It’s time to sail the S.S. Minnow as we take a trip through the behind-the-scenes of the show — including funny bloopers, Gilligan’s hidden real name, secrets you’d never suspect about the cast, and even the hilarious origin of the show’s premise.
The real locations
The harbor that we see “The Minnow” sail away from in the opening credits (in the colorized seasons, at least) is really the harbor at Newport Beach in California. The cave that Gilligan sometimes hid in to get away from the struggles of the island is also a real cave, a little south of Newport Beach at Corona del Mar.
Even today, it's known by locals as “Gilligan's cave.” Of course, the island, for the most part, was a studio set, something that is quite apparent to modern viewers for any number of reasons, but the most obvious was the fake backdrop.
The cast never got to escape the island during the show
With the sudden cancellation of Gilligan’s Island, the show never reached its ending (since it was supposed to go on for a fourth season). Eventually, the crew decided to tie up loose ends from the last episode of season 3, which ended just like the rest, with the castaways still stranded on the island.
In the 1978 made-for-television movie Rescue from Gilligan's Island, we finally see the castaways successfully leaving the island, and dealing with the difficulty of reintegrating into society. The movie was very well received, and fans were delighted that the show’s story didn’t end yet. A second movie called Castaways on Gilligan’s Island was announced shortly after and released a year later in 1979.
The tastes of the island
Long after the show ended — 1993 — Dawn Wells penned “Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook,” which features food that the characters might have eaten while stranded on the island. Expect lots of coconut dishes. There is also “Gilligan's Stew,” “Ginger's Snaps,” and something called a “Shipwreck Sandwich.”
A few other people joined in the writing, including Ken Beck and Jim Clark, and Bob Denver, Gilligan's actor, even wrote the foreword. In case you're wondering, yes, there is a recipe for the coconut pies that Mary Ann cooks for Gilligan during the show. There are also stories, photos, and anecdotes from Wells's time on the show.
Everything had to be made from wood and coconuts
Since the entire premise of the show was that the cast had to survive on a deserted island, all props had to be made from either wood or coconuts. This posed a major challenge, as everything from the chairs and up to the foot pedal-powered car had to be made from only these 2 materials.
This has become a trend on eBay where you can actually get many “Gilligan’s Island Props,” which are basically regular everyday objects that are made of wood and coconuts. It sounds like a great investment for anyone who wants to star in his own Gilligan’s Island fan show.
The entire premise of the show was invented at a public speaking class
Just like many of us had to do for our English class essay at one time or another, Sherwood Schwartz, then a student at a public speaking class at New York University, was asked by his professor to write a speech answering the simple question — “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what one item would you like to have?”
Schwartz let that question sink deep into his mind. Years later, after becoming a successful writer on various TV shows, he pitched the idea to CBS, and the show got greenlit. The idea that a show like this would develop from such an unexpected place just goes to show that you never know where inspiration might strike!
Not everyone got along during the show
There other difficult cast members too. It was reported in the Jan. 23, 1965 edition of TV Guide that Tina Louise, who played Ginger “I’m a movie star” Grant, had many problems with the cast. The article even stated that “Denver will not say why he and the glamorous Tina [Louise] do not get along, nor will any of the castaways, they just ignore her, and she ignores them.”
The article continues, “Between scenes, while the other six principals chat and tell jokes together, she sits off by herself. And recently when Denver was asked to pose for pictures with her, he adamantly refused. Part of Louise’s dissatisfaction with the series was that she had expected to be the star of the show.” (Maybe she was just a really good method actress and was preparing for filming between sets?)
Ever heard of Jonas Grumby?
Most people think that Skipper’s name was just “Skipper,” but during the first episode, most of us missed the one time that he actually revealed his real name. Skipper’s real name is... are you ready for it? Jonas Grumby. Yup, just watch the episode carefully, and you’ll spot it.
For some odd reason, probably the same one that kept Willy Gilligan’s name confined to only “Gilligan,” Skipper’s real name was never ever said again. Perhaps it’s better to remember these 2 as their nicknames since they seem to stick much better and, at this point, would be almost impossible to forget.
Natalie Schafer got down and dirty for the show
Natalie Schafer, in her 60’s at the time the show was being filmed, did not let her age or anything else for that matter get in the way of her getting down and dirty by doing her own stunts. Yes, that means Schafer would jump into the lagoon or fake quicksand without a stunt double. In 1965, she told “Let’s Be Beautiful” columnist Arlene Dahl that she stayed in shape by swimming and by following her special “ice cream diet.”
