Facts About Gilligan's Island That Even The Biggest Fans Don't Know
By Patricia Tena
eventApril 19, 2017
Gilligan's Island is a television series that will be talked about for centuries to come. The show was the first of its kind -- people from all different walks of life stranded together on a desert island with no one to depend on but each other. But many things happened behind the scenes of this iconic series that make it that much more intriguing for fans and new watchers alike. Take a journey back in time and find out the shocking details of your favorite show, but try not to get stranded like these castaways.NEXT »
Tina Louise Blames The Show For The Downfall Of Her Career
Since the television series was a hit, you would think that all the cast mates would be thankful for their breakout roles, right? But for Tina Louise who played the role of "Ginger," that couldn't be further from the truth. Louise didn't join her fellow cast mates in any of their spinoff characters, opting to focus on more serious roles. Apparently, Louise had a history of disagreeing with Gilligan's Island producers and even claimed the show ruined her career as a serious actress.
The Professor And Mary Ann Are Uncredited In The First Season
In the first season of the show, you may have noticed that Russell Johnson (The Professor) and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) weren't listed in the opening credits - which ended in "and also starring Tina Louise as 'Ginger.'" Apparently, this was due to a clause in Louise's contract stating that nobody would follow her in the credits. But once the series renewed for a second season, Bob Denver petitioned that Johnson and Wells' names be added to the credits since their characters were just as important as everyone else's.
The S.S. Minnow's Name Came From The Head Of The FCC
The S.S. Minnow - the ship that the seven castaways were traveling on, was jokingly named after Newton Minow who was chairman of the FCC at the time. Minow made a speech referring to television as "America's Vast Wasteland," so the show's creators felt that it was only an appropriate name to give the beached ship. Producer Sherwood Schwartz insisted that Minow "ruined television."
A College Professor Inspired Sherwood Schwartz
Producer Sherwood Schwartz was sitting in a public speaking class at New York University when Gilligan's Island first came to mind. The professor assigned the students to prepare a one-minute speech in response to the following topic: If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have? This question intrigued Schwartz so much that he never forgot the question - and years later he pitched the idea of the show.
Six Actresses Played The Role Of Ginger
The role of Ginger proved not only to be difficult to cast but to keep as well. While actress Kit Smythe originally played Ginger in the show's pilot, Tina Louise ultimately fulfilled the role of the fiery red-headed "movie star" - but she often had issues while playing the part. Since Louise refused to act in any reprisals of the series, Judith Baldwin replaced Louise as "Ginger" in Gilligan's Island movie spin-offs.
The Actor Who Played The Millionaire Was A Cheapskate
Actor Jim Backus played the role of Mr. Howell and was beloved by the entire Gilligan's Island cast - he had an incredible sense of humor and even offered to coach some of his less-experienced coworkers. However, ironically enough, Backus was notoriously cheap. Dawn Wells recalled that Backus would sometimes invite her and a friend to lunch, but would "mysteriously" remember that he left his wallet back at the studio.
The JFK Assassination Played A Role In Production
The filming of the show's pilot took place on the island of Kauai in Hawaii over the course of several days in November of 1963. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 - and the last day of shooting for the show just so happened to be the next day. As Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President, he announced that all military installations would close for the next two days as a period of mourning. As a result, the show finished filming several days later than planned.
JFK's Assassination Is The Reason For The Half-Mast Flag
Since the pilot finished filming a few days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the entire country was in mourning during that time. If you pay close attention to the beginning of each Gilligan's Island episode, you'll notice that in the opening credits you'll see the American flag flying at half-mast along the shore - just as the S.S. Minnow cruises the harbor.
Alan Hale Prepared For The Audition While On Horseback
Since it was an extremely tough role, "Skipper" was the final character to be cast in Gilligan's Island. After Schwartz had auditioned, dozens of actors for the role, Alan Hale received a casting call for the show. However, Hale was in the middle of filming "Bullet for a Bad Man" in St. George Utah at the time - so he rode a horse to the highway, and hitchhiked to the airport to catch a flight out to Los Angeles to read a scene with Bob Denver.
