Gilligan’s Island Was A ’60s TV Staple – And Here’s What Happened To The Cast After It Wrapped

The 1964 sitcom Gilligan’s Island went down in TV history after its run. It was all about a group of people trapped together on an island, and lots of the comedy came from the contrasting personalities of the characters. The show ended in 1967, but it ultimately lived on via syndication and new generations grew to love it. But what happened to the members of its cast?

After Gilligan’s Island was given the green light, it took a while before the show settled on its cast. In fact, three characters from the pilot episode didn’t get carried over to the show. These were a teacher, a secretary, and a bubbly blonde named Bunny, played by John Gabriel, Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy respectively. The pilot itself didn’t actually make it to television until 1992.

The actors who survived the pilot episode’s cull included Alan Hale Jr. as the Skipper, Tina Louise as Ginger, and Jim Backus as Thurston Howell III. Natalie Schafer appeared as Lovey, with Russell Johnson showing up as Professor Hinkley, Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers and, of course, Bob Denver as Gilligan himself. Many episodes revolved around Gilligan’s hilarious incompetence.

ADVERTISEMENT

Things could have been very different for Gilligan’s Island in terms of casting, however. Initially series producer Sherwood Schwartz wanted Jerry Van Dyke – Dick Van Dyke’s little brother – to play the lead role of Gilligan. Alas, once Van Dyke had read the script he utterly despised it and said no.

Van Dyke instead took the lead role in the sitcom My Mother the Car, a show which did pretty much what it said on the tin. Simply put, it was about a person’s mom being reincarnated in the form of a car. It was a disaster, and is still widely remembered as one of the worst TV productions of all time. Reportedly, Van Dyke ended up seriously regretting his decision.

ADVERTISEMENT

Aside from Van Dyke, none other than Raquel Welch could have been in Gilligan’s Island, had things turned out differently. After it was decided that the pilot episode’s characters needed to be changed, auditions were held for the new “farm girl” character Mary Ann. The producers liked Welch, but decided she was too attractive and that they needed someone more attainable-seeming.

ADVERTISEMENT

And lastly, Carroll O’Connor could have been the Skipper. He was one of the actors considered, but eventually it was decided he wasn’t right for the role. He went on to play Archie Bunker in All in the Family, a character not dissimilar to the Skipper that made him famous.

ADVERTISEMENT

Throughout its run, it’s possible that some Gilligan’s Island viewers mistook the show for reality. Apparently, the U.S. Coast Guard occasionally got telegrams begging them to go and rescue the stranded citizens on the island. The Coast Guard, not knowing if these messages were serious or not, sent all messages on to Schwartz.

ADVERTISEMENT

Schwartz, however, always hoped his show would be seen as a social commentary. In the 1988 book Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication, he detailed what he considered the program to be. In his words, it was “a metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, yes we can all get along.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Perhaps it was that which helped Gilligan’s Island survive the test of time so well? But whatever the cause, it’s still fondly remembered – and so are the members of its cast. Some of them passed away before the 21st century dawned, but others are still alive. Here’s what they all did after the show finished.

ADVERTISEMENT

Russell Johnson – Professor Roy Hinkley

ADVERTISEMENT

Russell Johnson served during World War II as a navigator, and ended up being awarded a Purple Heart after his plane was downed in the Philippines. In the end, that was just one of many medals he would receive for his service. But after he was honorably discharged, he turned to the world of acting.

And Johnson was successful. He appeared in 1952’s Rancho Notorious, 1953’s It Came from Outer Space and more. In 1955 he popped up with his future Gilligan’s Island co-star Alan Hale Jr. in the movie Many Rivers to Cross. Then, he turned to television, playing characters in The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