That’s right, although she was in her early 60’s when the show was originally filmed, actress Natalie Schafer decided that she would do all of her stunts by herself instead of relying on a stunt double. This means that all the dangerous and oftentimes dirty stunts we see the rich and spoiled Lovey Howell perform in the show were actually Natalie being very unspoiled and brave at her job!
Bob Denver also had a fantastic career following the show
In addition to his iconic role as Gilligan, Bob Denver went on to have a very successful career. Still, he made sure to respect the character by performing as either Gilligan or some parody of Gilligan every few years in shows such as Baywatch, The Simpsons, Meego, ALF, and many more including lending his voice for various animated shows.
Most of Denver's acting career was in television and even appeared in several films and on Broadway. He also made a modest income by making public appearances, often dressed up as Gilligan. In 1992, he played Gilligan to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a West Virginia fundraiser for the organization. Denver passed away on September 2, 2005, and we hope wherever he is right now, he’s making others laugh there too.
No number four
While it was a big surprise that the show ended so suddenly – the show was canceled while the cast was on vacation, as we know – for a long time it was rumored there were scripts for the planned fourth season that would have had Tina Louise's character Ginger being rescued.
At the same time, two additional female characters were going to join the cast. However, this has been debunked. Louise has even gone on record by saying that while she didn't enjoy the show, she wasn't planning on leaving and would have been a part of the fourth season.
The ‘S.S. Minnow’ was used to annoy the chairman of the FCC
Fans believed that the name of the ship that brought us to Gilligan’s Island, the S.S. Minnow, was based on the name of a fish. But producer Sherwood Schwartz claimed that the name was inspired after Newton Minow, who sat at the time as the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Newton changed TV forever when he made his famous scathing speech against television shows. The phrase with which he described television—a “vast wasteland,” would forever be attached to his name and still shows up as the first suggested result when you Google his name. In 2011, Minow told Advertising Age having more choice of shows was the most significant improvement in TV in the decades since his famous speech, which makes it “less of a wasteland.”
“The New Adventures of Gilligan”
After the live-action show ended before season four even got off the ground, the powers that be decided there was more money to be made with the brand, and so created “The New Adventures of Gilligan,” an animated show with the exact same premise and characters.
The show ran for two seasons and approximately a year – September of 1974 to October of 1975. It had twenty-four episodes, and most of the cast reprised their old roles. While the animated episodes are basically the same as the live-action plots, the biggest addition was an anthropomorphic monkey by the name of Stubby, who befriends Gilligan.
Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III, was unable to act for the third movie due to Parkinson's disease. Sherwood Schwartz refused to recast the role, stating he didn't want to hurt Backus by making it seem like he was replaceable. Instead, he wrote Howell III out of the film and replaced him with Thurston Howell IV, the original character's son, played by David Ruprecht.
The son managed the island resort in place of his father. While this did contradict the original series, which stated that the Howells had no children, Schwartz was too impressed with Ruprecht's Howell-like persona, which did not directly imitate Backus, to leave him out.
Dawn Wells raised $130,000 to help with her finances
Dawn claimed to have dealt with pretty serious financial troubles, including “penalties by the IRS” since 2008’s financial crisis. She also claims to have been dealing with “an unexpected accident that required hospitalization for two months.” Dawn proceeded to start a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise money for her IRS penalties and hospital costs.
The campaign was a great success and has raised nearly $140,000 in just 10 days. According to her friend Kirkpatrick, “Dawn is so flattered that her fans have come to her rescue — shocked and amazed, actually. She loves them and always has. She’s proved that over the years. She’s even flown people to her ranch (where she was working) in Idaho for movie screening because they couldn’t afford it. She’s been very generous to many people for many years.” Many fans wrote personal thank-you letters telling her how much her performance as Mary Ann helped them in their time of need and how happy they are to return the favor. Heartwarming indeed.
They are not their characters
As is to be expected with such a famous show – and as has happened on dozens and dozens of other shows – viewers tend to recognize the actors and actresses not by their names but by their characters.
While most of the principal cast has now passed away, it happened all the time with Bob Denver. Tina Louise hated it, but Alan Hale Jr., who played the Skipper, loved it. He'd had a long career with many distinguishing moments, and he loved the idea that he had a role that brought him big acclaim, especially among children. According to Russell Johnson (the Professor), there was almost no difference between Hale and his character.
