Monday, April 8, 2013

Gilligan's Island: Will They Ever Come Home?

Welcome to day seven of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge where we take a look 
at the castaways on Gilligan's Island and sigh, wondering, 
"Will they ever come home?" 
Frankly, after watching the many opportunities for rescue gone awry, 
I've given up hope. 

Surprisingly, the network, the critics, and even the stars of Gilligan's Island gave up hope! Interesting big of trivia--no one expected the show to last more than a few weeks! It was just too silly. A group of stranded misfits. Who would accept that they could remain stranded on an island for three years? Well, apparently we all did! 

Bob Denver played Gilligan in Gilligan's Island

The show ran from September of 1964 to September of 1967 and every week we were seduced--not by the low-cut dresses of the curvaceous Tina Louise or the exposed belly button of Dawn Wells (both often discussed by censors), but by the idea that the misfits would be rescued from the island. 

Tina Louise played the sexy, seductive Hollywood actress Ginger Grant. 

Alas, they never were rescued. As far as we know, they remain there to this day with their gray hair and arthritis and canes, chasing Gilligan--who will forever be as agile as a monkey--through the jungle. Yes, it was the "dumbest" show on the networks, according to John Javna, author of Cult TV, who explains the success of Gilligan's Island as "Survival of the silliest!" 

If you were Stranded on a Desert Island...

I remember so much about this show--my favorite episodes, the names of the actors, even the writer, Sherwood Schwartz, who also wrote for Red Skelton and was responsible for The Brady Bunch. Schwartz cleverly used the names of the characters in the theme songs for both The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island. 

Schwartz had degrees in both zoology and psychology and probably modeled the character of the professor after himself! He wanted to write an intelligent show. In the sixties, with the threat of the Cold War hanging over our heads, it was a common "thinking" question asked in high school classes: "If someone drops the bomb, and you can only save ten people, who would you save?" This was similar to the question Schwartz asked: If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want to be with you? Keep in mind that the goal is survival. I'm not sure Schwartz kept that in mind. In the end, the castaways more closely resembled cartoon characters! 

The Castaways

When speaking of the castaways we should probably start with Gilligan. It is, after all, Gilligan's Island! Gilligan is played by Bob Denver (1935-2005), a funny, charming actor who became a popular television figure when he played Maynard G. Krebs in the 1950s called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The role of Gilligan was originally offered to Jerry Van Dyke, who turned it down. Schwartz was nervous about Denver when he was first suggested, but when the two met, Schwartz realized Bob Denver was a true television gem--charming, articulate, and cooperative. 

Gilligan's character is just plain lovable. Gilligan was the First Mate on the cruise that was originally supposed to last only three hours when the boat was blown off course in a storm. Gilligan has a heart of gold, but he's just plain silly. When the show is nearly to the end, and the castaways are about to leave the island, it is generally Gilligan's fault that something goes wrong and they remain stranded. At this point, Gilligan receives a smack on the head by the Skipper who hits Gilligan with his hat, which is supposed to be a reference to Laurel & Hardy. Gilligan is always shown in the same striped shirt and boating cap, which makes sense considering they were on a three hour cruise, but seems rather odd considering other cast members have endless wardrobes! Gilligan does not have a first name in the show, but according to, when Schwartz was asked what his name would be if he did have a name on the show, he replied, "Willie." 

Alan Hale, Jr. played Skipper Jonas Grumby on Gilligan's Island. 

The Skipper, Jonas Grumby, owner of the S.S. Minnow cruise ship, is played by the great Alan Hale, Jr. (1921-1990). The Skipper is a grumpy man, an impatient man, a big man with an equally big heart. Like Gilligan, he wears the same outfit throughout the show. He also spends most of his time chasing Gilligan around the island smacking him with his hat, but we all know he would give his life for his little buddy.

Alan Hale, Jr., was always a professional, dedicated to his craft. Hale was performing in a Civil War film when he learned Schwartz was considering him for the part of the Skipper. On his one day off he rode a horse out of the gorge where they were filming, flew to Las Vegas, hitch-hiked to Utah, took a cab to Los Angeles, auditioned for the part, hitch-hiked back to Utah, then rode his horse back to the set in time to finish filming. Now that's determination! 

Russell Johnson in the series Black Saddle. 
Johnson played Professor Roy Hinkley in Gilligan's Island.

The Professor is the last cast member who never changed his clothes (and really, considering they started out on a three hour cruise, it makes more sense that Gilligan, the Skipper and the Professor always wore the same outfit. What did not make sense is that their outfits remained intact. Then again, this is a sitcom, it's not supposed to make sense!) 

Professor Roy Hinkley is played by Russell Johnson (born in 1924). The Professor's primary during his time on the island is coming up with a way to escape the island. The Professor may not have had a wardrobe like some of the other characters, but he had an endless supply of reference books! Roy Hinkley was surprisingly thrilled to play the role of the Professor. As quoted in Cult TV: In this day and age, I'm delighted to have a job, to be working. It's rough, and it's cold outside." 

Actress Tina Louise and Gene Barry in the Western series Burke's Law.

