Gilligan’s Island first premiered in 1964 and was a comedic outlet for many people during a stressful time in history. The show ran for three years, but its legacy still lives on today. Check out these crazy behind-the-scenes facts of Gilligan’s Island!
They Flew The Flag At Half-Mast
The show Gilligan’s Island was aired during a very problematic era of United States history. During the middle 1960s, the world was beginning to go through a period of increased tension between the United States and Russia. This era is often referred to as the beginning of the Cold War. The first episode of the show was also filmed, and aired, just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In the first episode or the pilot, the American flag flying over the harbor appears to be at half-mast. The reason behind this decision was because of the death of John F. Kennedy. The network wanted to show their own condolences.
The Characters Represent Different Elements of Society
The characters on the show Gilligan’s Island have very specific personalities and trademarks. This isn’t just a fluke by the writers, but was done very intentionally. The producer behind the show, Sherwood Schwartz, designed the characters to represent different parts of society.
This is why many of the characters, including the Professor and the Skipper, are addressed by their titles and not by their actual names. This is also the reason for Ginger’s over-the-top character and her enhanced sexuality. Ginger is supposed to represent the vanity in the world and how people are obsessed with their own sexuality.
The Meaning Behind “The Minnow”
If you’re a big fan of the show, you’ll know that The Minnow is the name of the boat that the crew was on before they were shipwrecked. The ship’s name was not inspired by the fish, but it was actually inspired by the head of the Federal Communications Commission in 1961. The head of the FCC was named Newton Minow and was a big inspiration for producer Sherwood Schwartz. Schwartz absolutely hated Minow because the FCC head claimed that television was “America’s vast wasteland.”
In an act of revenge, Schwartz named the shipwrecked boat after Minow to try to prove that television was making a comeback. Minow and Schwartz became friends after Gilligan’s Island ratings skyrocketed and enjoyed writing letters to each other.
Gilligan’s First Name
The character Gilligan is very mysterious and has some weird personality quirks. The producer of the show, Sherwood Schwartz, made up a first name for the character if it was ever needed for the plot or the story line of the show. Gilligan’s first name is said to have been Willie.
Even though Gilligan did have a first name, the show never revealed it because it was thought that the mysterious nature of the character left the audience wanting more. The producers felt that if people found out Gilligan’s first name, people would stop caring about the main character.
It Almost Wasn’t Aired
Even though this show is now considered to be one of the greatest American shows of all time, it almost wasn’t aired. The producer Sherwood Schwartz stated that it was hard to prove to CBS that a show about shipwrecked friends would do well. Schwartz wanted the characters to be forever shipwrecked, while CBS president Jim Aubrey felt that the characters should at some point be rescued.
CBS agreed to air the show on one condition; if the ratings fell, the cast would get rescued. This is exactly what happened. During the last season, the rating of the show was hitting an all-time low, so the cast members were rescued.
Natalie Schafer Had No Close Up
Natalie Schafer is the actress who played Mrs. Howell and was considerably older than the actor who played her husband. Schafer was almost 13 years older than Jim Backus, who played Mr. Howell. In her contract, it was specifically stated that she would never be featured in a close up or in a lighting that would reveal her “true age.”
The best part about this illusion is that not even her cast mates knew her actual age. The producers behind the show thought that it would be best to try to convince everyone that Schafer was the same age as her husband, so that no one would treat her like an “old lady.” It worked, up until the last season of the show when her actual age was revealed.
“And The Rest”
During the first season of Gilligan’s Island, the opening credits song featured the lyrics “and the rest,” instead of the coined term, “the Professor and Mary Ann.” The change happened because it was made apparent that audiences who watched the show LOVED these characters.
Even though the Professor and Mary Ann were considered in the first season as secondary characters, their story lines in the second season were expanded to make them primary characters. The actors behind these two characters, Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson, thought that it was a huge joke and would proudly call each other “and the rest” on set and in the media.
The Backstory Was Intense
Even though Gilligan’s Island is a comedic show, the backstory of the television series was rather intense. The Skipper and Gilligan were best friends, not by chance, but for a very specific reason. In the official backstory, Gilligan and the Skipper served on a destroyer together during the war of World War II.
Gilligan actually was said to have saved the life of the Skipper, which is why their friendship and their bond is so strong. During an ambush on the destroyer, a depth charge got loose and rolled down the deck, almost crushing the Skipper. Gilligan pushed the Skipper out of the way and saved his life on deck.
During the final season of Gilligan’s Island, the rating were beginning to tank because people were more interested in watching dramas, rather than slapstick comedies. Gilligan’s Island was cancelled to make its desired time slot available for the Western show Gunsmoke. Gunsmoke had some serious luck in that time slot when it came to ratings.
The show was created from the long-running radio show of the same name, and was a hit on television. Gunsmoke is one of the longest-running television shows, lasting for twenty seasons and over 635 episodes. It was on a mainstream network from 1955 to 1975!
The Prop Department Was Challenged
The prop department definitely had an exciting challenge when it came to making props for the show Gilligan’s Island. Every prop that the producers and the team made was said to be created from things that the characters had or could have found on the island. The prop department was actually excited by the challenge of making props out of wood and coconuts.
Even the most obscure props were made out of materials which could be found on a deserted island. The bamboo foot pedal-powered car was made of real bamboo, and was a cast favorite! Every character and cast member lined up to try out this particular prop!
Dawn Wells Couldn’t Hear Much
Dawn Wells is the actress behind the character of the country girl, Mary Ann. Even though Wells was a great actress, she was actually incredibly tone deaf. Every song that the character sang, including the simple “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow,” her tone deaf voice was so off key, it would affect everyone else and throw off the scene.