Jerry Van Dyke Was Meant To Play Gilligan
Believe it or not, Schwartz originally wanted actor Jerry Van Dyke to play the leading role of Gilligan. But after reading the pilot script, Van Dyke exclaimed that it was "the worst thing I'd ever read," and opted for the lead in the short-lived My Mother The Car instead. According to an interview with Popdose, Van Dyke stated that it was good that he ended up turning down the role because he would have "been forever known as Gilligan."
The Professor's Costume Originally Showed Midriff
When Russell Johnson auditioned for the role of "The Professor," he was asked to take off his shirt. But Johnson stood his ground and refused to show any skin, and still managed to get the part. Just goes to show that the producers thought he was the perfect fit for the role - midriff or not. Good for you, Russell.
Gilligan's First Name Was Willy
Funny enough, Schwartz chose the name "Gilligan" for leading role with the help of a Los Angeles telephone directory. However, it was meant to be his last name - Schwartz claims that he had "Willy" written down as the first name in his original notes. But that never stopped Bob Denver from insisting that his character's first name was in fact, Gilligan. Schwartz says that he and Denver used to argue over the topic.
Natalie Schafer Performed Her Own Stunts
The actress who played Mrs. Lovey Howell, Natalie Schafer, was in her mid-60s during the time Gilligan's Island's was filming - but that didn't stop her from doing the majority of her own stunts. Whether it was jumping into the lagoon or sinking in fake quicksand, Schafer always insisted that she act it out - and reportedly never complained.
The Skipper's Real Name Was Jonas Grumby
Although his name was never mentioned throughout the Gilligan's Island series, the character "The Skipper" did, in fact, have a real name - Jonas Grumby. But, the pilot episode was just about the only time you hear his full name mentioned. Jonas also had a back story, too - his background included serving in both Kennedy and McHale's Navy.
The Skipper Broke His Arm After Falling Out Of A Coconut Tree
Alan Hale reportedly fell out of a coconut tree for a scene missing the crash pads and smashed his right arm into the stage, breaking his arm. However, Hale believed that "the show must go on" and never even mentioned the injury until a few weeks later at the season one wrap party when he stated that since filming concluded, he could tend to his arm.
The Actress Who Played The Millionaire's Wife Was Rich
Actress Natalie Schafer was perfect for the role of millionaire Mrs. Lovely Howell more than we knew - ironically enough, Schafer truly was rich. Allegedly, the only reason Schafer accepted the invitation to play the role of Mrs. Lovely Howell was that it meant a free trip to Hawaii. At the time, her husband was actor Louis Calhern, and they invested their money quite well.
Raquel Welch Originally Auditioned For The Role Of Mary Ann
Although the pilot of Gilligan's Island didn't amaze CBS executives, it still managed to impress three different test audiences - so much that the show made it to the fall season lineup. However, CBS made a few requests - including replacing the actors that tested the "lowest" with audiences. One of the actors to get the cut was Raquel Welch who auditioned for the role of "Mary Ann." Apparently, something about Welch just didn't scream "girl next door."
Mary Ann's Skirt Brought In Some Big Money
Apparently, Mary Ann's attire had some pretty big fans - years ago at a Beverly Hills auction house, a skirt worn by Dawn Wells was auctioned off for an astounding $20,000! Although, there's no surprise there since "Mary Ann" was known for her "girl next door" appearance on Gilligan's Island and a huge fan favorite.
Mrs. Howell Was A Bit Older Than Her TV Hubby
It's not a big deal to Gilligan's Island fans, but apparently, actress Natalie Schafer who played the role of Mrs. Lovely Howell was 13-years older than her on-screen husband, Jim Backus. Schafer continually refused to tell the cast or producers her age, but it doesn't make a difference seeing as she was the perfect fit for the millionaire's wife and played the role amazingly.
The Island Was Probably 250 Miles From Hawaii
Almost all Gilligan's Island fans knew that the shipwrecked S.S. Minnow probably left the castaways off of Hawaii somewhere, but have you ever thought about the exact location? Allegedly, if the seven characters of the series were truly stranded, it would've been about 250 miles southeast of Hawaii - on an uncharted island, which doesn't sound too bad.
