It’s the story of seven shipwreck survivors attempting to survive castaway life, but Gilligan’s Island only aired for three seasons during the mid 1960s. Thanks to decades of syndication, however, it remains one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. Still, there are definitely things about it that you won’t know even all these years later…
40. Its pilot shoot was interrupted by the death of JFK
Gilligan’s Island cast and crew were forced to take a break from filming the pilot episode due to the shocking death of JFK. You see, the last day of filming was taking place at a Hawaii navy base. However, this was shut down for 48 hours by the U.S. government following the tragedy. It’s why you see a half-mast flag flying in the opening credits of the show’s first season.
39. Natalie Schafer really was a millionaire
Natalie Schafer famously played Lovey, the spoiled wife of multi-millionaire Thurston Howell III. And it turns out that the role wasn’t as much of a stretch as you might think. For the actress was already a very wealthy woman in real life when she landed the part. Yes, Schafer and her husband built their fortune in the post-war real estate market in Beverly Hills.
38. Gilligan’s first name remains a source of debate
Ever wondered what Gilligan’s first name is? Well, it doesn’t appear as though there’s an official answer. But Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, named the hero as Willy in an early press release. Yet further on in the run he revealed that the only characters to be addressed by their surnames were the super-rich Howells. Therefore, this suggests that Gilligan is the leading man’s Christian name.
37. Two major characters don’t appear in the opening season credits
Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells were probably dismayed when they watched Gilligan’s Island’s opening credits for the first time. While the rest of the show’s characters are individually named in the theme tune, the Professor and Mary Ann are simply referred to as “the rest.” Thankfully, this was corrected in season two after co-star Bob Denver spoke out.
36. The story continues with a dark satire
It might have upset the Gilligan’s Island purists. But in 2003 a dark satire written by Tom Carson of Esquire gave an alternative insight into the characters’ backstories. Gilligan’s Wake saw Mary Ann embark on an affair, Lovey admit that her marriage was a front and the Professor assist in the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Meanwhile, poor Gilligan spent time in a psychiatric unit undergoing electroshock therapy.
35. There were several tie-ins with other TV shows
Gilligan’s Island may have ended in 1967. But that didn’t stop its characters from popping up on other TV shows years later. In the 1980s, the Skipper, the Professor, Mary Ann and Gilligan all rocked up in ALF for an episode in which the extra-terrestrial becomes infatuated with the show. Several cast members also appeared in a scene in Roseanne, and Denver reprised his most famous role for a McDonald’s commercial.
34. Schafer did all her own stunts
Natalie Schafer proved that age wasn’t nothing but a number during her stint as Lovey. Yes, the actress was in her 60s but that didn’t stop her from carrying out her own stunts. So when you see Lovey jumping into quicksand or a lake, that really is Schafer. The star once claimed that swimming and a diet of ice cream helped her to stay in shape.
33. Several bloopers made it into the final cut
Eagle-eyed viewers may have already spotted that several bloopers somehow made it past the editing suite. In “The Friendly Physician,” the L.A. skyline can be spotted hovering over the trees of the supposedly deserted island. And the very single Gilligan can be seen sporting Denver’s wedding ring in “They’re Off and Running.”
32. Schafer lied about her age
Natalie Schafer and her on-screen husband Jim Backus may have looked the same age. But, in fact, the former was more than a decade older than the latter. And the actress did everything she could to make it less obvious. Indeed, Schafer’s contract stipulated that in order to reduce the chance of her wrinkles being seen, she could never be filmed too close up.
31. Jayne Mansfield nearly played Ginger
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Tina Louise playing Ginger. But she very nearly lost out on the role to one of the era’s biggest sex symbols. Producers initially approached Jayne Mansfield to play the fictional movie star. However, the blonde bombshell was advised by her third husband to turn down the opportunity.
30. It initially had to compete with a similar sitcom
CBS president Jim Aubrey wasn’t exactly Gilligan’s Island’s biggest fan. In fact, he believed the concept would have been better if the central character’s exploits had centered on a wealthy beach resort. To prove his point Aubrey commissioned another sitcom with that exact premise the same year. But The Baileys of Balboa was taken off the air after just one season and Aubrey lost his job.
29. Wells wasn’t allowed to sing
Dawn Wells may have had many strings to her bow but singing wasn’t one of them. In fact, the actress was so tone deaf that she had to be dubbed by Jackie DeShannon, a popular singer-songwriter, when her character joined in with ditties like “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” The only time you heard Wells’ true singing voice was in an episode when Mary Ann’s caterwauling was part of the narrative.
