13+ Things You Didn’t Know About Gilligan’s Island
Here is a frightful tale of a television show that caught the attention of millions of viewers. 51 years ago on September 26, 1964, Gilligan’s Island aired on national television. The show had solid ratings and was a favorite to many. It only had 98 episodes spanning over three seasons. The cast and crew expected to have a fourth season but the show was replaced by another, Gunsmoke, in 1967. The crew never did get off the island and as far as viewers know they’re still there. In its three year run, Gilligan’s Island has a lot of little known facts and secrets. Here are some of them.
It Was Intended To Be A “Metaphorical Shaming Of World Politics.” The creator of Gilligan’s Island, Sherwood Schwartz was a student at New York University when his public speaking professor proposed a question: If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have? Schwartz was was so intrigued by that question that it remained lodged in the back of his mind for many years. After working for some time as a comedy writer for other shows, Schwartz decided to pitch his own idea for a sitcom. Thinking back to that desert island question, he thought having a group of very different individuals stranded on an island would make for an interesting TV show. He intended for the show to be “a metaphorical shaming of world politics.” Schwartz quickly discovered after his first few pitch meetings that his vision did not work well with trying to sell a comedy.
Gilligan’s First Name Is Willy Schwartz received a green light from CBS for the pilot, and went about assembling his cast. He chose the name of the bumbling first mate, Gilligan, from the Los Angeles telephone directory. During the series Gilligan’s first name was never mentioned, but according to Schwartz’s original notes, it was intended to be “Willy.” The actor who played Gilligan, Bob Denver always insisted that Gilligan was the character’s first name.
Schwartz Wanted Jerry Van Dyke To Play Gilligan Jerry Van Dyke is a comedian, actor and younger brother of Dick Van Dyke. Jerry rose to prominence as an actor on the television show Coach. Schwartz’s felt that Jerry would be perfect to play Gilligan was his first choice to play the lead. Upon reading the pilot script Jerry said it was “the worst thing I’d ever read,” and declined the role. Jerry instead signed on to be a part of the short lived show My Mother the Car.
Alan Hale Got To His Audition Via Horseback Alan Hale Jr. is the actor who played The Skipper. The Skipper was the toughest and last character to be cast. Schwartz auditioned dozens of actors, but no one was quite right, he wanted someone strong and commanding, sometimes blustery and short-tempered, but able to show a genuine affection for Gilligan even when smacking him over the head with his hat. Alan Hale Jr. was filming Bullet for a Bad Man in St. George, Utah when he got the casting call for Gilligan and was unable to get time off for a screen test. Instead the role of The Skipper pass him by he had to sneak off set after a day of filming. The determination of Hale to get to his audition is rare. Hale made his way to Los Angeles to read a scene with Bob Denver by riding a horse off the movie set, hitchhiking to the airport, catching a plane, and taxi cab to the audition. He reversed the process after the audition and made it back to Utah just in time to resume filming his western the next day.
The Assassination Of JFK Delayed Production The pilot for the series was filmed over several days in November of 1963. The last day of shooting was scheduled for November 23. Late in the morning on November 22, a crew member ran to the set and announced that he’d just heard on the radio that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. As Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President, it was announced that all military installations, including Honolulu Harbor where the filming was taking place would be closed for the next two days as a period of mourning. Filming was delayed by several days as a result. In the first season the flag on the boat can be seen at half mast.
The Millionaire’s Wife Was Really A Millionaire Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Lovey Howell allegedly only accepted the invitation to play Mrs. Howell because it meant a free trip to Hawaii to film the pilot. It’s not like she needed the free trip because she was a real-life millionaire. During her marriage to actor Louis Calhern, the couple had invested heavily in Beverly Hills real estate at a time when a house on Rodeo Drive could be purchased for $50,000. Schafer had no children so when she died in 1991, Schafer bequeathed a large chunk of her fortune to her favorite teacup poodle, and Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells (Mary Ann), who lived with and helped care for Natalie as she battled breast cancer.
Dawn Wells Still Gets Paid For Gilligan’s Island On top of a large sum of money left to her by Natalie Schafer, Dawn Wells still gets paid for Gilligan’s Island. All of the actors signed contracts that guaranteed them a certain amount of money per original episode plus a residual payment for the first five repeats of each episode. This was a pretty standard contract in 1965, when as a rule most TV shows were only rerun during the summer months as a placeholder between seasons. Syndication was not a standard term or practice during TV production that time. Dawn Wells’ husband and agent at that time Larry Rosen asked for an amendment to the residual clause in her contract. The producers granted it, never thinking the show would still be on the air decades later.
