The ‘Love Boat’ doc talks about the talking apes of ‘Lancelot Link.’
TV viewers have seen Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Bricker on The Love Boat and Siegfried on Get Smart, but not on Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. One could only hear him on that infamous Saturday-morning series of the early 1970s, giving voice to the villainous Baron Von Butcher and Wang Fu on the live-action program whose characters were actual chimpanzees.
With all 17 episodes of Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp collected from ABC’s original masters for a new DVD collector’s set from Film Chest, Kopell chatted with Oklahoma Gazette about the cult favorite.
R&R: What is it about apes and monkeys that captivates kids?
Kopell: There is something funny about monkeys. We had all these derivations of James Bond and Man from U.N.C.L.E. with the satire of Get Smart. We did it with chimpanzees. How in the world they got the chimps to choreograph movements! It was just as funny and fun for us to do as Get Smart was, because it was the same writers.
Why the big push now, because Lancelot is still alive today. He's living out his retirement at the Wildlife Waystation [in Los Angeles], run by Martine Colette. She takes in abused animals. He may have a few girlfriends in his cage. She does this on her own, with no support from anybody. Ten percent of the proceeds of Lancelot Link on DVD will go to the Wildlife Waystation, so I’m happy to talk about it.
R&R: When you first heard the idea, what was your impression?
Kopell: I giggled! It was such a loony, loony concept to have. To have the monkeys speaking Mel Brooks lines was pretty darn funny! It was a treat.
R&R: To what do you attribute the show’s longevity? It stopped in 1972, but here we are 40 years later, talking about it.
Kopell: I don't know why it's still going, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they discovered that Lancy is alive and thriving at the Wildlife Waystation. He's one sexy guy! He has his little harem there and he's quite content.
R&R: Was doing the show a pretty easy gig?
Kopell: It was a joyous gig. Our biggest problem was not to laugh, to stay serious, because it was so ridiculous — just ridiculous! How did they get their mouths to move? Some like gum, some like peanut butter. Some like a little banana to chomp on. It was goofy.
R&R: You were lucky to be a part of not just one big piece of pop culture like Lancelot Link, but others, like Get Smart and The Love Boat.
Kopell: I go all the way back to Jack Benny in 1962! He said, "Now don't talk 'til they finish laughing." That was his big line. He said, "How come you know your lines so well, you son of a bitch?" I said, "Well, Mr. Benny, I knew I was going to be working with you, so I went over my lines a thousand times," and he gave me a big hug. He had no ego, that actors' baloney where everything is "me me me." He just loved everybody being funny on his show.
Also, Don Adams was welcoming. He embraced my humor. Don was marvelous and Don was a Marine in World War II. Sadly, bullets didn't kill Don Adams but cigarettes did, so I want to say your readers in Oklahoma, if you smoke, don't smoke. If you never smoke, don't start, because it'll kill you! I have a memory of Sammy Davis. I used to do an anti-tobacco campaign that ran for about five years. He came up to me at one of these things in Beverly Hills and said, "I smoke every day! My voice has never been better!" Within three months, he was dead of lung cancer. You can't fool around with tobacco.
R&R: Of all the series you’ve done, do you have a preference?
Kopell:Get Smart. At the same time, I was doing the Marlo Thomas show [That Girl]. That was my schizophrenic period — grateful, grateful, grateful. She was marvelous, just terrific to work with.
I'm going to be 79 next month. Now it can be up to 16 bucks to go see a movie. When I was a kid, it was something like 25 cents, and that was a lot. You got to see two shows and sometimes a stage show. Milk was 15 cents, a loaf of bread was something like that. Money has changed and I just look at young people. I don't know what kids are going to do.
R&R: One last question: Was Barbara Feldon as hot in real life as she was on TV as Agent 99?
Kopell: Barbara Feldon was, Barbara Feldon is, Barbara Feldon is one of the beautiful independent human beings in the world. I love her. We have dinner every once in a while. I was in New York doing a play called — are you sitting down? — Viagra Falls. That always gets a giggle. Such a charming, lovely lady. She has a laid-back attitude. She's a treasure in my world. —Rod Lott