Dawn Wells Is The Only Cast Member That Still Gets Paid
All of the Gilligan's Island actors signed contracts guaranteeing that they would receive a certain amount of money per original episode, plus a residual payout for the first five repeats of each episode. While this was a pretty standard agreement at the time, Dawn Wells' then-husband, Larry Rosen - who happened to be a talent agent, advised her to make an amendment to the residual clause in the contract. The producers agreed, and decades later she's still being paid for reruns.
The Wellingtons Sang The Show's Theme Song
The infamous first version of the Gilligan's Island theme song, "The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle," was sung by the folk singing group The Wellingtons. The group was also responsible for the Davy Crockett theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crocket." It certainly appears that The Wellingtons knew a thing or two about recording catchy television theme songs at the time.
And They Made An Appearance As The Mosquitoes
Before moving on from The Wellingtons, did you know they really made an appearance on an episode of Gilligan's Island? If you remember correctly, a band washed up to shore and went by the name of The Mosquitoes. It seems only fair that the group made it onto the television show after crafting that catchy theme song!
The Lagoon Wasn't Filmed On An Island
Sure, this probably seems a bit obvious - but throughout the series, it really seems believable that they are trapped on an island! Gilligan's Island's filming took place at an exclusive studio in Studio City, California. CBS had the lagoon set built especially for the television show, but the location did prove to be a bit troublesome for filming - such as noisy Ventura Freeway traffic.
The City Of Denver Was Named After One Of Bob Denver's Relatives
Yes, this is true - the city of Denver, Colorado was in fact named after Gilligan's Island actor Bob Denver's great-great-grandfather, James William Denver. How cool is that? You go, Gilligan! But, not to be confused - Bob Denver's ancestor has no relation to John Denver, who is known for his stage name.
How The Show Got Its Name Is Surprising
Many people believe that the show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, paid homage to someone in his family with the name Gilligan's Island, but that is not the case at all. Schwartz picked the name while scrolling through a phone book at random and landed on the name "Gilligan." Luckily, the name has an easy-to-remember ring to it, making the television series stick with viewers for years to come.
Lovey Howell Doubted The Pilot
Natalie Schafer, the actress who played Mrs. Lovey Howell in the series, was not a fan of the show's pilot at all. Schafer took the job for easy money and a free vacation but was apprehensive about what the success of Gilligan's Island would be. She was reportedly very upset that CBS network decided to pick up the pilot and run with it for a few season.
Some Viewers Thought The Castaways Needed Help
The United States Coast Guard received quite a few letters from viewers asking them to look for the unchartered island and rescue the stranded "castaways." Apparently, there were not enough clues for the audience to figure out the actors were just that: actors. It's difficult to imagine where the viewers though the footage had been coming from, but it's nice to know they cared about the well-being of the cast!
There's A Reason Why Skipper Puts Up With Gilligan
It's a wonder why Skipper tolerated Gilligan's buffoonery so much considering he's always reminding him of his "dumb" ideas. The two characters even bunk together in the same thatched hut! The story goes Gilligan actually saved Skipper's life on a destroyer during World War II, so Skipper owes him one. We suppose that's why he puts up with the silly banter from the hammock above.
Ginger Was A Bit Of A Diva
Actress Tina Louise was a diva on the set in more ways than one. Louise didn't get along with the rest of the cast because she expected to be the star of the series, not part of the ensemble. She said time and time again that the role "ruined her chances of becoming a sophisticated actress," and didn't care that the other cast members would ignore her between takes. She would ignore them too!
The Director Described The Show As A 'Social Microcosm'
In the book Gilligan's Island: From Creation to Syndication, Sherwood Schwartz described his idea that the island would be a "social microcosm and a metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, yes we can all get along." Re-watching the series with that concept in mind will give you a whole new mindset to what Schwartz was going for!
Wells And Johnson Embraced Their Creditless First Season
We know that after the first season of Gilligan's Island actor Bob Denver insisted the rest of the cast receive credits, and not just him, but what we didn't know is how it made Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson feel. Allegedly the two embraced the fact that they didn't have credits during the first season and even sent each other cards that said, "Love, and the rest."
