Gilligan's Island, Why I Loved It as a Child and Still Do at 60 Plus
Play the Theme Song
As a seven-year-old boy, I was not terribly interested in television. I didn’t watch sports, so the fact that the New York Yankees were in the midst of what someone has called their “Third Dynasty” was a non-event for me. School was back in session. I’d sit in the classroom and gaze out the window dreaming about riding my pony across the pasture, through the creek, and into the woods. No, television was not my thing. Swinging on the rope in the hayloft was my thing. Building tunnels and forts with the bales of hay which I helped put into the barn was my thing. But not television.
Until one September evening in 1964. I didn’t know the name Sherwood Schwartz or anything about what the man had to go through to get his idea for a television show on the air. I didn’t know about all the TV executives that thought Schwartz’s idea was silly, absurd, stupid, dumb, amateurish. All I knew was that I liked it. The main character, a youthful, carefree, bumbling, simpleton caught my attention for one simple reason. He reminded me of me. If I could have been anybody I wanted to be in those days, I would not have chosen to be Micky Mantle or Sandy Koufax, Bobby Richardson or Al Kaline, Whitey Ford, Willie Stargell, Willie Mays or any of the other great ball players of that era.
Bob Denver, Gilligan
If I could have been anyone, I would have become Gilligan. That name brings a smile to our faces, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what Sherwood Schwartz, the show's creator, wanted. Early on, when it was all still a fantasy in his mind, Sherwood opened the phone book and began to scan the pages. When he saw the name, Gilligan, he knew he had the main character’s name because it made him want to laugh.
The concept was, simultaneously, simple and deep with implications. Schwartz was amazed that the television executives and critics could never grasp the complexity of seven individuals from such variant backgrounds, trapped on an island and forced to live and survive together. Somehow, some way, Schwartz finally got a shot at producing a pilot for the show and a couple of episodes that would show in a relatively small market. It was an immediate hit. The execs hated it, but they couldn’t ignore it.
Jim Backus, Thurston Howell III, Natalie Schafer, Eunice Lovelle (Lovey) Wentworth Howell
The Howells, what a couple. Have you noticed that we’re never really bothered by the fact that they brought all that money and all those clothes on what was supposed to have been a three-hour tour on the S.S. Minnow? Natalie Schafer, known as Eunice Lovelle Wentworth Howell on the show and Jim Backus, won our hearts in a little hut made of grass and palm fronds. In the words of Backus as Thurston Howell the Third, they would have preferred “a southern colonial mansion with a big wide veranda”….or….”a hillside hut that looks down on the others.”
Alan Hale, Jonas Grumby, The Skipper
The rest of the cast were a remarkable blend of characters. Alan Hale Jr., the real name of Jonas Grumby, The Skipper, was a big teddy bear of a man. All the other actors who auditioned for the part, Carroll O’Connor was one, couldn’t handle Gilligan. The character they ended up portraying was mean and angry toward the show’s star because he was always messing up and making more work for everybody. But Hale saw him differently and embraced Gilligan, like a son.
Tina Louise, Ginger Grant
Ginger Grant was a beauty. The part she played in the show seems to have not been much of a stretch for her, based on how she reacted to the format after the first few shows were shot. She was livid. I will paraphrase her words, but it was something like this. I thought this was supposed to be a show about a movie star and six other people.
She spent the years following the show’s cancellation, bemoaning the negative impact her character had on her career as a dramatic actress. I guess I would like to give a shout out to Tina. We loved you as Ginger, and we would love you now if you would accept the past, the show, and your character as we have. We remember you, and for that, you should be grateful. You are in an elite class of people who are remembered by generation after generation.
Dawn Wells, Mary Ann Summers
Mary Ann Summers. As beautiful as Ginger was, Mary Ann stole my heart as a boy of seven. Always practical, always happy, Mary Ann was a stabilizer among a cast of eccentrics. Miss Nevada in the 1960 Miss America beauty pageant, Dawn Wells went on to have a successful career as a dramatic actress. I remember Mary Ann as the castaway who was always doing something useful with her hands, making things, decorating things.
My admiration for Dawn continues because she was and is so grateful for the opportunity the show gave her as a young actress. When I listen to her talk in interviews, I realize she is just as honest and sweet as that castaway named Mary Ann.
I read an interview with Dawn, and she admitted that she and Russell Johnson, The Professor, had feelings for each other. But they were both married and never pursued the relationship. To me, that is a bittersweet story.
"....And the Rest...." A tribute to The Professor and Mary Ann. (You'll Like This)
Russell Johnson, Roy Hinkley, The Professor
Roy Hinkley. That was the character’s name, but it seems we never heard it. He was simply referred to as, The Professor. Russell Johnson was the other stabilizing person on the show along with Mary Ann. If he didn’t know something, which was rare, he would figure it out. If you were charged with pairing up the singles on the show, who would you match The Professor with, Mary Ann or Ginger? Mary Ann would be my choice. The man made life on the island much easier. He kept the radio going and was always inventing, fixing or improving something. Other than Gilligan, Johnson was the best fit for his character of all the cast.
Bob Denver as Gilligan
Sherwood Schwarz, Creator of Gilligan's Island
Bob Denver, a.k.a., Maynard Krebs, from an earlier comedy he co-starred in, will always be Gilligan to me and probably to you as well. Bob passed away and I would love to be able to tell the man that, as a silly, bumbling first mate, he had made an impact on my life. Keep it simple, don’t miss what’s right in front of you, accept yourself for who you are even if it isn’t perfect. Be happy, have fun and do good to everybody around you, at least when you aren’t hitting them on the head with the end of a bamboo ladder. As a child, I loved the character like a big brother.
Clips from Gilligan's Island
The seven actors and actresses were paid for the original productions of the show, about fifty thousand dollars per season, but they were not and never have been paid syndication royalties. Considering the struggles some of them had following the show, I find that to be very sad. But syndication royalties for actors were apparently unheard of in those days. The seven actors and actresses played castaways on the show and lived on a desert island for fifteen years. Following the cancellation of the show, they became castaways again, deserted by the very industry they had financially enriched.
By the way, did you know the show was cleared for a fourth season? It's true. But one of the executives at CBS was fond of Gunsmoke which had been canceled. He insisted that Gilligan's Island be canceled and Gunsmoke reinstated. Well, he had the power, not the viewers.
Yes, a television show had a significant impact on my young life. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Or is it nothing at all? The castaways are slowly dwindling away. Jim Backus was the first to depart in 1989 of Parkinson’s Disease. Bob Hale Jr. passed on in 1990. Natalie Shafer passed away the following year, 1991. Gilligan, that is, Bob Denver, left this world, hopefully for a big island in the sky where he can happily be himself forever, in 2005. Russell Johnson was the most recent castaway to cast off. He died in 2014. Only Tina (83) and Dawn (79) remain.
The entertainment industry was dead wrong about this show. They have never really understood people. They think they do, but no, I think not. They don’t tap into what people want. They exploit one of the weaknesses of the human race which is that we will accept whatever garbage we are fed. Rather than demand high quality, creative entertainment, we settle for mediocrity. And when the television executives stumble onto a big winner, the only way they know how to proceed is to run that thing, whatever it is at the time, into the ground. And even then we will keep watching.
Some of my readers here may disagree that Gilligan’s Island was a high-quality television show. What I mean is that the show was creative, daring, truly funny, and the characters, Gilligan, The Skipper, Mr. Howell, Mrs. Howell, Ginger, Mary Ann and The Professor, were memorable. It must have been something special. After all, here we are, fifty-three years later, still talking about them.