Tina Louise refused to continue her role as Ginger
Unfortunately for the show’s producers, the character Ginger Grant was always a tough role to fill, considering that it took a total of 6 actors to keep her character going throughout the years. Initially played by Tina Louise, the character went through several adaptations for some funny reasons.
During casting for the made-for-TV-movie, Rescue from Gilligan's Island, Tina refused to reprise the role, claiming that playing as Ginger typecasted her forever as a glamour queen actress. She was replaced by Judith Baldwin, who was then replaced before the third movie by Constance Forslund and later replaced by more actresses for the various spin-off and cartoon versions of the show.
Russell Johnson was a World War II veteran
Our favorite inventor, the Professor, was played by Russell Johnson. Despite being on the softer side and not very outspoken, the actor himself was actually a World War II veteran and served in the United States Army Air Force as an aviation cadet. Russel went on to receive a purple heart for all of his contributions to the air force while in the Philippines.
After finishing his service, he used his GI Bill to fund his acting lessons before eventually signing on to Gilligan’s Island as the beloved Professor. Johnson was married three times and had a relatively light acting career after Gilligan’s Island. He eventually died from kidney failure at his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington, on January 16, 2014, at the very respectable age of 89.
Edited for syndication
When the show originally aired, the ending had a narration, telling viewers, “So join us here each week, my friends, you're sure to get a smile....” However, when the show moved to syndication, the “each week” portion was edited out in order not to confuse viewers who didn't know the show would be on the very next day – or even on the following slot.
In addition, when Ted Turner bought the series, he colorized the black-and-white first season for airing on TBS. Both the original and the colorized versions were shown during syndication. Not much colorization work had been done at that point, and the process was intense.
Have a ball
As the third of three movies to feature (most of) the “Gilligan's Island” cast, the final one had a bit of a strange addition. “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island” has the characters from the show running a vacation spot on the island where they spent so long, recreating their experience for paying customers.
Who should come to visit but The Harlem Globetrotters, who have their plane crash on the island? They're played by the real Globetrotters at the time, and the movie sees them square off against the castaways. To nobody's surprise, they won. But then came the robots. It was just one of many media properties the Globetrotters showed up in.
The belly button timer
While the styles and looks of the show are now pretty dated, it was quite well known for the amount of fanservice it showed. A famous “Mary Ann or Ginger” question, about which gal people preferred, was a popular ask.
Mary Ann's outfit was quite daring for the time, and one of the show's biggest controversies was exactly how many seconds of Mary Ann's belly button could be visible in a season, how times have changed. This was the exact same problem that plagued “I Dream of Jeannie.”
As is common for shows even nowadays, two actors that played characters on the pilot found themselves on the way out before the show got picked up and started regular shooting.
Kit Smythe was the original red-haired girl to play Ginger until Tina Louise took the helm (and then gave the helm up). Before Russell Johnson stepped into the role of the brilliant professor, it was a man named John Gabriel who first had the spot. However, the network thought that he looked too young to have all the degrees the professor supposedly had. You might know Gabriel as his role as Seneca Beaulac in “Ryan's Hope.”
Jerry Van Dyke almost became Gilligan
During casting for Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz was very much interested in having Jerry Van Dyke, the rising American actor, musician, and comedian, in playing as Gilligan in the show. Jerry promptly turned down the part, calling it ridiculous and commenting on the script of the pilot episode that it was “the worst thing I’ve ever read”. Unfortunately for Jerry, that’s about where his luck ended.
Instead of taking the lead as Gilligan, Jerry decided to take a lead role in My Mother the Car. This turned out to be a less-than-brilliant move, as the show was eventually considered to be one of the worst sitcoms of all time and canceled after just 1 season. When asked about his decision to reject the part of Gilligan, Van Dyke recalls, “I had a lot of problems with the agency, because they were trying to push me into taking [Gilligan’s Island], but that’s the joke: I turned it down and took My Mother the Car. But, again, it was really good, because I’d [have] been forever known as Gilligan. So, that worked out too!”
A sad, short scene
Jim Backus did have one short scene in “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.” Backus himself insisted he was healthy enough for a short cameo, and Schwartz wrote him in during the denouement.
