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Tewes sets a new course

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It seems fitting that romance lured Lauren Tewes to the Pacific Northwest.

She won America's heart as pixie-cute cruise director Julie McCoy on "The Love Boat," the popular sitcom with the star-studded passenger list, shipboard liaisons and corny but catchy theme song.Love, exciting and new . . .

Today, Tewes lives quietly with her husband in Seattle, where she acts in local theater, hikes and shuns the spotlight that was both blessing and curse.

And at 44, "Julie" still sparkles.

On a recent afternoon, Tewes breezes into Baker's Beach Cafe, her favorite, funky coffee shop in her Mount Baker neighborhood. Her hair is honey-blond and chin-length. Members of the lunch crowd, mostly teenagers too young to remember the TV show, barely look up from their lattes and tomato-basil bread.

She orders a chamomile tea. She gushes about her recent role as Calamity Jane in "Morning Glories," performed at Empty Space Theatre in Fremont. She raves about Seattle, her home since 1994. Tewes, a longtime Southern Californian, moved here after meeting and falling in love with stage actor and Seattle resident Bob Nadir.

"It changed my life - to be surrounded by trees and water and caring, concerned people that are interested in things other than show business," she says.

Her eyes sparkle, blue as a Cabo San Lucas sky. A few laugh lines, yes, but dimples still etch cutely into her smooth cheeks. She giggles so infectiously, you half expect her to whip out a clipboard and chirp about sightseeing in Acapulco.

After all, from 1977 to 1984, TV fans knew her as Julie McCoy, Your Cruise Director. With her crisp black blazer and sea-breeze smile, she sailed to exotic ports, arranged shuffleboard games for Charo and Sid Caesar, even managed the occasional moonlit stroll with sexy guest stars.

Come aboard, we're expecting you . . .

On dry land, life wasn't always smooth sailing.

Her "Love Boat" contract was not renewed due to personality and salary conflicts. Tewes weathered a highly publicized cocaine addiction that cost her thousands of dollars. After the hit series, she wasn't even typecast. She just wasn't offered jobs. Period.

"TV is a cruel business, and it's particularly predatory toward young ingenues," said Fred Grandy, who played Gopher on the show. "Lauren got thrown into the meat grinder very early, and she ended up with her own battles and demons to fight."

Born Cynthia Tewes, she grew up in Whittier, Calif. One of four children, she was surrounded by theatrical siblings.

"We were all active, outgoing - school plays, the whole bit," said her oldest brother, Ed, now 47, and city manager of Modesto, Calif. "There came a time when she decided, `By golly, I want to act.' "

A college drama professor suggested the name Lauren. Tewes liked the name, which reminded her of movie star Lauren Bacall.

At 18, she moved to Hollywood. She waited tables, did a few commercials and had bit parts in Aaron Spelling hits such as "Starsky and Hutch." Her first break? A guest appearance in a "Charlie's Angels" episode called "Angels in Chains."

At 23, she was hired aboard the Pacific Princess the day before shooting began.

The "Love Boat" experience was overwhelming. Trips to Mazatlan and Barcelona. Trading recipes with favorite guest star Vincent Price. Getting seasick with a friend on the voyage to Alaska.

"The travel and meeting all those people," she recalls. "I had an opportunity to work with some of the best actors."

The connections didn't pay off. Tewes struggled through the professional free fall that followed "The Love Boat." She landed parts in campy movies such as"It Came From Outer Space II" and "Attack of the 5'2" Women."

But Tewes has slowly rebuilt her career in regional theater - acting, directing and amassing an extensive resume on stages from Arizona to Georgia.

"What she's doing post-`Love Boat' is developing her credentials as a serious stage actress," said Grandy. "TV tends to define you as the role you play and cryogenically freezes you for the rest of your life as that person. You wind up being Julie or Gopher or Radar or Klinger forever. You're blessed and cursed at the same time."

Today, Tewes is hardly the naive Sunset Strip waitress who once told a producer she couldn't make the first day of shooting because "I have to open the restaurant."

More self-assured, Tewes prefers to go by her birth name, Cindy, which is what her friends and family call her. And while she's retained the optimism of her younger days, it's toughened with maturity and life experience.

Recently - less than two years after Tewes married - her 42-year-old husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Tewes plans to join a support group and push for more medical research. In 1987, she lost her 1-month-old daughter, who died after being born premature.

As for drug addiction and recovery, Tewes is frank about this chapter in her life. But dwell on it? That's like watching reruns.

"It's a big part of my past," she says. "It's not any of my present. My personal journey has been well-documented."

Tewes says she has learned to be strong and finally feels at home with her life and herself.

"I'm much happier now than I was when I was 23," she says. "I'm more self-aware, more peaceful. I spent a long time looking at myself, asking `What's important to me?' "

Love, life's sweetest reward . . .

In 1993, Tewes met Nadir while both were performing in an Arizona Theater Company play. They romanced long-distance for a year, until Tewes packed her bags and joined him in Seattle.

"I decided to change my whole life, which has been a wonderful thing for me," she says. "The theater community here has been very responsive to me."

She's performed with the Tacoma Actors Guild, Seattle Repertory Theatre and A Contemporary Theatre. She does voice-overs for commercials.

She and Nadir prefer to spend quiet evenings with neighbors or the local theater community. Except for the occasional hike or scuba-diving vacation, they stick close to home. They cook Italian. Play tennis. Tewes takes pottery classes in Seward Park.

"We don't get out a lot," she confesses.

In "Morning Glories," she commandeered the stage. Calamity Jane runs a brothel, playing both madam and surrogate mom to her employees and their babies.

As Jane, Tewes swaggered in her petticoat, tossed back drinks and fired a sharp-shootin' pistol. She also cooed over the babies and heaped world-wise advice on their prostitute moms.

Director Rod Pilloud says she was just as nurturing behind the scenes. "She has talent to spare," he said. "There were a lot of young women in the show, and she was so willing to share her training and experience with them."

Lately, her roles have gravitated toward brassy, dominating women. Calamity Jane. The mother in "The Glass Menagerie." Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew." An obnoxious baron's wife in "Buying Time." Tewes says she didn't choose these roles to stray as far as possible from the demure Julie.

"I think it's more a reflection of me 20 years after "The Love Boat" and what I'm able to portray," she says. "For all I know, I was that strong when I was on "The Love Boat." But I was 23."

Lately, America seems nostalgic for that feel-good, 1970s pop culture. UPN, for example, brought the show back with a brand new cast. And Tewes knows how to have some fun with the nostalgia.

She recently did an infomercial for a CD of 1970s music. In 1996, an alternative-rock group, Van Gogh's Daughter, asked her to appear in their video, "Through the Eyes of Julie."

Tewes cracks up as she describes shooting on the Queen Mary.

"We did this whole spoof of `The Love Boat,"' she says. "I take the band on a tour of the ship, and then we all have dinner at the captain's table."

So is the song about the TV show? Well . . . not quite.

"I think it's about heroin," she says, laughing and shrugging. "But the whole point is Julie sees everything through rose-colored glas-ses."

Despite its subject matter, the song's lyrics seem appropriate.

I wish I could see the world through the eyes of Julie and feel no shame.

For Tewes, that's not hard. She's been doing it all along.