Actress Tina Louise (born in 1934), on the other hand, was not grateful just to have a job. Louise had a strong career before taking the role on Gilligan's Island and was somehow under the impression that the show was about a Hollywood actress stranded on an island with a bunch of misfits. There were constant rumors that she snubbed other members of the cast and was difficult to work with, and these rumors appeared to be true. She rarely spent time with the rest of the cast, who often hung out together like one big happy family, and at one point, Bob Denver refused to be photographed with her as he was tired of her rude treatment. 

Tina Louise plays Ginger Rogers, a Hollywood starlet who has an endless wardrobe of sexy, low-cut outfits. She tries to seduce just about every male on the island, including the constant parade of visitors who appear on the island and somehow manage to leave the island again without taking any of the castaways with them. She bunks with Mary Anne and spends her leisure time with Mary Anne, though the two characters have opposite personalities. 

Mary Anne Summers, played by Dawn Wells (born in 1938), is a sweet-natured girl from Horners Corners, Kansas who also has a surprisingly large wardrobe for a three hours cruise, but most of her outfits consist of short shorts and tied blouses that expose her belly button. She was chosen as a foil to Ginger Rogers character, a contrast to the sexy starlet, but anyone who grew up in the sixties knew that most young men found the character of Mary Anne far more attractive than Ginger Rogers! 

Jim Backus with Nancy Culp who play the banker and his secretary on Beverly Hillbillies. 

The final castaways were Jim Backus (1913-1989) as Thurston Howell III, and Natalie Schaefer (1900-1991) as his Howell's wife, Lovey. Howell was an obnoxious, wealthy snob--and apparently he was the same in real life! Backus insisted that he receive double the salary of the rest of the actors because he had more experience and his name was more well-known in Hollywood, and he was paid double the salary. 

Howell's wife is also a former actress in the show. Like Gilligan, she is a bit goofy, daffy, always making nonsense remarks. She also has an endless wardrobe to reflect her great wealth. Natalie Schaefer enjoyed the show, but when she first read the script she didn't think it would survive the pilot. She claimed she was so surprised when the show was syndicated that she cried. 

Gilligan's Island

Gilligan's Island was a man-made island on an artificial lake in CBS Studios in Hollywood. The landscape was painted, the trees were fake, the wind was created with wind machines. The set cost $75,000 to build, but it worked fairly well until the lake sprung a leak. There was another problem...frogs. While filming the pilot, the set was suddenly invaded by hundreds of frogs congregating around the cabins on the set, croaking so loudly that the cast could not hear themselves speak. They never did find an explanation for the frogs.

My favorite Episodes

Yes, I remember them well! There was one episode, "Little Island, Big Gun," when bank robber Jackson Farrell (Larry Storch) and his accomplice (played by J.L. Smith) arrive on the island with $500,00 and a gun. Of course, every member of the castaways tries to use their personal assets to seduce the pair into helping them off the island, including Thurston Howell III who writes the men a check. 

Another favorite is "Goodbye Old Paint." Famous artist Alexandri Gregor Dubov (Harold J. Stone), a Russian painter who believes everything he touches is a masterpiece, arrives on the island to escape the pressures of fame, then leaves by boat, abandoning the castaways. 

My all-time favorite episode is "Don't Bug the Mosquitoes." Gilligan's favorite band, The Mosquitoes (such a great name!) arrive on the island, also attempting to escape the pressures of fame. The castaways try to make Bingo, Bango, Bongo, and Irving so miserable that they will leave early, and take the castaways with them. Eventually they do leave, but the castaways, as always, are left behind. 

Gilligan's Island versus Gunsmoke

In spite of its popularity, Gilligan's Island was finally taken off the air due to the usual Hollywood politics. Gunsmoke, an American favorite for many years, was dropping in the ratings, so Gunsmoke was moved into the Monday night time slot and its ratings pushed it back into the Top Ten, while Gilligan's Island drifted off to sea with its group of misfit castaways was never given the chance to escape their island paradise. 

  • "Gilligan's Island." Fifties Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.


JoJo said...

I always wondered why they all took so much luggage with them for a 3 hour tour. And in the 70s Bob Denver starred in a western called 'Dusty's Trail' which was exactly Gilligan's Island, except in the west.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

It is an interesting question, isn't it? Where did all that stuff come from? Lol!

Wehms2 said...

Jim Backus was not the "Ms. Hathaway" was not his secretary......I think Jim managed Jed's movie studio if memory serves(?). They tried to resurrect Gloria Swanson's silent movie career, too!!! 😎

Live Long 🖖🏽& Prosper.......👍🏽

Wehms2 said...

Actually, they did make it off the island.......after 25 years I believe it was. Made I to a full length move, "Rescue From Gilligan's Island" circa 1978 if memory serves as I was about a year out of High School.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I have to admit--I'm embarrassed! Lol! I wrote this post during a contest and worked primarily from books, but a quick look at IMDb shows you're right--not that I thought you'd make something like this up. I appreciate the updated information and more than that, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to read my blog post. I'll go back through the post in a few days to make corrections. Thanks for taking the time!