Both Sherwood Schwartz and Dawn Wells recalled how emotional it was to see Backus, visibly weakened from Parkinson's. After he finished his scene, he went over the Wells and asked, “Was I funny?” Reportedly the question broke Wells's heart since he was so weak he could hardly tell if he had done well or not. As Backus left the set with his wife, an emotional round of applause followed him out.
Thurston Howell was definitely into older women
During the filming of Gilligan’s Island, actress Natalie Schafer lied about her age and claimed she was 10 years younger than she actually was. She played Lovey Howell, the rich Thurston’s wife. What the fans didn’t know was that Schafer was apparently a decade older than Jim Backus, who played as Thurton.
In order to make sure fans of the show didn’t notice the age gap, Schafer added a clause in her contract stating that she doesn’t want to appear in any close-ups. The trick worked, and nobody seemed to notice the hidden age difference.
Some people thought the cast of Gilligan’s Island was actually stuck on an island
The reason some people fall for the “You just won the lottery — click here!” scam, is because sometimes people forget that things that seem too absurd to be true probably are. This was exactly the case when over the years, the show's creator Sherwood Schwartz would occasionally receive letters from worried fans of the show who actually believed the cast of the show was actually stuck on a deserted island.
One of these very outlandish letters spoke about how the islanders kept witnessing "stranded" Americans on the Pacific Island and how they were baffled that no one was rescuing them.
Gilligan’s Island wasn’t actually filmed on an island
Although this may come as a surprise to some and as an obvious fact to others, the show wasn’t actually filmed on an island. Instead, a set was built especially for the show on CBS’s Studio City in California. The show was originally intended to be filmed in Malibu, but due to fog issues and other problems, the show’s set was eventually moved.
As with any production, the studio faced various difficulties from problems with low water temperatures, the sounds of traffic from a nearby freeway, and other expected setbacks in such a unique and imaginary location. Fortunately, the show proceeded as planned, and all that effort was worth the trouble it took from the cast and the production.
Actress Raquel Welch almost got a part in the show
Before Dawn Wells was cast as Mary Ann, the girl-next-door type who everyone loves to love, the show’s executives were trying to replace some characters that weren’t flying with the test audiences. At some point, the studio decided to change the secretary character into a movie actress.
The late actress Raquel Welch did her best to audition for the part, but the studio eventually decided to go with Dawn Wells for the role of Mary Ann Summers, the beautiful and indispensable actress, who grew up in Kanzas — a reference to the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz. And after Dawn Wells’s performance in the show, we don’t think anyone’s complaining.
Gilligan almost got some cheers
The original script for the third and final “Gilligan's Island” movie was almost very different. NBC executives thought it would be a good idea to have members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders appear on the island in one way or another, and series creator Sherwood Schwartz liked the idea.
There was going to be a two-hour movie based on the premise, but before the script was completed, NBC informed Schwartz that the cheerleaders wouldn't be available. The second option from the executives was the Harlem Globetrotters, which was accepted and went through to become a finished product.
Mary Ann was a symbol of hope for Vietnam veterans
Everyone loved Mary Ann, especially men, and even more so the men who fought in Vietnam and were looking for a symbol of hope and positivity that would help them keep going. During a Forbes interview, Dawn Wells let us know that she was told by many people how Mary Ann’s character provided a refuge for Vietnam War vets at the time.
Dawn said, “You know, many vets from Vietnam have said that Mary Ann kept them going, helping them make it through, kept them positive and focused on returning safely. They kept my picture in their helmets. I have the utmost respect for what it takes to be one of America’s finest, and am very thankful for what they do.”
We almost got to see Jayne Mansfield in Gilligan’s Island
When it was decided that Ginger would be a movie star instead of a secretary, famous Marilyn Monroe-like actress Jayne Mansfield was approached to play the part of the fiery and soon-to-be sex-symbol character, Ginger. Jayne dismissed the offer following the advice of her third husband and went on to become a nightclub entertainer and a singer and one of the early Playboy Playmates.
Jayne was also the first major American actress in a Hollywood film to have a nude scene in the film Promises! Promises! Sadly, her career was cut short early, as she was killed in a car accident in 1967. To recognize her life’s work, the Hollywood Publicists Guild declared a "Jayne Mansfield Award" would be given to the actress who received the most exposure and publicity in a year.
