like doing something that’s a chore, something you hate.
You’ve appeared in many plays, but never on Broadway.
No, everything happened in California. I went to NYU and had very formal Shakespeare training, but when I got out, nobody was buying that. Then I figured out that I could do accents, and that was my magic carpet. My first five years in the business was nothing but Latinos.
How do you stay in such good shape at age 77?
The place I’m staying is on 23rd Street, so I walk—chest out, stomach in—instead of taking a subway or a taxi. I play tennis two times a week, and I have a stationary bicycle. I take a little rest between the matinee and evening performance, but it’s fun. To be doing this at my age is a gift.
Your character in Viagara Falls is quite timid. Shouldn’t you be playing the smoother guy, who hires a prostitute on his birthday?
My character is vulnerable and he has a great arc. He starts out hung up on his wife in the sky, then he joyously “performs” and is so happy.
You get the girl.
I get the girl.