ADVERTISEMENT

Then, in 1964 came Gilligan’s Island and the role of the Professor. That one character – who, Johnson often noted, could have ended the show prematurely if he’d just fixed the boat – would come to define Johnson’s entire career. After the sitcom finished, he found himself somewhat typecast as Professor-like characters, although his career in television continued successfully.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Johnson never bore a grudge about the typecasting. In 2003 he wrote on his official website, “I have received mail throughout the years from young viewers from all over the world, year after year, who were so influenced by the Professor’s smarts that they became science buffs and are now real professors, doctors and scientists. It makes me proud.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Sadly, though, Johnson passed away in January 2014. He was 89 years old and had been suffering with kidney issues. Dawn Wells paid tribute to him by releasing a statement saying, “Russell was a true gentleman, a dear friend with a fantastic wit, and a wonderful actor.” Referring to the fact that her and Johnson’s characters weren’t named in the show’s opening, she added, “The other half of ‘the rest’ is gone.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Tina Louise – Ginger Grant

Tina Louise already had an impressive acting resume when she got the role of Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. She actually began working as an actress during her childhood, appearing in a commercial for her dad’s sweet shop. Then came a career on Broadway, where she worked alongside stars such as Bette Davis and Julie Newmar.

ADVERTISEMENT

Louise moved on to movies in 1958, starting with God’s Little Acre. Such was her success that year that she was identified as “the world’s most beautiful redhead” by the National Art Council. Other films followed, including The Warrior Empress, Roberto Rossellini’s Garibaldi and Armored Command. She continued to act on Broadway, as well.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, Louise was a very well-thought-of star when she was approached by the producers of Gilligan’s Island. She had done television work also at that point, appearing in Tales of Wells Fargo and The New Breed, among others. But her fame would prove, in some ways, to be a problem.

ADVERTISEMENT

Louise accepted the role of Ginger thinking – perhaps not unfairly – that she would be the program’s lead. Reportedly, her agent told her at the time that Ginger was the central character, not Gilligan. That obviously turned out not to be true, and apparently it caused a little strain on the set. Louise was professional, but allegedly distant from the rest of the cast.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the end Louise wouldn’t show up in any of the Gilligan’s Island reunion TV movies. In the ’70s productions Rescue from Gilligan’s Island and The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island Ginger was played by Judith Baldwin. And for 1981’s The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island Constance Forslund took the role.

ADVERTISEMENT

Louise also declined to appear in 2001’s Surviving Gilligan’s Island, with Ginger being played by Kristen Dalton in that one. However, she did occasionally appear for cast reunions, including on the 2004 TV Land awards. And although rumor had it that she disliked Denver – who was the real Gilligan’s Island star, after all – in 2005 she penned a tribute to him for Entertainment Weekly.

ADVERTISEMENT

Louise is still working as an actress, albeit sporadically. And in 2019 she was interviewed for Closer magazine to celebrate 55 years of Gilligan’s Island. She said, “I honestly feel like I have so many friends out there who just love what we did and what we shared and the joy we brought. I’m so happy to have been part of something that was so special to American television.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Jim Backus – Thurston Howell III

ADVERTISEMENT

Before starring on Gilligan’s Island, Jim Backus was famous for being the voice of Mr. Magoo. He began playing the cartoon character in 1949 and it made him a star. Reportedly, when he appeared in the 1952 movie Don’t Bother to Knock with Marilyn Monroe, Monroe asked him to her dressing room and requested that he perform his Magoo voice.

Backus did plenty of other TV programs before being cast on Gilligan’s Island. Some of them were Mr. Magoo shows, but he also appeared in I Married Joan from 1952 to 1955, and he even briefly had his own vehicle called The Jim Backus Show. Gilligan’s Island was just one more feather in his cap.

ADVERTISEMENT

The veteran actor played “The Millionaire” for the whole run of Gilligan’s Island, delighting audiences with the character’s strange upper-class quirks. But sadly Backus’ health was starting to fail by the time of the reunion movies. He only appeared for a few minutes in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sadly, Backus passed away in July 1989. This occurred after he’d been battling with Parkinson’s disease for some time. In their obituary for him, The New York Times noted, “Mr. Backus won popularity with younger generations for his portrayal of the fabulously wealthy Thurston Howell III on television’s Gilligan’s Island.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Natalie Schafer – Lovey Howell

ADVERTISEMENT

Natalie Schafer played Eunice Lovelle Wentworth Howell, aka Lovey, the wife of Thurston Howell. Before being cast, she had been a Broadway actress, but her role in the shipwreck sitcom made her famous. In 2010 Dawn Wells told the Television Academy Foundation, “She was so much like her character. Natalie was Mrs. Howell personified.”

