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Friday, January 13, 2012

Gilligan's Island - The 3-Hour Summary...

I have to admit, I am a little bit excited to be able to write about this television show for today. It was always one of my favourite shows growing up, which is sort of surprising, since the show aired almost two decades before I was born. I didn't care though. I loved watching the show very much.

Like many people who are the same age that I am, we watched this show through syndicated cable channels, as we were too young to have caught the original run. In my case, I would watch the show through cable channel TBS, or more recently, on the CTS network here in Canada.

But there was just something innocent and comedic to the whole show. Before 'Survivor' came onto the television scene in 2000, and 'Lost' captivated audiences for six seasons, this was the original 'let's strand some random strangers on a deserted island and capture the hilarity that they face while plotting ways to get back home' kind of show. For three seasons in the mid-1960s, viewers tuned into CBS to watch the trials and tribulations of seven Americans of different occupations and economic backgrounds adjust to life on an island after being shipwrecked.

And, cue the music...

 Ah, yes...Gilligan's Island. The program that originally aired from 1964-1967, and has enjoyed a steady run in syndication ever since. The creator of the show was the late Sherwood Schwartz, who also produced the show “The Brady Bunch”. Ninety-eight episodes were filmed (well, ninety-nine if you count the unaired pilot episode), and the show was one of several that transitioned from black and white television to colour in between seasons one and two.

Anybody who has seen at least one episode of the show knows what it was about. A group of Americans set sail in the S.S. Minnow for what is supposed to be a tour of the Hawaiian Islands. It was only supposed to be a three hour tour.

A three hour tour.

Bad weather in the middle of the ocean proved otherwise though. A storm of epic proportions caused the S.S. Minnow to go wildly off course, and the boat crashed ashore on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, their three hour tour became a lot longer, as the group never did make it off the island by the time the series went off the air in September 1967. It wouldn't be until 1978, when the movie 'Escape From Gilligan's Island' was filmed, that the castaways made it off.

So, the basic plot of almost every episode was for the group to find a way to get off the island and get back home. And in every episode, something would happen that thwarts the plans, and then they would have to find another way to freedom.

So, who are the seven castaways? Well, below, we have a cast photo, and underneath that, a description of the characters in order that they appeared in the opening theme song.

GILLIGAN (Bob Denver) – Gilligan, also referred to as 'Little Buddy' by “The Skipper”, is the crewman of the S.S. Minnow. He also happened to be the most accident prone, bumbling, klutzy person that anybody could have ever seen. Quite a few of the escape attempts that the group had come up with were foiled as a result of Gilligan, whether directly or indirectly.

THE SKIPPER (Alan Hale Jr.) - Captain Jonas Grumby might have been the real name of “The Skipper”, but he ended up getting his nickname by Gilligan. A World War II vet, he and Gilligan became fast friends after Gilligan saved him from a loose depth charge while both served in the United States Navy. The S.S. Minnow was Captain Grumby's boat, and he specifically wanted Gilligan as his crewman. And we all know how that ended up.

MR. HOWELL (Jim Backus) – Thurston Howell III, the multi-billionaire, worth a large fortune. Then came 'The Great Depression', and his status was downgraded to a millionaire. I guess the economy did hit everybody back then, didn't it? He was one of the five tourists on the fateful three-hour tour promised by the S.S. Minnow on its fateful final voyage, along with...

MRS. HOWELL (Natalie Schafer) – Eunice Wentworth Howell (otherwise known as 'Lovey”). Thurston's lovely wife. Although she was more or less spoiled and saw herself in high-esteem, she was always very kind to everyone on the island.

GINGER (Tina Louise) – Ginger Grant, the Hollywood movie starlet that was on the S.S. Minnow. She always managed to look glamourous on the island, and always bragged about all the stars she met or worked with.

THE PROFESSOR (Russell Johnson) – Professor Roy Hinkley was actually a high-school science teacher, not a full-fledged professor. Yet, he was arguably the most intelligent person of the group of seven castaways. He made inventions out of almost anything, and could fashion several methods of making the castaway's lives a little more enjoyable. Too bad he never could quite figure out a way to make a raft or boat strong enough to carry them all to safety, nor could he find a way to repair the S.S. Minnow. If he had, the show probably wouldn't have lasted three seasons...

