The 98th—and final—episode of Gilligan’s Island was broadcast on April 17, 1967. Though never a critical favorite, the show had a solid following and similar to the Brady Bunch, became a TV classic after its heyday. It had every intention of continuing for a fourth season, but, unfortunately, CBS had to make room for Gunsmoke the favorite show of Babe Paley, wife of network president William Paley. Ah well, even 54 years after the premiere, we continue to love those seven castaways… even though we still wonder why they just didn’t build a damn boat! In celebration of this hilarious show, we dug deep to find secrets about the cast and crew and are revealing them just for you!
The lagoon was filmed next to a busy highway, which led to a lot of sound problems. Many scenes had to be redone when trucks would drive by. “I think the sound men had kind of a hard time with it,” Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann, said. “I don’t know how you would filter that out while we were speaking.” This distraction apparently delayed filming the show. “We had to stop several times because you’d hear trucks go by,” Wells added.
Mary Ann and the professor were initially considered extras which is why they were omitted from the opening. In the first season’s credits, both Russell Johnson (who played the professor) and Wells were only referred to as “the rest” because the two joined after the pilot had aired. But after the first season, Bob Denver, who played Gilligan, fixed the situation. “Gilligan insisted that there were seven people on the island and took it to the producer and they changed the credits,” Wells said. Afterward, it became a joke. Wells and Johnson embraced it and “always sent each other cards [that said] ‘Love, and the rest,’” said Wells.
There was a secret plan to add an animated dinosaur to the show. The creator of “Gilligan’s Island,” Sherwood Schwartz, wrote in his book, Inside Gilligan’s Island, that in a meeting with CBS programming executive Hunt Stromberg Jr., he pitched the idea of the Gilligan finding a dinosaur and then taming it to keep as a pet. “Just picture it!” Schwartz recalled Stromberg saying. “Gilligan and his pet dinosaur! It’s our answer to ‘Mr. Ed.’” Stromberg hated the idea though and it never came to reality.
Wells was rumored to receive between 3,000 to 5,000 fan letters a week when she played Mary Ann. “I’d say some of the fans stretched their imagination quite a bit. It’s a very interesting thing with men because they follow you,” she said. One fan recently wrote to her to remind her of their anniversary (he’d been writing her for 35 years.) “I get proposed to all the time,” Wells added.
Bob Denver almost died on the set when a lion lunged at him during shooting one day. Gilligan was supposed to be stuck in the Howell’s hut, barricading furniture at the door to keep a lion out, when in actuality, the lion was already inside the hut with him. When Gilligan was supposed to notice the lion inside the hut, the lion lunged at him. Denver’s immediate reaction was to “karate chop” at the lion. As the lion lunged, the twin beds split apart and the trainer tackled the lion mid-air. “Even the trainer had claw marks all over him,” Wells remembered. As Denver once recalled, “my hair stood on end.”
When Alan Hale Jr. (The Skipper) died at 71 in 1990 following a battle with thymus cancer, Bob Denver said he “felt like he had lost his father” despite the fact that Alan was only 14 years older. Similarly, Bob died of throat cancer in 2005 at age 70. Alan’s ashes were scattered at sea. “It’s what ‘The Skipper’ would have wanted,” a source said.
Have you ever wondered how the show’s idea came about? A professor at New York University had students compose an impromptu one-minute speech on the topic “If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have?” Sherwood Schwartz was a student in that class, and the question remained with him for many years. When pitching the idea, Schwartz wrote, “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,” as explained in Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication.
People have long speculated what Gilligan’s first or last name was. According to Schwartz’s original notes, it was intended to be “Willy.” However, Bob Denver always insisted that “Gilligan” was the character’s first name. “Almost every time I see Bob Denver we still argue,” Schwartz once admitted. “He thinks Gilligan is his first name, and I think it’s his last name. Because in the original presentation, it’s Willy Gilligan. But he doesn’t believe it, and he doesn’t want to discuss it. He insists the name is Gilligan.”
Bob Denver wasn’t the original pick for the character of Gilligan, Jerry Van Dyke was. However, Van Dyke said that the pilot script was “the worst thing I’d ever read.” He doesn’t regret the decision saying, “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!”
