Gilligan's Island: Behind-the-Scenes Facts From the Beloved Comedy
When Gilligan's Island premiered in 1964, no one — not even the show's producers — was prepared for how successful the quirky comedy would become. The fate of the shipwrecked passengers of the S.S. Minnow became a focal point of American television and a fan-favorite sitcom to enjoy each week. Still, however dramatic the onscreen action was for the cast of characters, the events behind the scenes were just as intriguing.
The Plot Was Almost Entirely Altered
Gilligan's Island focuses on, as the name suggests, a group of shipwrecked tourists building a life together on an abandoned island. While it's difficult to imagine the premise of this show being altered, the original concept wouldn't have had the sorry bunch of stranded folks staying together for long.
Russell Johnson Was Asked to Strip
Have you ever noticed that The Professor is never shirtless during the show? This isn't by any accident. The hunky actor behind the part, Russell Johnson, had disliked the idea of removing his shirt since the beginning of the show's production.
The Story Was Conceived in a Classroom
The show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, didn't pull the concept for Gilligan's Island out of thin air. Rather, he was inspired by a lecture in a public speaking class at New York University. His professor posed a unique question to his classroom: "If you were stranded on a deserted island, what one item would you like to have?"
JFK's Assassination Influenced the Release Date
The pilot for Gilligan's Island was shot on the island of Kauai in Hawaii during November of 1963. The final day of filming was supposed to occur on November 23, during which the S.S. Minnow would depart from Honolulu Harbor on its doomed mission. However, shooting was interrupted by the tragic news of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
The Show Was a Reflection on "World Politics"
Gilligan's Island is witty, funny and well-written in every curve of its plot. Still, most people wouldn't classify the sitcom as a crucial piece of political commentary...except for the show's creator, of course. As Schwartz conceived the idea for the show, he saw it having a clear political consciousness.
Gilligan Was Nearly Jerry Van Dyke
Bob Denver brings a charming awkwardness to the character of Gilligan that now seems impossible to replicate. However, he wasn't the first choice to play the star of the show. Instead, the central pick was the coveted Jerry Van Dyke — Dick’s little brother.
Louise Thought She Was the Star
Tina Louise's agent convinced her to join the show with the pitch that the sitcom was about an actress stranded on a deserted island with a group of strangers. She thought she would play this starring lead. Instead, she was cast in a secondary role. This created clear tension between her and her castmates.
The Skipper Didn't Break Character
Alan Hale has an impressive track record, starring in over 70 films and television shows spanning from the time he was a young boy well into adulthood. It's no wonder that he remained a dedicated actor even when the cameras stopped rolling. Hale often remained in character as The Skipper (fortunately, a loveable character) outside of the studio to bring joy to fans.
Gilligan Almost Had a Pet Dinosaur
Do you think that the cast of kooky, shipwrecked characters is bizarre enough by itself? Why not toss in a dinosaur? As strange as it sounds, one CBS executive, Hunt Stromberg Jr., thought that it would be a remarkable idea to insert an animated dinosaur into the show.
The Opening Jingle Erased Mary Ann and The Professor
Mary Ann and The Professor are central to the plot of Gilligan's Island, yet they were once cut out of the show's theme song. In the first season of the show, the opening song featured the names of Gilligan and other primary characters but referred to both Mary Ann and The Professor only as "the rest."
The Cast Members Had a Favorite Scene Type
Of all the fun and strange scenes in Gilligan's Island, what was the cast's favorite type of scene to shoot? Dream sequences. According to the cast members, these were a blast to film, as they removed the characters from the island and were often bizarre, fun and hilarious to shoot.
Mrs. Howell Was an Actual Millionaire
Natalie Schafer didn't have to pull too many strings to pretend to be a millionaire...because she already was one. She and her husband actor Louis Calhern had made great purchases in the California real estate market during an economic downswing. They were sailing by on millions when Schafer accepted the role.
Alan Hale Rode a Horse to His Audition
After a fruitless search for the perfect Skipper, Alan Hale was asked to audition. At the time, Hale was in the middle of filming a Western, Bullet for a Badman, in Utah. The producers couldn't grant him a day off, so he sneaked away for the audition...and cleverly improvised his transportation.
Dawn Wells Met Fans on a Literal Island
Celebrities should be able to get away from fans on remote islands with no water or electricity...right? Think again. While on a vacation with pals in 1990, Dawn Wells canoed out to a remote area in the Solomon Islands, expecting peace and quiet.