The character’s singing voice was dubbed over with singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon’s voice. Wells’ actual voice was only used once in Gilligan’s Island:The Second Ginger Grant, where her off key voice was part of the plot.
The Harlem Globetrotters Couldn’t Bring Up The Ratings
The Harlem Globetrotters were featured in the television movie reunion, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island in 1981. This was the third movie reunion which the Gilligan gang were a part of. The first reunion movie was in 1978 and it was called Rescue from Gilligan’s Island. The second reunion movie was in 1979 and was called Castaways on Gilligan’s Island.
Both of these reunion movies were low quality, but they had very high ratings. The Harlem Globetrotter on Gilligan’s Island bombed when it came to ratings, due to its terrible screenwriting and low resolution. The producers discontinued any future plans for Gilligan reunion movies.
Everyone Lived To Ripe Ages
It must have been a good omen to be a part of the cast of Gilligan’s Island. The entire cast lived to really old ages, or they are actually still alive! Sherwood Schwartz lived to the age of 94 and Natalie Schafer lived to the ripe old age of 90. Alan Hale Jr. died at the age of 68, while Bob Denver who played Gilligan died at the age of 70. Russell Johnson, who played the Professor lived to the age of 89.
The last two remaining cast members were featured on the 50th Anniversary special of the show, and were Tina Louise and Dawn Wells. Tina Louise is 82 years old, while Dawn Wells is 78 years old.
Why Did They Have So Much Stuff?
The biggest problem with the show Gilligan’s Island is the fact that the ship seemed to hold A LOT of things. Even though the Minnow was scheduled for “three hour tour,” the ship seems to hold a massive amount of life-saving materials. Mary Ann and Ginger have never wore the same outfit twice in any episode or season, while the Professor also has an extensive library of books.
The other point many fans make is that the Professor made intricate cars, gadgets, and other technological machines on the island out of nothing, but he never thought to patch up the hole in the side of the Minnow. It simply doesn’t make any sense.
Ginger Was Supposed To Be Over-The-Top
The character of Ginger was based on, you guessed it, Ginger Rogers. The character was initially supposed to be over-the-top sexual, and in charge of her own body. But Tina Louise decided to take the character in another direction. Louise made the character of Ginger more innocent and sweet, rather than alluring and vindictive.
Because of this decision, the writers felt that Mary Ann needed to be more intelligent and level headed, rather than your typical “dumb farmer girl.” This change in character was for the best because the producers thought that audiences would not have liked a “dumb” Mary Ann.
Bob Denver first started out his career as an American comedy, not an actor. Even though he had other jobs, his legacy is still his portrayal of Gilligan on the CBS show Gilligan’s Island. Denver went on to some slight Broadway success by appearing in Woody Allen’s play, Play It Again, Sam.
But after this play, Denver quit acting and lived a relatively normal life. In 1998, Denver resurfaced into the limelight due to an arrest for having a box of marijuana in his house. He received six months probation from the court after he told the court that a crazed fan sent him the drugs. Likely story.
Tina Louise is the actress behind the character of Ginger on the hit show, Gilligan’s Island. Louise is known for her amazing looks, great body, and bright red hair. By the time she took up the role of Ginger, Louise had already made her mark in Hollywood in the film, God’s Little Acre, for which she won a Golden Globe Award.
After working on Gilligan’s Island, Louise moved onto both film and music to make money. She appeared in the cult classic film Stepford Wives as a deranged and unhappy housewife, which is still a beloved performance today. Her album, It’s Time for Tina has been released recently onto iTunes and she has written three best sellers, including her own memoir.
Alan Hale Jr.
Alan Hale Jr. is the actor behind the character of the Skipper on the show Gilligan’s Island. Hale Jr. was a credited film actor before the success of Gilligan’s Island. The actor was featured in over 200 films before the show, including hit classics like Northwest Passage, The Gunfighter, The True Story of Jesse James, and To The Shores of Tripoli.
After his appearance on Gilligan’s Island, Alan Hale Jr. made reality and cameo spots on an array of television shows. Apart from show biz, Hale Jr. was a restaurant owner and also opened Alan Hale’s Quality and Leisure Travel Office. Sadly, Hale Jr. passed away on January 2, 1990 form complications of thymus cancer.
Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on the show Gilligan’s Island, was a small-time television actress before landing it big. Following her big success on Gilligan’s Island, Dawn Wells moved onto a theater career, starring in over one hundred traveling show productions. The actress was also featured in her own one-woman show in Las Vegas at the MGM Hotel and Casino in 1985. More recently, Wells has become the official Marketing Ambassador for MeTv Network.
The network gave an official press release stating, “Dawn Wells will serve as the MeTV Marketing Ambassador for the coming year, bringing her talent, warmth and generous spirit to a variety of MeTV appearances, performances and events. First up, Dawn will be the on-camera network hostess for The Summer of Me, MeTV’s annual programming event.”
Russell Johnson, who played the professor on the show Gilligan’s Island, was actually a military man before he began his acting career. Johnson was enlisted in the United States Army Air Force after high school as an aviation cadet. Johnson actually received a purple heart for his contributions to the air force while getting shot in the Philippines.
The actor used the GI Bill to pay for acting lessons after the end of World War II and his honorable discharge. Johnson’s career took a tumble after his appearance on Gilligan’s Island, and he appeared in a few independent films. Sadly, Johnson passed away from kidney failure at the ripe age of 89.