The millionaire’s wife was a real-life 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. She and her then-husband, Louis Calhern, invested heavily in Beverly Hills real estate at a time when a house in the neighborhood only cost around $50,000. When she died in 1991, Schafer left a large chunk of her fortune to her poodle (she had no children), with instructions for that money to be donated to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital after the dog’s death.
Allen Hale had one of the most interesting routes to audition for the part of Skipper. He was filming a Western in Utah for Bullet for a Badman when he was contacted to read for the role of the character. The producers refused to let him leave the set so, on the morning of his audition, Alan snuck out. He rode one of the film’s horses to the nearest main road, hitchhiked to a Las Vegas airport, and hopped a flight to Los Angeles and returned to Utah before anyone noticed.
A few months after the show aired, the U.S. Coast Guard requested to meet with Sherwood Schwartz about mail they were receiving. Apparently, many viewers believed the show to be real and were asking the Coast Guard why they weren’t rescuing the castaways. “Now who did [these viewers] think was laughing at what was happening to these people?” Schwartz later joked in a 1997 interview with the Archive of American Television. “Where did they think the music came from, and the commercials?”
According to Russell Johnson, when he first auditioned for the role of The Professor, the producers insisted that he would take his shirt off in front of the camera. He declined again and again, and at the end got the part without filming even one shirtless scene.
The final episode of “Gilligan’s Island” ended with the castaways still on the island, awaiting rescue.
The lagoon you kept seeing on the TV show was not real. It was a small backyard pool that was built on the CBS lot. In 1995 the pool was destroyed and the space was turned into an employee parking lot.
According to the show’s writers, when they first came up with the name Gilligan, they intended it to be the character’s last name. When asked what was the character’s first named, they answered Willy.
While vacationing the Solomon Islands, Wells and some friends canoed to a remote island nearby. The island had no basic facilities like electricity or even running water, but once Wells step foot there, she was immediately recognized as Mary Ann.
When the producer met with Alan Hale, they were down to the final candidates. They did not think they would ever be able to find the right skipper in time, and then came Alan Hale. Hale was so good, he got the part on the spot.
According to a few set visitors, Tina Louise did not associate herself with the rest of the cast. Whenever the cast would talk together or eat lunch, Louise would be sitting at the other corner of the room, alone. A part of this can be explained by the fact that when she first signed on to do the show, she was told she would be the main actress.
The set of the island was so close to a highway, on some days they had to shut down productions so the noise won’t get caught by the microphones.
Schafer was in her mid-60s when she played the character of Mrs. Howell on the show, but that didn’t stop her from doing her own stunts. If the script called for Mrs. Howell to drown in quicksand or jump into the lagoon, Schafer would do that without any hesitations.
Jim Backus who played Mr. Howell was beloved by his castmates. He was an endless source of jokes and a willing coach to less experienced actors on how to adlib or “punch a line.” He was also well known for being cheap. Dawn Wells recalls in her novel What Would Mary Do? A Guide To Life that he would often invite her and Natalie Schafer out to lunch…only to realize that he had misplaced his wallet or left it back at the studio when the check came. Before the cast left on summer hiatus, he presented Schafer with a $300 check to pay her back for all the meals he had skipped out on.
Sadly, the idea was scrapped in order to make room for ‘Gunsmoke’ after the cast had already purchased homes in the Los Angeles area in preparation for the fourth season. Maybe they finally would have been rescued!
In real life, Natalie Schafer was a millionaire with a known extravagant lifestyle even before the show aired its first episode. Schafer was married to Louis Calhern, and the two had a profitable real estate business in Beverley Hills. When she passed she left most of her money to her dog. After he passed, most of her money was donated to hospitals in the Los Angeles area.
In the show, the viewers knew the Skipper as Skipper, and it seems as though the audience never hears his first name. However, if you listen closely, the Skipper does actually say his name during the very first episode that aired in 1964. His full name was Jonas Grumby. When Alan died, his ashes were scattered around the sea. A source claims “it’s what the skipper would have wanted”.
The first theme song for “Gilligan’s Island“ was twice as long and had a Calypso style tune. We wish we could have heard it.
The pilot episode was extremely different than the ending product. In the original pilot, there were “two secretaries” and a “high school teacher” as was mentioned in the original and wildly different theme song. The original pilot was entitled “marooned” and it didn’t see air time until 1992.
Alan Hale was an old school actor and his motto was “the show must go on”. Schwartz recalled speaking to Hale at one of the wrap parties and Hale exclaimed that he was happy filming was over so he could take care of his arm. When Schwartz asked what was wrong with his arm, he replied, “Oh, I broke it a few weeks ago”. He explained that three weeks prior he had missed the crash pads when he fell out of the coconut tree for a scene and smashed his right arm into the stage. He decided not to seek medical treatment because he did not want to disrupt filming.
Remember the ship “Minnow”? It was actually called after Federal Communications Commission president Newton Minnow, who had some harsh words on the role of television shows in our lives. Schwartz hated him so much, he needed to find a way to get payback. We think he did it.
Schwartz really wanted Jerry Van Dyke to play the role of Gilligan, but after one look at the script, Van Dyke said it was “the worst thing I’d ever read.”
During the show’s original testing, test audience members did not respond well to the character of Mary Ann (who was originally named Bunny). The writers changed the character to a “girl next door” type and auditioned the young Raquel Welch. Sadly for Welch, she was deemed “too sexy” for the show. Welch went on to work on the wildly successful television show, Charlie’s Angels.
Although Tina Louise played the starlet perfectly, Louise was not exactly enamored with the role. In spin-offs and sequels, other actresses stepped in to play Ginger. Kit Smythe played Ginger in the pilot, though initially, the character was a secretary. After Louise stepped away from the island forever, she was replaced by Judith Baldwin in the TV movies and Constance Forslund. In the animated version of Gilligan’s Island, Dawn Wells took on the rolls of both Mary Ann AND Ginger!
According to online polls, Mary Ann is the favored character, followed by Gilligan, and poor Mrs. Howell was voted the least favorite.
Schwartz wanted to keep the show going, with the characters moving in together to the same neighborhood. Sadly, CBS president Jim Aubrey didn’t really like the idea.
In the acting world, the fourth wall is the space between an actor and the camera crew or audience. The Skipper was well known for “breaking the fourth wall” and for looking directly at the camera and making a face.
About 22 seconds into the opening credits of first-season, the U.S. Flag can be seen flying at half-staff off in the distance. This is because the show’s pilot episode finished filming on November 22, 1963, which happened to be the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. Soon after, it was announced that all military installations (including Honolulu Harbor where the show was filmed) would be closed for the next two days as a period of mourning. Filming was delayed by several days as a result.
As seen in the last slide, during the filming of the pilot episode at the Honolulu Harbor, news came over the radio the JFK has been shot in Dallas. When Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn as the President, he ordered every military installation to be shut down. Because they could not film at the harbor, the producers decided to close shop for several days. If you look carefully in the opening credits, you can see the American flag flying half-mast.
When show’s head writer attended college, he was inspired by 2 simple questions: What would you take with you to a deserted island? and why? According to him, he was fascinated by the idea of watching people communicate and exchange goods in a tiny environment. The way you live your life is ruled by politics, but what happens when all the old rules are thrown out the window and you must find new ones? That’s how “Gilligan’s Island” was born.
During the initial contract signing on the show, Wells asked for profits from the show’s eventual syndicated re-runs. At the time, no one really knew what syndication was, so the producers accepted her contract, thinking that there wouldn’t be anything to it. That little trick made her millions, while the rest of the cast got nothing.
Alan Hale had a habit of calling everyone on set “little buddy”. Because of this, it was then written into the script that the Skipper would call Gilligan “little buddy”, which added to the Skipper’s kind heart.
Cartoons based on popular sitcoms were very common in the 70s. Gilligan’s Island had not one but TWO different cartoon spin-offs, one even took place in space. Gilligan’s Planet had thirteen episodes, and it would be the last Saturday morning cartoon ever produced by the Filmation studio.
During the show’s first season, the names of actors Wells and Hale were competing with each other on the show’s opening credits. What does that mean? They appeared one before the other, while their contracts demanded otherwise. The Hale’s name came before Wells, and she did NOT like that. When the show came back for a second season, the producers had to fix that problem if they wanted Wells to come back to work. Actors can be petty sometimes…
During the show’s third season, the writers thought it would be funny to add a pet dinosaur into the mix. Sadly, because of budget reasons, the dinosaur never made it on the show. However, on the animated show “Gilligan’s Planet”, there is a pet dinosaur. Guess they couldn’t let that idea go away.