Hartley, Iowa — Hollywood seems especially far away. The driveway is muddy. Instead of autograph seekers, a farm family waits at the door. But the man in the trenchcoat takes it in stride. Over spaghetti dinner, he discusses the farm problem. Later he'll give a campaign speech at the Lutheran church here. At a time when many people are leaving Iowa, Fred Grandy, formerly ``Gopher'' of ABC-TV's ``Love Boat,'' has returned. And by all appearances, he likes it.
``I had wanted to come back to this area,'' he says, settling into a couch minutes before the spaghetti dinner is ready. ``I had children who were city kids, had grown up in New York, and they'd grown up in Los Angeles, and I just didn't like the values, or the lack thereof, that were . . . not consciously taught but assimilated. And I'd also reached a point where I had just about everything I wanted as an entertainer.''
Hollywood, it seems, had grown tiresome. ``Most of acting in television and film is waiting for the set to be lit . . . In the time I have waited for electricians and hairdressers, I could have become a doctor, a lawyer, probably an astrophysicist. And I just couldn't stand this much downtime in my life.''
And so the affable TV star retired from acting to become, well, a politician. Since July, Grandy has tromped through farm homes and hog houses, rural towns and big cities in Iowa's Sixth District. ``This area [is] really not getting its fair share of attention from the government,'' he says.
``One thing that has to be argued forcefully and persuasively and consistently for the next few years is continued governmental help in providing credit to [farm] operators out here so they can reduce their enormous debt load.'' Grandy's campaign was supposed to be an uphill battle against the district's popular, six-term Democrat, Berkley Bedell. But Mr. Bedell pulled out of the race for health reasons. Grandy is now the front-runner on the Republican side, political observers say, although he faces a strong challenge from Clayton Hodgson, a well-known area farmer and longtime Bedell aide.
This heavily rural, hilly section of northwest Iowa is familiar territory for Grandy, who grew up in Sioux City. After schooling at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University (magna cum laude), Grandy returned in 1970 as a legislative assistant to Rep. Wiley Mayne. The Republican was defeated by Mr. Bedell in 1974, but by that time Grandy was pursuing his acting career, first in Vermont, then New York, and, finally, Hollywood.
`` `Love Boat' just happened by fortuitous accident,'' he recalls. ``I think I was maybe the last guy in town that they had not offered the part to.'' From 1975 on, he was a bona fide TV star. He will still appear on the show until later this spring when Gopher (alias Grandy) will announce that he's leaving ``Love Boat'' to manage an island hotel.
Waltzing into an open congressional seat, however, will not be as easy for Grandy. ``Probably the two most distrusted places in Iowa would have to be, one, New York City, and two, Hollywood, Calif.,'' concedes one Republican leader from the district. ``His job is going to be to convince all the voters of the Sixth District that he is sincerely interested in them.''
Another challenge will be running as a Republican at a time when Republicans are not generally liked in the depressed farm states. ``You couldn't get elected dogcatcher on a `Support the President' platform out here,'' Grandy says. ``In terms of his farm policy, he [President Reagan] probably has lower marks than he's ever had in his life, which probably explains why he doesn't spend a lot of time out here. . . . Reagan has at least communicated his compassion for a good part of the rest of this nation. We're not even getting the benefit of his rhetoric.''
It is too early to tell whether Grandy will win the district -- the most Republican-leaning district in Iowa. But the GOP considers it their best chance of picking up a seat in Iowa.
``I have always felt very confident about this race,'' says Sally Novetzke, who chairs the Republican State Central Committee of Iowa. ``He may walk in the door `Gopher.' But he always walks out `Fred Grandy.' ''