MARY ANN - (Dawn Wells) – The last of the castaways, Mary Ann Summers was the “Betty Cooper” to Ginger's “Veronica Lodge”. A farm girl from Kansas, Mary Ann was the girl-next-door type character who may have had a bit of a crush on Gilligan. Whenever Gilligan foiled up an escape attempt, Mary Ann was most sympathetic.

I think that what is more fascinating than the show 'Gilligan's Island' is the behind the scenes action that happened when the cameras were turned off. Not that there was a lot of backstage drama or anything of that extent, but there were a lot of changes that happened. The pilot episode was quite different from the eventual show that we all saw. Only four of the seven cast members in the pilot made it to the main program. One character didn't even exist in the pilot. And one cast member was so disgusted by their role in the series, that they refused to appear in any follow-up projects aside from the occasional talk show reunion.

So, like I've done for other blog entries, I thought I'd take a look back by posting a series of bullet points about the trivia of 'Gilligan's Island' that you may or may not have known.

So, let's start off with number one, and see how far we can go, shall we? Oh, this information comes from, the retrospective book 'Here On Gilligan's Isle', and various television interviews that the cast gave over the years.

1 – Of the seven cast members that made up Gilligan's Island, only three are still alive. Russell Johnson, Tina Louise, and Dawn Wells are all alive as of January 2012.

2 – Coincidentally, the four deceased cast members (Denver, Hale, Schafer, and Backus) were the four characters who managed to survive the pilot episode.

3 - The other three castaways were filled in by different actors. John Gabriel was the original Professor. Kit Smythe was the original Ginger. As for Mary Ann, there was no Mary Ann in the pilot. Instead, we had Nancy McCarthy playing the dumb-blonde role of 'Bunny'. Could you imagine Gilligan's Island with a character named 'Bunny' instead of Mary Ann? I know I couldn't.

4 – When the role of Mary Ann was cast, Dawn Wells was up against some stiff competition. Raquel Welch and Pat Priest also tried out for the role. Pat Priest later played the role of Marilyn Munster in 'The Munsters'.

5 – Dawn Wells would also release a cookbook in 1993 called 'Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook'. Bob Denver wrote the foreword prefacing the book.

6 – Jayne Mansfield was under consideration for the role of Ginger.

7 – Tina Louise made it no secret that she despised playing the role of Ginger. According to several reports, she was unhappy that she was not the main focus of the show, and consistently sparred with producers of the program during the show's three year run. She later claimed that appearing on the show caused her career to crash and burn, and as a result, she refused to appear in the following reunion movies.

8 – When Russell Johnson auditioned for the role of the Professor, he was asked by the casting director to remove his shirt. Although Russell refused to do so, he still ended up getting the role anyway.

9 – When Natalie Schafer was cast in the role of Lovey Howell, she was the eldest cast member of the group. Born in 1900, Schafer was sixty-three years old when the show began taping. She was seventeen years older than Jim Backus, who played Mr. Howell. She also refused to make her age public back in those days, so none of the cast and crew really knew how old she was during filming.

10 – Natalie Schafer also had a rather interesting clause in her contract when she starred in 'Gilligan's Island'. The clause stated that she was not to have any extreme close-ups of her filmed in the episode. As a result of this, it was very rare to see Mrs. Howell in a scene all by herself. Take a look at any standard episode of 'Gilligan's Island' and count all the close-up shots of Mrs. Howell. You'd be hardpressed to find any, I'm sure.

11 – The only reason Natalie Schafer took on the role of Mrs. Howell was simply to get a free vacation to Hawaii (since the pilot episode was filmed on location there) She made no secret that she didn't expect the show to last very long, so she took the gig to enjoy the scenery of the Hawaiian Islands. Little did she know...

12 – Jim Backus often ad-libbed many lines on 'Gilligan's Island'.