28. Russell Johnson was once a military man
Russell Johnson had quite the career before landing the role of the Professor on Gilligan’s Island and it didn’t involve acting. Yes, the star joined the U.S. Army Air Force as an aviation cadet straight from high school. In fact, he used the money he received from the GI Bill after World War II to fund his acting classes.
27. It appeared to confuse some of its viewers
Some of Gilligan’s Island viewers seemed to have trouble separating fiction from fact. When the show first aired, the American Coast Guard was sent various correspondence from concerned citizens asking them to help the “stranded” Gilligan. One particular telegram reportedly read, “Why not send one U.S. destroyer to rescue those poor people before they starve to death?”
26. Carroll O’Connor auditioned for The Skipper
Carroll O’Connor became a household name when he starred as All in the Family’s strangely likable Archie Bunker. Yet he nearly got his big break several years earlier when he auditioned to play the Skipper in Gilligan’s Island. O’Connor made the shortlist but producers were concerned that the actor’s portrayal wasn’t sympathetic enough.
25. John Williams composed the original theme tune
John Williams is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood composers of all time. Yet back when he was known as Johnny Williams, he was snubbed by the producers of Gilligan’s Island. Indeed, the music legend provided the show’s theme tune for the pilot episode, but his contribution had been replaced by the time the sitcom made it to air.
24. The coconut cups were real
Authenticity wasn’t one of Gilligan’s Islands strong points. But there were occasions when what you saw on screen was the real thing. In the early episodes producers used genuine hollowed-out coconuts for the characters to drink from. Unfortunately, these homemade props soon became discolored and so were eventually substituted for something more artificial.
23. The Professor was nearly given a nephew
Producers initially toyed with giving the Professor a young family member on the desert island, a nephew. However, the childlike nature of the show’s main character, Gilligan, eventually inspired them to dismiss the idea. Indeed, they believed that having both an overgrown kid and an actual one would be overkill.
22. Schafer only signed up for the free vacation
Despite her real life wealth, Schafer admits that she only signed up for the pilot of Gilligan’s Island due to the free Hawaii vacation. Believing it was only a one-off, the actress was apparently left distraught when the show got picked up for a full season. In fact, those around Schafer thought her mother had passed away due to the amount of tears she was shedding.
21. The characters represented the seven sins
According to creator Schwartz, Gilligan’s Island’s origins were a lot more biblical than you might expect. Apparently each character was intended to represent one of the seven deadly sins. So alongside the sloth-like Gilligan, greed and gluttony of the Howells and lustful Ginger, there was also the envious Mary Ann, proud Professor and wrathful Skipper.
20. Tina Louise believed that the show ruined her career
Tina Louise was allegedly told by her agent that Gilligan’s Island was her very own star vehicle. But after realizing that she had to share equal screen time with six other cast members, the actress is said to have repeatedly disagreed with producers over her character. Indeed, Louise later argued that the show had ruined her career.
19. And the actress wasn’t popular on set
Perhaps Louise’s attempt to distance herself from the show explains why she wasn’t exactly a popular figure during filming. According to co-star Bob Denver, while the rest of the cast used to laugh and joke in between takes, Louise was far happier sitting on her own.
18. Jim Backus was a cheapskate
In fact, Jim Backus, a.k.a. Mr. Howell, was far more popular on set than Louise, despite the fact that he gained a reputation for being stingy. According to co-star Dawn Wells, the actor regularly took her and Natalie Schafer out for lunch, only to conveniently remember that he’d forgotten his wallet when it came to paying the bill.
17. Jerry Van Dyke was the first choice to play Gilligan
Bob Denver may have made the Gilligan role his own, but he wasn’t producers’ first choice. In fact, it was Jerry Van Dyke who had initially been offered the part, but he turned it down after claiming that the pilot script was the worst thing he’d ever read. Van Dyke instead opted to appear in the much-maligned My Mother the Car; he later insisted that he didn’t regret his decision.
16. Mary Ann was originally a secretary called Bunny
The casting wasn’t the only thing that changed from the early stages of Gilligan’s Island. For example, both Mary Ann and Ginger were originally written as secretaries rather than a movie star and farm girl, respectively. The former was also initially named Bunny.
15. The Pacific Ocean lagoon was actually in California
The uncharted Pacific Ocean island that the characters find themselves stranded on was, unsurprisingly, a lot closer to home for the cast and crew. Indeed, CBS ended up building a lagoon set for the show on its Studio City lot in California after the original plan to film in Malibu was nixed. That set, moreover, survived over 30 years before being turned into a parking lot in 1995.