We almost got a fourth Gilligan movie
Gilligan creator, Sherwood Schwartz, planned on making a fourth and final film for Gilligan’s Island, in which the castaways discover that humanity was wiped out by a nuclear war. The main story of the film included Gilligan marrying Mary Ann and having a baby boy with her. The boy would later discover that the world wasn’t actually destroyed, which sounds funny and tragic at the same time.
Eventually, the idea for a fourth movie got scrapped, and the nuclear war was apparently subverted. Fans speculate whether this would have been a great movie or not, but we think it would have been worth it just to watch our two favorite characters get married and have a child. Luckily we still have fanfiction for that.
Set in the sixties
Try as the producers might to make the show timeless; it was clear to everyone watching, especially after the fact that it was set in the sixties. Chief among the details that nail it down in the decade is the fascination with Polynesian culture. A few years later, the Howells or Ginger would like much more likely to jet to Las Vegas instead of taking a three-hour cruise.
The Skipper is a WWII naval veteran and was relatively youthful in his forties. The sets were studio-bound, there was an implausible laugh track, and the Howells are clearly the millionaires of the past when it would take a billionaire to get the same effect now.
A horse helped Alan Hale Jr. get the part for Skipper
During casting for Gilligan, Schwartz couldn’t find a perfect fit for the role of Skipper, as he was eventually the last character to be cast. The problem was the trouble of finding an actor that can combine qualities of being strong and tough while also being relatable and loveable through a caring personality.
When Alan Hale Jr. got the call that he’s invited to audition for Gilligan’s Island, he snuck off the set of Bullet for a Bad Man in Utah the day after filming and traveled to Los Angeles using various methods, from hitchhiking, airplane, taxis and even horseback riding, just to audition for the part of Skipper. Thanks, Alan!
The show was canceled while the cast was on vacation
For a year (1966 to 1967) Gilligan's Island aired on a prime time slot on Monday nights. By the time the show was in its 3rd season, the sitcom’s ratings had fallen well out of the top-30 programs. The show’s relatively low ratings and stiff competition and demand from both fans and NBC, caused the studio to quietly cancel the show while the cast was away on vacation.
To add insult to injury, some of the cast had purchased properties near the set due to the long-term nature of the production. Sherwood Schwartz had confirmed that the series would be renewed for a fourth season. Not exactly the best way to end an iconic TV show that would go on to make history, but life sometimes acts in funny ways.
The show was filled with small and funny errors
Filming a show on a deadline is never an easy task, and you have to cut some corners if you want to make sure everything happens on time and within budget. This caused some funny bloopers throughout the show, such as that time Bob Denver forgot to take off his wedding ring during the filming of the episode “They’re Off and Running.”
Another funny blooper actually occurred in the very first episode. During the boarding and sailing of the S.S. Minnow, we hear the classic theme song playing with the words “Five passengers set sail that day.”, this was clearly a mistake since you can clearly see 8 people on the boat. Finally, during the episode “The Friendly Physician” you can actually see buildings over the tree line that surrounds the lagoon. Did the show try to reveal a hidden message about civilization? Most likely, they simply forgot that filming a show in a small LA studio has its downsides.
Gilligan almost had a pet dinosaur
Sherwood Schwartz wrote in his book Inside Gilligan’s Island, which details the creation and aftermath of the show, how a CBS board meeting almost resulted in Gilligan finding and adopting a pet dinosaur on the island. The idea was pitched by CBS programming executive Hunt Stromberg Jr. Stromberg but quickly rejected due to budget constraints and frankly, the idea just being plain insane.
In his book, Schwartz recalls Stromberg’s passionate plea, “Just picture it! Gilligan and his pet dinosaur! It’s our answer to ‘Mr. Ed!’”. We can’t say that we see this with the same enthusiasm as Stromberg, but you never know; this might just have been the best (or worst) decision in all of sitcom history.
Gilligan’s actual name might be Willy
In case you haven’t noticed, nobody ever refers to Gilligan as anything other than just Gilligan. Clearly, the first mate has a full name, and Schwartz insists that his full name is Willy Gilligan. The name was apparently chosen almost randomly from a Los Angeles phone directory. So it could very likely have been “Kevin” or “Michael” instead.
Bob Denver, the actor behind the iconic character, asked Schwartz to never refer to Gilligan as Willy and has apparently fully embraced the mystery that is the real and full name of the inept and accident-prone first mate of the S.S. Minnow, Gilligan. Do you think “Willy’s Island” would have made for a less mysterious show?