The Lagoon Was in a California Studio
Gilligan's Island was set in sunny Hawaii, but not every scene was shot on location. Although the crew attempted to film shots in nature, the conditions didn't always support successful filming. As a result, they were forced to move into CBS studios in California to shoot the lagoon scenes.
Bob Denver Was Almost Mauled by a Lion
While Gilligan's Island seems to be fairly low-risk, Bob Denver nearly lost his life after a scene with a lion went horribly wrong. In the scene, Gilligan barricaded the door of the Howell hut closed to escape a lion on the island, unaware that the creature was inside with him.
Mary Ann Helped Vietnam Vets
Wells was one of the sweetest starring characters in the comedic show, yet the impact she had on the lives of Vietnam War vets is no laughing matter. Surprisingly, many soldiers found comfort in Gilligan's Island — particularly the charming role of Mary Ann.
Tina Louise Claimed Her Career Was Ruined
Tina Louise is well-known for her role on Gilligan's Island, yet she claimed that the show tanked her career. Throughout filming, Louise wasn't happy with how her character was being portrayed and wanted to manipulate her personality. She frequently clashed with studio executives over her character's behavior.
Audiences Thought the Shipwreck Was Real
Although Schwartz's comedic creation is not based on a true tale, some viewers thought that the sitcom was real. The sets were pretty good and the actors appeared authentic, but it seems pretty evident that it wasn't a reality show, right?
Natalie Schafer Was Her Own Stunt Double
Despite being worth a great deal of money (and being in her mid-60s during filming), Schafer wasn't afraid to perform risky scenes onset. For the majority of her stunts, she refused the help of a stunt double, insisting on diving into the action herself.
Jim Backus Was a Cheapskate
Jim Backus may have played a millionaire on the show, but in real life, he was a total cheapskate. Although he had a friendly personality, he often liked to go out to lunch with his coworkers...and conveniently forget his wallet every time.
Denver Was Nothing Like Gilligan
Gilligan's quirky, awkward, bumbling personality is what gives Gilligan's Island its true charm. Although Denver's portrayal of the role is the glue that holds the sitcom together (and he seemed to perform Gilligan's traits with ease), he was nothing like his famed character in real life.
Hale Hid a Broken Arm
At the end of the first season of Gilligan's Island, Alan Hale mentioned to Schwartz that he was grateful he'd finally have time off for his arm to heal. Schwartz was alarmed to find out that Hale had broken the limb three weeks prior when he missed a landing pad falling out of a tree on the set.
The Ship Was Named out of Spite
The S.S. Minnow wasn't named after a fish. Instead, Schwartz named the ship after a grumpy Federal Communications Commission president, Newton Minow. What drama did Schwartz have with Minow that made him name the wrecked ship the way he did?
Wells Is Still Collecting Payments
Almost every star on Gilligan's Island stopped reaping the rewards of their involvement in the show shortly after the program concluded. However, actress Dawn Wells is still collecting payments from the sitcom to this day. How is this possible?
Louise Loved One Cast Member
It's no secret that Louise had a strained relationship with the Gilligan's Island cast. However, she supposedly appreciated the presence of Jim Backus. Louise told Fox, "The person that made me smile...was Jim Backus. He was the funniest, most adorable man… It was his birthday and he had very bad Parkinson’s."
The Reunion Extras Were Bystanders
In Rescue From Gilligan's Island, Lloyd J. Schwartz (the creator's son) had the bright idea to get extras without ruining the budget. Schwartz admitted, "We didn’t have a lot of money… We were going to have the castaways being towed… There’s supposed to be thousands of people there cheering them on."
Gilligan's Island Inspired a Reality Show
While the plot of Gilligan's Island was entirely fictional, some television executives wanted to bring the jarring show to life with a reality series in 2004. The show, called The Real Gilligan's Island, featured a cast of contestants who were forced to try to complete bizarre tasks inspired by the show.
Gilligan's Full Name Is Willy Gilligan
Although the titular character is typically referred to only as "Gilligan," he has a first name in writing: "Willy Gilligan." This may not seem that significant, but for star actor Denver and writer Schwartz, it became a point of conflict in their working relationship.
The Show Ended on a Cliffhanger
By the end of the third season, Gilligan's Island was still enjoying significant success. Schwartz was certain that a fourth season was in the bag. He was so confident that he convinced several castmates that there was no chance of cancelation, causing them to buy homes near the set in Los Angeles.