14. Producers turned down an unknown Raquel Welch
Raquel Welch was one of several actresses who auditioned for the part of Mary Ann, but producers felt she lacked the required girl-next-door quality. However, Welch had the last laugh when, just a year before the show was canceled, she landed a major contract with 20th Century Fox.
13. Dawn Wells is the only cast member who still earns money from the show
Dawn Wells not only saw off a future Hollywood legend to play Mary Ann – she also ensured that she would forever be paid for doing so. Thanks to some shrewd business sense, the actress was the only cast member who asked for an amendment to her contract, which has kept the money rolling in every time an episode airs.
12. Alan Hale Jr. once broke his arm on set
The cast may not have been stranded for real, but that didn’t stop them from getting the odd island-related injury. Alan Hale Jr., for example, once broke his arm when he fell out of a coconut tree and missed the landing pads. Ever the hero, though, the actor continued to finish the day’s filming before seeking medical help.
11. Bob Denver was nearly attacked by a lion
And Hale Jr. wasn’t the only cast member who risked life and limb on Gilligan’s Island. Gilligan himself, Bob Denver, was once lunged at by a lion during a particularly risky scene. Indeed, it was only the quick-thinking of the animal’s trainer, and a pair of ripped-apart twin beds, that saved his bacon.
10. Bob Denver once threatened to remove his name from the credits
As well as being the most daredevil cast member, Bob Denver was also the most loyal. The actor once demanded to be removed from the show’s opening titles unless the names of the Professor and Mary Ann – who were only credited as “the rest” in the first season – were added too.
9. CBS assured producers there would be a fourth season
Despite falling ratings, CBS assured creator Sherwood Schwartz that it would renew the show for a fourth season. However, after being pressured to surrender its timeslot to long-running western Gunsmoke, the network swiftly canceled Gilligan’s Island and fans had to make do with just the original 98 episodes instead.
8. The cast bought houses near the set
The cancelation was made all the more painful for some of the cast members, who were on vacation at the time. Indeed, several stars had bought houses near the California studio the show was filmed at, after creator Schwartz had said that a fourth season was on the cards.
7. The S.S. Minnow was named after the creator’s arch-enemy
The charter boat that runs into a tropical storm and subsequently shipwrecks the two-man crew and five passengers was named after Schwartz’s arch-enemy, Newton Minow. The president of the Federal Communications Commission had incurred the wrath of the creator after describing television programming as “a vast wasteland.”
6. CBS needed to be convinced to make the show
CBS’ ruthless decision to drop Gilligan’s Island perhaps wasn’t too surprising – the network was skeptical about the show from the offset. Indeed, Jim Aubrey, the network’s president, wasn’t keen on the idea of keeping the characters permanently stranded. As a result, he only agreed to air the show after cutting a deal that stated that Gilligan and co. would be rescued once ratings slipped.
5. Natalie Schafer didn’t think the show stood a chance
To be fair, CBS executives weren’t the only ones with reservations about the show. Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Howell, reportedly only took the role for a free vacation and an easy paycheck – and she didn’t believe that a show with such an apparently silly premise would last the course.
4. Gilligan nearly had a pet dinosaur
Gilligan’s Island could well have turned into a mini Jurassic Park had Hunt Stromberg, Jr. had his way. The producer had the brainwave of giving Gilligan a pet dinosaur, but thankfully – and much to creator Schwartz’s relief – the constraints of the production’s budget put paid to the bizarre idea.
3. Alan Hale Jr. had to secretly audition for his role
Alan Hale Jr.’s commitment to the role had already been proven during the casting process. That’s because the actor was forced to sneak away from the western he was filming in Utah when producers refused him authorization to leave for his audition. After a horseback ride, hitchhike and a flight to Los Angeles, then, Hale Jr. was rewarded for his efforts.
2. Gilligan’s name was picked at random
You’d expect plenty of thought to go into the name of a lead character, especially one that featured in the title of the show. However, Gilligan’s moniker was chosen by Sherwood Schwartz simply by opening up a phone book and selecting a name entirely at random.
1. The premise was inspired by a Lucille Ball movie
If you’ve ever watched Lucille Ball movie Five Came Back, then the premise of Gilligan’s Island may seem a little familiar. The sitcom was partly inspired by the 1939 movie in which a group of plane crash survivors are left stranded in the Amazon rainforest.