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Recalling The Popularity Of The Classic TV Show Gilligan’s Island

Where do the ideas for great TV sitcoms come from? Maybe they’re imagined in the middle of a sleepless night. Or during a moment of complete and utter boredom. Or when watching a TV or movie that makes someone utter, “I could do that – maybe even better.”

When it comes to the legendary TV sitcom Gilligan’s Island, the idea came to fruition at New York University in a public speaking class. The professor asked students to think about, and elaborate on, what or who they would want to have with them should they find themselves on a deserted island.

Sherwood Schwartz took note, and would lean into the idea in later years when he worked as a comedy writer in Hollywood. He pitched a storyline that focused on a group of dissimilar individuals forced to live and work together after being stranded on an island. Taking it one step further, Schwartz envisioned the story and its characters as a microcosm of world politics that, hopefully, could impart the lesson that all types of people can get along together when they have to.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Three Seasons And Done

Gilligan’s Island ran from September 26, 1964 until April 17, 1967, for a total of only 98 episodes. Originally shot in black and white, the show was filmed in color for the second and third seasons. Although the show enjoyed decent ratings during its original run, it became more popular once it became available in syndication.

The pilot, titled “Marooned,” contained several differences from the subsequent episodes that audiences came to know and love. The original characters included a high school teacher and two secretaries named Ginger and Bunny; although their roles were dropped, the name Ginger remained and was given to the movie star character played by Tina Louise. After Bunny’s character was dropped, the character of Mary Ann was added, and the high school teacher became the Professor.

Originally, the group headed out on a six-hour tour, double the length of the eventual ride, and the first episode offered no descriptions of the main characters’ backgrounds. But few people may know that the audience learned the Skipper’s real name: Jonas Grumby.

The pilot featured a very different theme song from the one that has become an iconic TV intro: The original song was a calypso number sung by Sherwood Schwartz in a Caribbean patois. Eventually, the show featured The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle, written by Schwartz with George Wyle and sung by the Wellingtons. The original song that aired during early episodes mentioned “the rest,” but as the Professor and Mary Ann became more important, their characters were also named in the song.


Casting Call

The castaways  could have included a different group of actors than the beloved Gilligan’s Island cast that has left its mark on television. Jerry Van Dyke nearly snagged the role of Gilligan, Jayne Mansfield was considered for Ginger, Carroll O’Connor fit the bill for the Skipper, Raquel Welch was envisioned as Mary Ann, and John Gabriel or Dabney Coleman were seen as possible contenders for the role of the Professor.

The credits during the first season ended with a picture of Tina Louise with the text “and also starring Tina Louise as Ginger.” Why? Because Tina Louise’s contract stated that she had an “also starring” billing and that no other name would follow hers in the credits; consequently, Dawn Wells nor Russell Johnson was mentioned in the credits. But because Bob Denver’s contract indicated that his name could be anywhere in the credits, he threatened to move it to the end, after Tina Louise’s name. Eventually, a deal was struck with Tina Louise, and the names of both Wells and Johnson were added to the credits and to the theme song.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Treating Ginger…Gingerly

Tina Louise was not known for being easy to work with, before or during Gilligan’s Island. She wanted to be a television star, that much was certain, but she proved difficult to please throughout much of the filming of the original television show. Once the series was finished, she discontinued playing the role of Ginger and was replaced by other actresses in the TV movies that followed.

The final episode of the show, titled “Gilligan the Goddess,” ended the original run of the series. Cast members had been led to believe that the show would be picked up for the following season, but it wasn’t to be.

Viewers were left to imagine for themselves if the castaways were ever rescued, how they might have escaped their fate, or if they just lived happily together for years to come on a picturesque island where, for the most part, harmony reigned.