You can’t compete with Gilligan’s Island
Despite raving fans and the eventual iconic status of the show, not everyone believed in the success of Gilligan’s Island. One of the show’s largest naysayers was actually Jim Aubrey, the then-president of CBS, which produced the show.
For some reason, Jim decided that it would be a good idea to try and compete with Gilligan’s Island by launching a spinoff series based on his original premise for the show of the Bailey family. The family lived at a beach resort and would often find themselves in conflict with their wealthier neighbors. The show was canceled after its first season and Aubrey was fired from the network. Tough break, but that’s what you get when you try to out Gilligan’s Island.
One actress turned the show into a source of passive income (that still works today)
When the original actors signed on, their contracts guaranteed them a certain amount of money per episode plus payment for the first five repeats of each one. Well, Dawn Wells, whose husband was a talent agent at the time, gave her a smart tip that would work in her favor.
The studio happily agreed to this clause because they figured that nobody’s going to watch this show more than 50 years past its original airing time. To our amazement, it seems that the only ones still receiving royalties from the show are the family of the late Sherwood Schwartz and Dawn Wells. This is the kind of stuff that you don’t learn in school, kids.
Production notes from space
For “Gilligan's Planet,” the theme song was recycled from “The New Adventures of Gilligan,” with updated lyrics to explain the new setting. Sherwood Schwartz, who was heavily involved with the “New Adventures” series, was not as involved for the second animated series.
Two of the show's primary writers, Tom Ruegger and Paul Dini, went on to be huge writers in animated television. Ruegger was part of “Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain,” and “Tiny Toon Adventures,” while Dini did a great deal more, including “Batman: The Animated Series.” He was even part of the writing team for several of the Batman Arkham games from Rocksteady, and the show “Freakazoid.”
Natalie Schafer wasn’t just rich in the show
Lovey and Thurston Howell, the millionaire couple, were extremely wealthy in the show. Apparently, the actress Natalie Schafer wasn’t just rich in the show; she was actually extremely wealthy in her real life too. Her investments, particularly those in real estate, had made her a millionaire.
When she died, she left a sizable amount of her fortune to her poodle since she had no children, and the money was to be donated to the Motion Picture & Television Fund hospital after the poodle died. Sources state that most of this fortune was bequeathed to Gilligan’s Island costar Dawn Wells, who essentially had served as Natalie's caretaker during her fight with breast cancer.
Dawn Wells's Singing Was So Bad That She Wasn’t Allowed to Sing
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that nobody’s perfect. We thought that rule was broken by the beautiful and talented Dawn Wells until learning that she was effectively tone deaf and couldn’t sing to save her life. Apparently, her singing was so bad that she was not allowed to join the cast during their group songs (like the time the castaway gang sang “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”.)
In fact, Dawn’s singing was so bad that it actually made everyone else unable to sing on the notes. The production team decided to dub over her singing using the voice of singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon. Her real singing voice was only used once during a season 3 episode "The Second Ginger Grant," where her awful voice was part of the actual plot.
A rescue averted
In one memorable episode, famous actress Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared as a fellow castaway, who was rescued by the Navy at the end of the episode. When asked about whether or not her character, Erika Tiffany Smith, would help rescue the main cast, producers explained that while she had written as many details as she could in her diary, she had written it in Hungarian, which nobody in the Navy could read.
In addition, she had no idea about the exact longitude and latitude of the island. The sailor who had brought her to the island could have told people the location, but he “suffered a major coronary and died.”
Will they ever escape?
One of the most popular theories about the show is that the characters will never get off the island. In fact, they're all dead, and they're in purgatory to work off bad karma. It's common practice to give sitcom characters one of the seven sins (greed, envy, sloth, etc.) and see how they interact, or at least to give them depth.
While this was a fun theory – and the number of characters matches nicely with the number of deadly sins – it was eventually proven to be untrue, as the characters finally got off the island in the second reunion movie. However, we still enjoy watching them fail just because of their sinful faults.
Acting for two
In both of the animated series – “The New Adventures of Gilligan” and “Gilligan's Planet” – the characters of Ginger and Mary Ann are voiced by the same person. In “The New Adventures,” it was actress Jane Webb (pictured below on the left) who provided the voices, as Tina Louise refused to return, and Dawn Wells was busy.
This prompted a change to Ginger, becoming a platinum blonde instead of having Louise's red hair. In “Gilligan's Planet,” Wells was available, so she voiced both of the characters. In addition, in an original live-action episode, Tina Louise plays both Ginger and an identical stranger Eva Grubb.
