Teaching is star's new romance Jill Whelan is sharing her love of acting and lessons learned in her decade on "The Love Boat."

Posted: February 05, 2006

Stirring a pot of tortilla soup while tending to a sick baby, the captain's daughter from television's The Love Boat seems miles away from the cruise ship that each week "set a course for adventure."

References to the show's theme song are all too familiar to Jill Whelan, who moved to Lower Makefield about 18 months ago after marrying the operations director at a Princeton prep school.

"The song could have been worse. We had Jack Jones sing it, and it was written by Paul Williams," said the woman who started playing Vicki Stubing in 1977 when she was 11 and continued until the show ended in 1986.

Dressed in running pants, hooded shirt and sneakers sans makeup, Whelan, 39, is comfortable with the role she played on The Love Boat - and her current role as wife, mother and acting teacher.

"If people from outside look at me as Vicki from The Love Boat, I find it endearing," she said. "The people I look at to validate me in other terms are my family and friends. Therein lies my reality."

One of Whelan's most recent projects is developing an acting program for children. Working from her home, Whelan has 10 students in private and group sessions.

Rianna Polin, 14, of Newtown Township, was Whelan's first student. Whelan prepared her for a national pageant last summer - continuing lessons from a hospital while on bed rest before the birth of her son Grant.

Jaclyn Polin said her daughter had blossomed under Whelan: "She is comfortable with who she is here."

Eleven-year-old Halie Craig of Pipersville, who joined Polin for a recent class, said, "I've learned how to make my monologues better by relating them to my own experiences."

Whelan, who worked as an editor and producer for a TV news show in California from 1999 to 2002, enjoys the flexibility that teaching allows. In addition to 7-month-old Grant, she has Harrison, 10, from her first marriage and stepson Michael, 17.

"I'm kind of, not to use a sailing term, but kind of landlocked with this little guy," Whelan said, with a gentle pat on Grant's bottom.

"It's wonderful to bring in kids new to acting. They come in with such wide eyes and raw creativity. To watch them trust you enough to risk being vulnerable and to watch them begin to develop their own senses, it's great fun."

As for her own children, she said she was thankful that Harrison hadn't expressed an interest in acting because she doesn't have the time to be the mother of a child star.

"My mom gave up her job. She had to," said Whelan, who has guest-hosted local TV and radio shows. "It's probably one reason I'm not a drug addict. She was the person who was there to say, 'Remember where you came from.' "

Whelan, whose mother was a nursery school teacher and father was a general contractor, grew up in California. When she was 7, her mother registered her for a summer theater program.

Whelan followed the lead of her fellow actors in that production of The King and I and sent a photograph - her school picture - to an agent.

"Right out of the gate, I got a national commercial for M&M's," Whelan said. "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."

Auditioning for a national tour of Annie, she caught the eye of a talent scout for Aaron Spelling and was cast in his production of Fantasy Island, and then The Love Boat.

"We forged some great friendships over the years," said Whelan, who invited several cast members to her 2004 wedding aboard a Caribbean cruise ship. "We traveled for the show six weeks a year besides working on the soundstage. You get to know each other pretty well - through marriages and children and deaths."

And Whelan met a host of guest stars, recalling "simple crushes" on Robert Wagner and Rex Smith. During the run, she also appeared in the movie Airplane!

After The Love Boat ended, Whelan went to college and had roles in a few movies and television shows.

"It's hard to come off a hit TV show. There's a bit of a has-been feeling, and at 19, it's a bit incongruent," she said. "That's when you have to redefine who you are."

She pursued musical theater - "my most favorite thing" - through the 1990s. Her last stage role was in the national tour of the comedy Vanities in 2003. That year, she also got engaged to Michael Chaykowsky, whom she had met about 15 years ago when they both worked at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The woman who has worked with such stars as Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra now wants to focus on her family and her acting program, and pursue a career as a talk-show host.

"I'm pretty much a regular person," she said. "What you see is what you get."

Contact suburban staff writer Valerie Reed at 215-702-7806 or reedv@phillynews.com.

For Information

Jill Whelan offers acting classes in Lower Makefield for children ages 10 through 17. A block of 12 children's group classes costs $500 to $700. She is considering a master class or an adult acting class, depending on interest. For more information, call 215-493-2609.

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