Believe it or not, Schafer insisted on doing all her own stunts for Gilligan’s Island, even though she was in her sixties at the time. Although she could have had a stunt performer, she wanted to splash into ponds and fight her way out of quicksand herself. And she was in such good health that the producers allowed her to.

ADVERTISEMENT

Throughout her life, Schafer kept her true age private. She claimed to have been born in 1912, but in actual fact it was 1900. When she passed away in 1991, she was 90 years old. And, much like her character in Gilligan’s Island, she also happened to be a millionaire. She left a lot of her money to the Lillian Booth Actors Home, and in 1993 a wing was named after her.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alan Hale Jr. – The Skipper

Alan Hale Jr., son of actor Alan Hale Sr., appeared as over 200 characters throughout his long career. But the one he’s arguably associated with the most is that of the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. Though he played second fiddle to Gilligan, he was one of the most beloved characters on the show.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hale enjoyed his role on the show, and apparently would even sometimes visit sick kids in costume as his character. He reprised his part in the three television movies, and even took the Skipper to two different sitcoms – The New Gidget and ALF – during the ’80s. But sadly, he passed away from cancer in 1990.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hale was good friends with his Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells, and after his death Wells attended the funeral. In 2014 she told CRN.com, “Alan was absolutely the consummate professional, wonderful gentleman, jovial, never complained… He was the exact same size of my dad. Every time he picked me up and hugged me, I thought he was my father, he was my dad.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Dawn Wells – Mary Ann

ADVERTISEMENT

Dawn Wells was a fresh-faced young actress – and the Miss Nevada of 1960 – when she was cast as Mary Ann for Gilligan’s Island. At first, however, she didn’t get a mention in the show’s opening theme song. She and Russell Johnson as the Professor were shunted off as “and the rest.”

In 2016 Wells told Forbes, “I was pretty new and everyone else at that point had had a career. I think Bob Denver went to bat, told them it was silly, that there were only two other people on the island. I think he said, ‘I’m not going on unless you change the billing.’” Her co-stars were clearly looking out for her.

ADVERTISEMENT

After Gilligan’s Island, Wells turned to the theater and was very successful. However, she also embraced Mary Ann as her most famous role. Come 1993 she released Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook, co-written with Jim Clark and Ken Beck. In it, she and other Gilligan’s Island cast members suggested recipes.

ADVERTISEMENT

Wells is now one of only two Gilligan’s Island stars still living, the other one being Tina Louise. But she hasn’t disappeared from public life just yet. In 2016 she was made the Marketing Ambassador for MeTV, and she still promotes Gilligan’s Island for that channel. Plus, she backs the Denver Foundation, a charitable organization chaired by Bob Denver and his spouse.

ADVERTISEMENT

Bob Denver – Gilligan

ADVERTISEMENT

Bob Denver was working as a math and history teacher when he auditioned for the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He got the role and it changed his entire life. The show was a big hit, with Denver playing the character of Maynard G. Krebs across four years, starting in 1959. And after that came Gilligan’s Island.

After The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Denver hopped straight to the main role of Gilligan’s Island. His character became very popular, and Denver was noted for being thoughtful to his cast-mates as well. As well as getting her a place in the opening credits, Denver insisted that Dawn Wells be included in the show’s publicity.

ADVERTISEMENT

Denver was typecast a little after Gilligan’s Island finished, but he didn’t seem to mind. He frequently reprised the role of Gilligan for other shows, and he appeared in the TV films as well. He popped up in lots of comedies, and even portrayed himself in The Simpsons in 1998. Sadly, he passed away in 2005.

ADVERTISEMENT

Denver succumbed to pneumonia aged 70, leaving behind his wife, children and a grandchild. In her tribute for Entertainment Weekly Louise wrote of him, “It’s amazing, the way the show has lasted and the pleasure we’ve brought to so many people – it has taken a while to really grasp how much pleasure. Bob’s comedy was clever and fun, and will live forever.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT