Just sit right back and you’ll hear some tales about what went on behind the scenes of Gilligan’s Island. The beloved sitcom only ran for three seasons from 1964 to 1967, but it has lived on in rerun syndication for decades. Generations of fans have been amused by the silly antics of this motley group of castaways on an uncharted island, and the show has become a cultural icon of American television. Here’s some Gilligan trivia you never knew you wanted to know.
1. How it Got the Name Gilligan’s Island
We wish we could tell you that the name had a significance, like an homage to the producer’s dog or something. Nope, nothing deep or meaningful here. The show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz, simply picked the name out of the phone book at random. A few pages over and it could easily have been Grover’s Island.
2. We can’t imagine anyone else but Bob Denver wearing that little white hat and red shirt
However, he wasn’t the first choice to play everyone’s favorite bumbling little buddy. Jerry Van Dyke (Dick’s little brother) had that honor, but he passed on the opportunity. He said the pilot was “the worst thing I’d ever read.” He later found success on Coach and today makes an occasional appearance on The Middle alongside his famous real life bro.
3. The S.S. Minnow Was Named as a Personal Dig
You would be forgiven if you thought the wrecked ship was named for a small fish often used as bait. However it was apparently named for Newton Minow, the Federal Communications Commission president who once famously referred to television as a “vast wasteland.” Schwartz wasn’t a big fan of this guy so he made him part of the vast wasteland of the show.
4. Do you know their full names, first and last?
Sure, you can rattle off Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the Professor and Mary Ann, no problem. But, do you remember their real names? Let’s see, the millionaires are pretty easy as they were often mentioned by the names of Thurston Howell III and Lovey Wentworth Howell. Ginger Grant is pretty easy too – the movie star wasn’t shy about promoting her famous name. The Skipper and the Professor were rarely referred to by anything but their job titles (how rude!), but they actually were ascribed the names of Skipper Jonas Grumby and Professor Roy Hinkley. Mary Ann, the Kansas farm girl, was actually Mary Ann Summers, for those who want to know. As for the titular character, no one really knows if Gilligan was the First Mate’s first name or last name. There is some speculation that Sherwood Schwartz intended his name to be Willy Gilligan in the planning stages, but there’s no real evidence to that. He is never referred to as anything but a one-namer – kind of like Madonna and Cher.
5. Lovey Howell, never thought this dumb pilot had a chance of being picked up
Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Howell wasn’t a fan of the show. She just took the job for the easy money and a free trip to Hawaii. She was apparently rather upset when CBS actually picked it up and ran with the show for a few seasons.
6. Some Viewers thought the Castaways Actually Needed Help and Alerted the Coast Guard
Yes, the U.S. Coast Guard actually received a few letters from the viewing public asking them to look for the uncharted island and rescue these stranded castaways. Guess the laugh track wasn’t enough of a clue that this was a sitcom, not a documentary/reality show. It’s hard to imagine where they thought the footage was coming from.
7. There’s a Backstory as to Why Skipper Puts Up with Gilligan’s Idiocy
If Gilligan was such an incompetent buffoon, why does the Skipper tolerate him to the point of bunking together in the same thatched hut? Well, according to the backstory, Gilligan actually saved the Skipper’s life on a destroyer during WWII. So he owes him one, even if that means he has to put up with silly banter from the hammock above.
8. JFK’s Assassination Delayed Production
The filming of the original pilot was due to wrap on Nov. 22, 1963. That was the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. As Lyndon Johnson was sworn in, all military installations including Honolulu Harbor were ordered to close for a two day mourning period, and filming was delayed by a few days. You can actually see the American flag flying at half mast during the first season opening credits in light of this tragic historic event.
9. The Skipper Broke His Arm and Didn’t Get It Fixed for Weeks
Alan Hale, who played the Skipper, was one tough guy with a strong work ethic. During a scene towards the end of season one, he fell out of a coconut tree but missed the crash pad, breaking his arm. Not wanting to disrupt the shooting schedule, he kept this snafu to himself and soldiered on for three weeks. At the wrap party, Hale mentioned to Sherwood Schwartz that he was going to take care of his arm now. Schwartz, who knew nothing of the mishap, couldn’t believe it, saying “How did you manage to haul coconuts and lift Bob Denver with a broken arm?” “It wasn’t easy,” Hale admitted.
10. Raquel Welch Was Almost Wholesome Mary Ann
Generations of men are classified by their “Ginger” or “Mary Ann” preferences. Are you drawn to the sexy, sultry siren type or the wholesome farm girl next door type? The choice might have been a little complicated if Raquel Welch was actually cast as Mary Ann. The as-yet-undiscovered future sex symbol auditioned for the role, but something about her didn’t scream ‘Kansas’.
11. Thurston Howell III Was a Cheapskate IRL
He may have played a carefree millionaire on TV, but Jim Backus was a tightwad in real life. In Dawn Wells book What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life, she recounted how the actor would sometimes invite castmates out for lunch only to have conveniently forgotten his wallet when the check was presented. Before they went on hiatus for the summer, Natalie Schafer actually presented her onscreen husband with a bill for $300, his share of all the meals he mooched off them throughout the months.
12. No surprise, the “Movie Star” Didn’t Get Along with the Rest of the Cast
Like the diva she played on the show, Ginger actress Tina Louise was a bit of a diva too. She had studied under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio and considered herself a real thespian. She expected to be the star of the series, not part of an ensemble. Her agent apparently pitched the opportunity to her as a show about an actress stranded on a tropical island with a few other people. She never really warmed up to the other cast members and there was some on-set tension. A 1965 TV Guide article stated, “Denver will not say why he and the glamorous Tina [Louise] do not get along, nor will any of the castaways – they just ignore her, and she ignores them. Between scenes, while the other six principals chat and tell jokes together, she sits off by herself.” She felt the role ruined her chances of being considered a serious actress, and has refused to take part in any of the reunion sequels.
13. Director Schwartz Described the Show as a “Social Microcosm”
Bet you never thought Gilligan’s Island had any deep roots. However, Sherwood Schwartz got the idea from a class at New York University when he was asked to prepare an impromptu speech on the topic “If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have.” The idea stayed with him, and as his comedy writing career took off, he pitched an idea for a show exploring the interesting dynamic of a varied group stranded together who had to learn and work as a unit despite their dissimilarities. In the book Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication, 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.” Go watch a few reruns with that lofty concept in mind and maybe you’ll see the social commentary genius within.
14. Gilligan Got “The Rest” a Credit
It was revealed during the special Surviving Gilligan’s Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History that it was Bob Denver who advocated for the proper crediting of the Professor and Mary Ann. During season one, they were treated like second-class extras, namelessly tacked on as an afterthought with an “and the rest” in the opening theme song. An outrage! Gilligan himself threw down an ultimatum saying if his co-stars didn’t get a credit, then neither would he. Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells have been grateful ever since.
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