There Was A Secret Plan To Add A Dinosaur To The Cast
There was a time where Sherwood Schwartz considered having a dinosaur as part of the cast of Gilligan's Island. The plot was supposed to surround Gilligan finding this dinosaur somewhere on the island and taking it in as a pet. The idea never made it to the actors, as Schwartz wasn't a huge fan of the idea and because the budget restraints didn't allow for it.
Mary Ann Received Many Proposals From Fans
Mary Ann was a fan-favorite on Gilligan's Island and her character, not the actress who played her, received tons of fan mail. Wells received anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 letters a week when she played Mary Ann and many of the men who wrote to her proposed! One "loyal" fan has been writing her for 35 years and even reminded her of their "anniversary," which is the date he first started to write her.
Bob Denver Almost Died On Set
Bob Denver almost died on the set of Gilligan's Island when a lion lunged at him! His immediate reaction was to do something funny -- he did play Gilligan after all! A lion from one of the scenes was standing on a pair of twin beds and lunged at Denver. His reaction was to karate chop the lion in a panic, but the trainer luckily stepped in just in time.
The Show Was Meant To Be A Metaphor
The show's theme was originally meant to be a metaphorical shaming of the world's politics at that time. The island was considered to be a "social microcosm and a metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, year, we can all get along," Schwartz explained in his book "Inside Gilligan's Island: From Creation to Syndication."
The Lagoon Was Filmed Next To A Highway
The lagoon was filmed next to a busy highway, which caused major sound issues for producers. Many scenes had to be redone when trucks would drive by the set because it would interfere with the actors reciting their lines. "I think the sound guys had a hard time with it," Dawn Wells said. "I don't know how you would filter that out while we're speaking."
Mary Ann And The Professor Were Originally Extras
Mary Ann and the professor were originally considered to be extras in the show, regardless of how many lines they both had. This was the reason they were referred to as "the rest" in the original opening credits, but that problem was fixed after the first season. It's funny to consider these two extras in Gilligan's Island considering how much they impact the series.
The Skipper Left A Lasting Impact On Cast Members
Alan Hale Jr., who played the Skipper on Gilligan's Island, was diagnosed with thymus cancer. He passed away at the young age of 71, and Bob Denver took his death very personally. Denver said he felt like he had lost his father, even though Hale Jr. was only 14-years older than him. His ashes were scattered in the ocean.
Mary Ann Or Ginger?
The debate between whether people prefer Mary Ann or Ginger is a debate that still takes place today. Mary Ann is considered to be the girl next door and the girl you take home to mom, but Ginger was considered to be the wild one who will fulfill all of your fantasies. It's all a matter of preference, people!
Tina Louise Took On More Serious Roles
Although many of her cast mates on Gilligan's Island went on to pursue their spinoff shows, Tina Louise, who played Ginger, went on to take on more serious roles. At the age of 79, Louise is still active in the world of acting and is even working on projects today! Sadly, many of her cast mates have passed away.
Dawn Wells Today
Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, went on to have an impeccable acting career. She didn't want to be one of those celebrities who never went on to do anything different and she knew she wanted to continue acting and that's exactly what she did. However, she was busted for marijuana while driving.
Jim Backus Post 'Gilligan's Island'
Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III, had an extensive acting career after Gilligan's Island. Sadly, he passed away from pneumonia in 1989 at age 76. He was best known for his voice-over work in Mr. Magoo, but will forever be remembered for his work on the island. Sadly, many of his cast mates have passed away.
Natalie Schafer Post 'Gilligan's Island'
Natalie Schafer, who played Eunice Lovelle Wentworth Howell on Gilligan's Island, died at 90-years-old in 1991 of cancer. She lived a long life after Gilligan's Island and even guest-starred on many television shows such as The Brady Bunch, Phyllis, and CBS' Search For Tomorrow.
Bob Denver Post 'Gilligan's Island'
Bob Denver passed away in 2005 from cancer at age 70. After filming Gilligan's Island, Bob Denver starred in the comedy Who's Minding the Mint?, The Good Guys, and Love, American Style and Dusty's Trails. He also was the voice over for Gilligan in the television movies and the animated series.