Baby Boomers

Gilligan’s Island, the Real Life Cartoon Trivial Revelations

T.R.A.S.H.– “Trivial Revelations of a Sick Human-Being.”

One day, many years ago, in a public speaking class at New York University, a professor had students compose an impromptu one-minute speech on this topic: If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have?

Sherwood Charles Schwartz was a student in that class, and the question so intrigued him that it remained lodged in the back of his mind for many years.

In 1963 he created an iconic real-life cartoon-like television program that took place on such an island.

Seven people, including Willy Gilligan,  set sail on a scheduled three-hour sightseeing tour on the charter boat the S.S.Minnow.

The 37-foot 1960 Wheeler Express Cruiser was caught in a storm and they end up stranded on an uncharted tropical island together.

The pilot episode differed greatly from the final product. Most notably, the characters included “two secretaries” and a “high school teacher,” as the wildly different theme song announced. The pilot, titled “Marooned,” was so different, it was not aired at the time, though it eventually hit television in 1992.

The comedy comes from the failed attempts at escaping the island and the interaction of the very diverse group: comprised of a rotund but happy-go-lucky skipper, Jonas Grumby (known as “The Skipper” ); his bumbling but well-meaning first mate, Gilligan; a snobby well-to-do millionaire, Thurston Howell III and his wife, Lovey; a buxom sexy movie star bombshell, Ginger; a high-school science professor, Roy Hinkley (called “The Professor” ); and a nice country girl, Mary Ann.

The marooned were on Gilligan’s Island for almost three years, from September 26, 1964 to April 17, 1967. However, to this day, the series has never missed a day on television reruns in syndication around the world.

Schwartz, who later produced The Brady Bunch, also wrote the theme song The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island.

Jerry Van Dyke was offered the Gilligan role but turned it down because he thought it would flop. He was more interested in being a primary star like his brother Dick–and not competing with an ensemble cast.  The next year he chose to star in My Mother the Car.

Hollywood bombshell Jayne Mansfield was offered the Ginger role.

Carroll O’Connor, later ‘Archie Bunker’ of All in the Family fame, auditioned to play the Skipper. Sherwood Schwartz said in several interviews O’Connor wanted the role desperately but was never considered he was heavy but not powerfully built.

Dabney Coleman tried hard for the role of the Professor but was just too young.

Raquel Welch auditioned to play Mary Ann. 

The seven castaways who could never get off the island was conceived as a star vehicle for Bob Denver, a young actor who became immensely popular on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as Maynard G. Krebs.  Denver played the character, Gilligan.

The Colorado capital was named for James William Denver, the great-great-grandfather of Bob Denver.

When Sherwood first pitched the series to Jim Backus, famous as the voice of the cartoon character ‘Mr. Magoo,’ “his description of the series sounded so ridiculous, I figured it couldn’t miss.”

“We succeeded against some of the worst reviews of all time,” Backus recalled. “They weren’t reviews, really; they were character assassinations. What the reviewers didn’t realize was that our show was a put-on. Critics were accustomed to the Ozzie and Harriet/Donna Reed Show sort of thing. They took us literally.”

Backus and Schafer

Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) recalled how during the show’s first season, Backus  would often invite her and Natalie “Lovey”  Schafer out to lunch. But soon they began to realize that he had left his wallet back at the studio when the check came. Before the cast departed for summer hiatus after the wrap party, Schafer presented Backus with a bill for a little over $300—the total he owed for all those meals.

Mary Ann

One of the castaways was Ginger, a gorgeous movie star, played by actress Tina Louise. The statuesque actress had appeared with Denver in the summer surf flick For Those Who Think Young. The teen comedy also featured Nancy Sinatra and Ellen Burstyn. But she did NOT want to do television which in the 1960s was considered bush league and a career killer.

But her agent explained to her that the show was written around her and she would be the star.

She signed, and then was surprised to find that she didn’t have the bulk of the lines, in fact the scripts were predominantly about Bob Denver’s character.

She got little sympathy from her costars or the producers. During breaks she would often retreat by herself away from the others.

At one point she walked off the set after being told by Schwartz, “You knew that the show was called Gilligan’s Island-didn’t you have a clue?”

She was the only cast member that didn’t return for the TV movie where they get rescued.

She was replaced in later TV movies by Judith Baldwin (Rescue from Gilligan’s IslandThe Castaways on Gilligan’s Island) and Constance Forslund (The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island).

T.R.A.S.H.– “Trivial Revelations of a Sick Human-Being.” In journalism school at Texas State University (Southwest Texas State in the late 1970s), my University Star weekly column, T.R.A.S.H., won state and national awards in collegiate competitions. A fan of trivia, CleverJourneys will feature some occasionally.

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