Raquel Welch Auditioned To Be Mary Ann Raquel Welch is an actress and singer. She gained attention for her role in the film Fantastic Voyage. She was one of the most sought after actresses in the 60’s and was a sex symbol. The programming executives at CBS were underwhelmed by the pilot, but it managed to impress three different test audiences enough that they put the series on the fall schedule. Before filming the first episode, they made a few changes to the cast. Three cast members who had tested the “lowest” with audiences had to be replaced. John Gabriel, who played The Professor, a high school science teacher; Kit Smythe, who played Ginger as a secretary, not a movie star; and Nancy McCarthy, who played Bunny, yet another secretary. It was decided to make Ginger an actress, and Bunny was replaced by wholesome farm girl Mary Ann. Raquel Welch auditioned for the revamped part of Mary Ann. For some reason she did not get the part.
Gilligan’s Island is in Hawaii On the television show the crew crashes and is stranded on a deserted island that the world does not know about. In real life Gilligan’s Island is in Hawaii. The show was shot mostly on Ohanu Island in the Kaneohe Bay. It is now the home of the Institute of Marine Biology. Some filming also took place in Honolulu and Kuai.
The Skipper Broke His Arm On Set Alan Hale Jr. who played The Skipper was an old-school “the show must go on” kind of actor. While filming the show Hale broke his right arm when he fell out of a coconut tree for a scene. Hale didn’t tell anyone that he suffered the injury and continued on with filming, even carrying coconuts and picking up Bob Denver all with a broke arm. At the season wrap party Schwartz asked what was wrong with his arm, Hale nonchalantly replied, “Oh, I broke it a few weeks ago.”
Natalie Schafer Did Her Own Stunts Natalie Schafer, was well into her 60’s when Gilligan’s Island was being filmed. Even though she was up in age and a real millionaire who could afford a personal stunt double, Schafer insisted on doing her own stunts. She never complained about jumping into the lagoon or sinking in fake quicksand. In 1965, she told a columnist that she kept in shape by swimming in her backyard pool, in the nude, and by periodically following her special “ice cream diet,” which consisted of eating nothing but one quart of ice cream (spread out over three meals) daily. She would lose three pounds in five days following that regime.
The Millionaire Was a Cheapskate Jim Backus, who played Mr. Howell, was beloved by his cast mates. He was the source of endless jokes and a willing coach to the less experienced actors. He was also notoriously cheap. They say most rich people stay rich by being tight with their money. Backus had that trait of his character mastered. Dawn Wells recalled how during the show’s first season he would often invite her and Natalie Schafer out to lunch, only to realize that he had left his wallet back at the studio when the check came.
The Professor and Mary Ann Weren’t In The Opening Credits In the first season of Gilligan’s Island, the opening credits ended with a picture of Ginger as the singers crooned “the moo-vie star” followed by a hastily added “and the rest.” Tina Louise who played Ginger had a clause in her contract saying that no other names would follow hers in the credits. That left out Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) and Russell Johnson (The Professor) from being mentioned in the opening credits. It was like that for the entire first season, but when the show was renewed for season two, Bob Denver approached the producers and demanded Russell and Dawn’s named be add to the opening credit.
Tension On Set No television or movie set is complete without tension between cast and crew members. On the set of Gilligan’s Island the tension was mainly provided by Bob Denver and Tina Louise. None of the cast really got along with her and they ignored her as she ignored them. Between scenes, while the other six cast mates chat and told jokes together, Louise sat by herself. Denver adamantly refused whenever he was asked to pose for a picture with her, though he eventually gave in to do a photo shoot with her for TV Guide. Part of Louise’s dissatisfaction with the series was that she had expected to be the star of the show. The other cast members did not like her “Hollywood” attitude and refused to acknowledge her.
Bob Denver and the Lion There was on episode that involved a lion that almost didn’t go well for Bob Denver. In the episode Gilligan was supposed to be stuck in Mr. Howell’s hut piling furniture at the door to keep a lion out, all while the lion was already inside. During the scene the lion lunged at Denver. His first reaction was to “karate chop” the lion. Lucky for Denver as the lion began to lunge the platform it was standing on gave way and the trainer was able to tackle the lion in mid-air.