The wife had a few roles
Bob Denver's wife, Dreama Denver, had a few roles during both the running of the show and the last movie. During the original series, she had a role in a single episode as a cavewoman that had been hiding on the island since prehistoric times.
During “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island,” she reappeared as Lucinda, the overly-punctual secretary for Mrs. Howell. Other than these small roles and an appearance in the TV movie “Scamps,” Dreama didn't act much. She did appear in several episodes of shows like “Entertainment Tonight” about “Gilligan's Island.” She also published a book about her marriage to Bob.
The legacy of the show is still felt by the cast
Even though Gilligan’s Island officially ended almost a decade ago, the now senior stars still find themselves in various situations that remind them just how big of an impact the show had on the entertainment culture. Bob Denver recalls taking his wife out to a fancy dinner restaurant in Chicago. The band for that night was playing classical music. Upon entering the restaurant, they decided to change the score, and suddenly began playing “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island.”
Another funny thing happened in 2001 when Russell Johnson was invited to speak at a biochemical conference in San Francisco (despite not being an actual professor). He recalls meeting 400-500 Ph.D.’s there and in his words, “every one of them was a Gilligan’s Island fan.” It sounds like a spectacular experience.
The hidden purpose of the character’s distinct personalities
It’s not a coincidence that each of the show’s characters has a unique personality, history, and style. Sherwood Schwartz, the show's creator, intended from the beginning to create a diverse cast of characters that would each represent a different relatable part of society, from the rich and successful Thurston Howell to the inventive Professor Roy Hinkley.
The goal of this large difference in characters was to make the show thought-provoking rather than just funny. The dynamics of the cast, their need to find different ways to live together and make the best of the situation was a brilliant plot tool. It made for some extremely funny, but also very deep and rewarding, experiences.
The second animated show
After the relative success of the first animated adaptation of “Gilligan's Island,” the rights' owners decided to take another crack at it, this time creating a show called “Gilligan's Planet.” Once again, the main cast is trapped somewhere with no way off, but this time it's an entire planet.
It was one of the last Saturday morning cartoons to have an adult laugh track, as the practice was falling out of favor. In the show, the professor creates an interplanetary spaceship to get the castaways off the island, making it an official alternate continuity. Their bad luck continues when the ship crashes on another planet.
A long road to climb
Sherwood Schwartz wouldn't give up when it came to pitching the show. Nobody who was part of the original team seemed to like the show, even while filming the pilot. The pilot was rejected by CBS, but Schwartz didn't give up. He plunged ahead despite the negativity, eventually turning the show into one of the most popular comedies of all time.
One documentary about the show revealed the higher-ups had no idea why the show was popular and tried to keep pushing changes onto the cast and crew. One of the most famous examples of these changes was giving Gilligan a pet dinosaur, which thankfully didn't go through.
Remember the nickname ‘Little Buddy’? It wasn’t made for the show
Apparently, the famous nickname “Little Buddy” wasn’t a part of the original script for the show. But if you’ve seen even one episode, you’d know that The Skipper, played by the talented Alan Hale Jr., is a real gushy fellow at heart. Well, after hearing Alan offset, walking around, referring to others by repeatedly using that nickname, Schwartz, the show’s creator, decided to adopt the nickname and write it into the actual show.
In case you’re already an Alan Hale Jr. fan (which of course you are!), you’ve probably already heard him use that nickname in the 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show. That was almost 2 years before Gilligan’s Island was ever even on the air. In the episode called “The Farmer Takes a Wife,” Hale refers to his partner, Barney, as “Little Buddy.” I guess you can say that’s just his catchphrase.
One actor continued acting despite having a broken arm
Speaking of being tough, Alan Hale Jr., who played The Skipper, our favorite strongman captain of the S. S. Minnow, accidentally broke his arm during the filming of a scene when he fell from a coconut tree and missed his landing pad. ouch!
Of course, in addition to finishing the filming that day without saying a word to the crew about his broken arm, the easy-going Hale actually went on the finish the entire season of the show without anyone knowing about his injury. When asked by Schwartz about the incident and how Hale managed to hide his injury, throw coconuts, and lift Bob Denver with his broken arm, Hale responded by simply saying, “It wasn’t easy.” Risky business? Well, that’s show business.