13 – Jim Backus also used inspiration from another character he played to come up with the perfect Mr. Howell voice. Since Jim voiced the character of Mister Magoo, he borrowed elements of his voice to use for Mr. Howell.

14 – Unlike Tina Louise, who hated her 'Gilligan's Island' role, Alan Hale Jr. absolutely loved playing 'The Skipper'. He loved playing 'The Skipper' so much that when he opened up a lobster restaurant in Los Angeles, California, he would often appear in character to greet the diners!

15 – Alan Hale Jr. and Bob Denver would also film a series of commercials dressed as Skipper and Gilligan to promote the reruns of the show that were airing on TBS. It would be one of the last appearances of Hale in the character of The Skipper before his death in 1990.

16 – Although nobody could see Gilligan being played by anyone other than Bob Denver these days, it's interesting to note that Denver was NOT the producer's first choice to play Gilligan. The role was offered to Jerry Van Dyke (brother of Dick Van Dyke), but he turned it down, saying that there was no way that the show would be successful. In a twist of irony, Van Dyke later took on the lead role in the sitcom 'My Mother The Car', which barely eked out a one season run.

17 – One mystery of the show was the real name of Gilligan. Sherwood Schwartz had anways intended for the name of the character to be Willy Gilligan. Bob Denver had told various talk show hosts that he had assumed that his character's name was Gil Egan. In the unaired pilot episode, Lovey supposedly referred to Gilligan as 'Stewart', but it could have also been misheard as 'steward'.

18 – The original Gilligan pilot was filmed in November 1963. The filming concluded on November 22, 1963, which was the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. If you look closely at the opening credits of the first season of the show, you might notice an American flag at half-staff as the S.S. Minnow is heading out to sea.

19 – The show was taped in Studio City, Los Angeles, California at the CBS Radford Studios complex. Other shows that would tape on the lot were 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'Roseanne'. The latter of which did a Gilligan's Island spoof where the main characters of Roseanne each portrayed a character on the show. During the closing credits, Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, Tina Louise, and Russell Johnson did the same thing, playing the roles of the people who played them. You can see that guest appearance HERE.

20 – Four different boats were used to represent the S.S. Minnow on the television show. The name S.S. Minnow was inspired by the then chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, who issued a statement that television was 'a vast wasteland'. Gee, if he felt that way back then, imagine him tuning into an episode of 'Jersey Shore' or '16 And Pregnant'.

21 – The cancellation of Gilligan's Island in 1967 was sudden, and left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people, just because it was so last minute. When the third season concluded in April 1967, the show went into reruns for the summer hiatus. During that time, the show still managed to do well, and Sherwood Schwartz was assured that a fourth season was going to be greenlighted by CBS. But then network president William S. Paley was under pressure from fans of 'Gunsmoke' (a show teetering on cancellation in 1967) to save the show. So, as a result, 'Gunsmoke' was given the timeslot 'Gilligan's Island' aired in, and the show was cancelled while most of the cast was on vacation.

22 – A reality television series based on the program started to air on TBS in November 2004. “The Real Gilligan's Island' took two teams of seven, with each team member representing a character from the show. In a brilliant move of casting, the characters job occupations matched the occupations of the characters. The 'Mary Anns' really were farm girls, the 'Gilligans' were actual crew members of boats, and in the case of the 'Gingers', they were played by actresses. In the first season, the Gingers were played by Rachel Hunter and Nicole Eggert.

23 – One long standing question that people have debated in regards to the series is which woman people preferred. Ginger or Mary Ann? The debate continues to rage on today. As for me, I'm definitely on Team Mary Ann.

24 – The United States Coast Guard actually received telegrams from concerned citizens begging them to send out a search party to rescue Gilligan and the others from the island! Those telegrams were later forwarded to Sherwood Schwartz for him to answer.

25 – There was a Gilligan's Island video game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. It's incredibly hard to find these days, but I managed to play the game when I was a kid. Admittedly, it wasn't the best game out there, but I liked it, despite the lack of Ginger and the terrible game controls. See a clip of the video game below.

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