Approaching the counter of a small coffee shop in Toluca Lake, Calif., Jill Whelan looks furtively around, dips her hand into the tip jar and stuffs a fistful of dollars into her jacket pocket. No one notices. More important, she says later, “no one seemed to recognize me. I couldn’t help but think that if they did, they’d go, ‘Oh, that poor girl from Love Boat!’ ”
Actually, despite a crippling financial loss, Whelan—who played Vicki, Captain Stubing’s cherubic daughter, from 1979 to 1986—has not been reduced to stealing. Now 34 and an associate producer for UPN News in Los Angeles, she was in the coffee shop to research a segment on how easy it is to pilfer tip jars.
And while her ship hasn’t exactly come in, her behind-the-camera TV job is just the half of it. She has also codesigned the Whelan Martell line of beaded jewelry (ranging from $15 to $375) worn by the likes of Vanessa L. Williams and soap star Melody Scott Thomas. At the same time she is going through a painful divorce from businessman Brad St. John—the father of her son Harrison, 6, and the man she blames for the loss of her Love Boat savings.
Whelan met St. John in 1992, after having moved to New York City five years earlier to pursue theater work. St. John, now 39, who lived in the same apartment building, proposed to her just two weeks after they started dating. “He told her how wonderful she was, and she fell for him hook, line and sinker,” says Whelan’s mother, real estate broker Carol Garrett, 59. “Suddenly she was engaged.”
The two were married on Christmas Eve 1993, but by the time Harrison was born in April 1995, the marriage was a wreck. And her Love Boat money, which her mother had stashed away in a trust fund—as well as her pension, stocks and some real estate profit—was gone. Whelan says she used her savings to support St. John’s failing business ventures in Africa, where he bought accessories and semiprecious stones to sell in New York. (St. John could not be reached for comment.) “There are a lot of women who would’ve been a lot more bitter,” says Garrett. “She worked so hard for so many years. All she says is, ‘He gave me the greatest gift of my life.’ ”
That gift, of course, is Harrison, who, a few days after the coffee shop research, is yelling for attention from his room in Mom’s three-bedroom Los Angeles condo. And providing for Harrison is the primary reason Whelan went into TV journalism two years ago, despite a decided lack of news experience. Starting as a desk assistant, she moved up quickly. “She’s so optimistic about life and what she’s doing,” says Ted Lange, Love Boat‘s Isaac the bartender. “She’s a real career person now.”
Just 12 when Aaron Spelling brought her on board the Love Boat, Whelan worked alongside a lot of favorite stars guest-cruising on the Saturday night comedy. “I was able to call Lana Turner ‘Lana Turtle,’ ” recalls Whelan. “Ethel Merman and I were pen pals, and I got to dance with Ginger Rogers.”
Whelan—who grew up in Liver-more, Calif., the youngest of three children born to mom Garrett and dad Charles Whelan, 67, a contractor—also got to visit many exotic locales. Traveling with a tutor, Whelan, along with her castmates, often set a course for adventure to countries like China, Egypt (where she and guest star Debbie Allen were held up at gunpoint) and Turkey. “It was great, it was exciting,” she says. “I miss being on TV.”
As for that other adventure—love—Whelan doesn’t plan to chart those waters again any time soon. For now, she says, “Harrison is the only man in my life.”
Karen Brailsford in Los Angeles