Not everyone wants to become a sex-symbol
When Louise took the part of Ginger, a small-time actress who reminded us of Marilyn Monroe, she was arguably the most attractive of the five castaways on the show. Louise was worried that the role might cause her to be remembered as a sex symbol, which ended up being exactly what happened. Although accomplishing a lot in her career, to this day, the actress is mostly remembered as Ginger Grant.
Despite being limited by her famous role as Ginger, the actress is adored and beloved by her loyal fans, and went on to play jazz, sing, act, write, model, and even become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a lifetime member of the Actors' Studio. She is quoted as saying, "The best movie you'll ever be in is your own life because that's what matters in the end.”
The millionaire was a real Scrooge McDuck
In Gilligan’s Island, Mr. Howell is so wealthy that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and several changes of clothing with him for what was intended to be only their three-hour boat tour in Hawaii. In real life though, Jim Backus, the actor who played Mr. Howell, wouldn’t even bring his wallet to such a ride. It’s been claimed that the actor would often invite his crew to lunch and end up “forgetting” his wallet in the studio.
We all have a friend like that who seems to “forget his wallet” whenever there is a group outing, yet never forgets to collect when someone owes them something... Unlike that friend of ours, towards the end of the show, Schwartz allegedly gave Backus $300 to pay back the staff for the amount he stiffed them for throughout the time filming. Still, that’s definitely not what we’d recommend for the “10 ways to save money this year” section of the NYT.
Schwartz’s legacy lives on
Gilligan’s Island remains in syndication even today, and new versions of the iconic show, such as a musical adaptation, are constantly being made. The show has garnered a large audience of fans in all places. Its influence is worldwide. In Australia, for example, Gilligan’s Island is a massive success, along with The Brady Bunch, another show created by Sherwood Schwartz.
Schwartz’s granddaughter, Juber, has told MeTV.com that she’s still in contact with various daughters and granddaughters of the show’s cast. She is even still in possession of the bronze skipper hat that Alan Hale Jr. gifted to Schwartz as a gesture of immortalizing the now-iconic sitcom.
The first season’s credits didn’t include 2 major characters
During the first season of the show, the opening credits ended with the lyrics, “the moo-vie star,” and a photo of Ginger, with the words, “and also starring Tina Louise as ‘Ginger,’ written at the bottom. The theme song then ended with a rushed, “and the rest.” The reason for this was that Tina Louise’s contract stated no one would follow her name in the credits. We’ve heard of famous Hollywood actors who won't work alongside each other or those who won’t go on set without an outrageous supply of their favorite bottled water brand. But some of these requests seem a little more reasonable than others. For example: having someone pick out only the red M&Ms from an entire bowl for you — definitely a “primadonna” move.
Requesting a drink — acceptable. Having the contract state that you must be the last person whose name is shown when the credits are rolled — you decide. Apparently, Tina Louise found it quite acceptable and even fundamental to playing her role on the show. This caused some problems with the pacing and delivery of the credits, and in the end, the names of Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells were omitted. Bob Denver asked the show’s producers during the show’s second season to make sure they include the 2 actors in the opening credits because their roles were just as important to the show as the rest of the cast.
Gilligan almost became a lion’s lunch — in real life
Playing a character stranded on a deserted island isn’t always fun and games, says Bob Denver. During the shooting for one of the episodes, Gilligan was piling furniture at the door in Howell’s hut to keep a man-eating lion outside. Unfortunately for Denver, it’s hard to feel safe when “even the trainer had claw marks all over him,'' as recalled by Dawn Wells.
This may have been a good time for a stunt man or even a fake Gilligan doll to take over. Due to a malfunction in the equipment, the lion jumped at Denver, only to be tackled by his trainer, who may have saved our beloved Gilligan from turning into a lion’s lunch. When asked about the incident, Denver recalled, “My hair stood on end.” They definitely don’t prepare you for that in acting school.
Dawn Wells got more letters daily than a postal office
Dawn Wells claims that she receives many fan letters to this day. When asked if the rumor that she received 3,000 to 5,000 letters a week from fans was true, she said it’s not as many as that, but still quite a lot more than you might think.
To this day when fans are bowled over their favorite character from Gilligan’s Island, Mary Ann often takes a strong lead. The Kansas-raised character reminds us of the girl-next-door type and will forever be remembered as one of the most beloved women on TV. Sadly, Dawn Wells passed away in December 2020 at 82-years-old.