Audiences have enjoyed the shipwrecked antics of Gilligan’s Island for over 50 years. But there was even more happening when the cameras weren’t rolling.
How many of these behind-the-scenes facts did you know about the lovable cast of castaways and their three-hour tour?
The Name “Gilligan” Was Taken From a Phone Book
When Sherwood Schwartz created Gilligan’s Island, he had the characters and the concept of the show vividly in his head but struggled with the title of the show. He knew that “Island” and the name of the first mate had to be a part of it.
Johnson? Thompson? Winkelpeck? Hogfighter? These were all names considered for the plucky first mate, but none of them seemed to fit. Desperate, Schwartz just started leafing through the telephone book and stumbled upon the name “Gilligan.” Schwartz found the name amusing yet grounded, so it stuck with him. The show’s title was found.
Jerry Van Dyke Was Almost Gilligan
When the idea of Gilligan’s Island was cooked up, creator Sherwood Schwartz has an actor in mind for the part of Gilligan: Jerry Van Dyke. The producers sent Van Dyke the script for the pilot and he hated it, calling it “the worst thing I’d ever read.”
He turned down the role. The role of Gilligan went to Bob Denver. While he turned down Gilligan’s Island, Jerry Van Dyke took another sitcom role. On the advice of his agent, Van Dyke accepted the lead role in My Mother the Car. It was one of his biggest regrets.
The Original Script Had Two Secretaries and a High School Teacher
The original script and test pilot of Gilligan’s Island had a few differences from the final show we know today. One major change was the castaways themselves. In the initial show, among those stranded on the island included two secretaries and a high school teacher.
After getting notes from the pilot’s test screening, changes to the show were made. The high school teacher would become the Professor we all know and love. The two secretary characters were rewritten as the movie star Ginger and the farm girl Mary Ann.
The S.S. Minnow Was Named After the President of the FCC
We know the name of the ship that got lost at sea and shipwrecked the characters was the S.S. Minnow, but there is a hidden joke within its name. In spite of its spelling, the Minnow wasn’t named after the tiny type of fish, but named after a person.
As a veteran television writer, Gilligan creator Sherwood Schwartz had to run many show scripts and concepts by the Federal Communications Commission. The president of the F.C.C. at the time? Newton Minow. As a fun pun and a dig at the FCC president, Schwartz named the shipwrecked boat after him.
Natalie Schafer Was Not a Fan of Gilligan’s Island
Natalie Schafer’s performance as the millionaire socialite Lovey Howell provided plenty of laughs on the show. Her humorous facial expressions and line delivery helped create a generation of Gilligan’s Island fans. It’s too bad she wasn’t a fan of the show herself.
When she was offered the role of the shipwrecked millionaire’s wife, Schafer saw the filming of the pilot as a one-and-done acting job. She did not believe the premise of the show was strong enough to be made into a full series. She was genuinely surprised when she got the call that the show was picked up for more episodes.
Confused Viewers Contacted the Coast Guard to Rescue the Cast
The goal of a television writer is to create a show that lets the audience get lost and engage with the characters. However, some fans can get a little too deep with their investment. During the initial airing of Gilligan’s Island, the American Coast Guard received several letters and telegrams requesting them to save Gilligan.
One telegram read, “For several weeks, now, we have seen American citizens stranded on some Pacific island. We spend millions in foreign aid. Why not send one U.S. destroyer to rescue those poor people before they starve to death?” To this day, it is uncertain if these letters were earnest concerns, pranks, or a mix of both.
Skipper Broke His Arm During Filming
During the season one wrap party of Gilligan’s Island, Alan Hale Jr. casually mentioned to Sherman Schwartz that he could finally get his arm looked at. Schwartz then asked what was wrong with his arm.
Hale revealed that his arm had been broken for weeks.
When Hale fell out of a coconut tree for a scene three weeks prior, he missed the crash pad and smashed his arm on the sound stage. Adhering to “the show must go on” motto, Hale hid the injury knowing that medical treatment would disrupt the shooting schedule.
Raquel Welch Was Almost Mary Ann
In the early days of production and after test audiences gave their input on the pilot episodes, the producers of Gilligan’s Island decided to change one of the characters from a secretary to a farm girl. When auditioning for this new character, one of the top candidates considered was Raquel Welch.
While the stunning Welch certainly caught the attention of the producers, she was out of the running for the Mary Ann role. While attractive, they felt that Welch wasn’t “girl next door” enough. The auditioning continued, focusing on actors that projected a more “wholesome” quality. With that, Dawn Wells got the part.
Thurston Howell Is One of the Richest Fictional Characters Ever
In Gilligan’s Island, Thurston Howell III frequently showcases his privilege and wealth. If you don’t believe us, look at the clothes he brought for a “three-hour tour”! Wealth like that gets you noticed, especially on a deserted island. It is with this in mind that Forbes magazine decided to honor Mr. Howell.
Thurston Howell III was frequently featured on Forbes Fictional 15 list of wealthy millionaires. While his exact wealth is never mentioned, Forbes cited Howell’s ability to fund “green technology” by the Professor as one of their talking points. Howell peaked at number nine on their list.
The Professor and Mary Ann Weren’t Originally Credited
If you sang the theme song from the first season of Gilligan’s Island, you may think you’re missing something. That’s because the Professor and Mary Ann are never mentioned or referred to in the song. In fact, they never made it into the show’s credits!
It wasn’t until the second season that Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells appeared in the opening credits of the show at the personal request of the show’s star, Bob Denver. The theme song was also altered to the one we all know and sing endlessly, changing the lyrics from “And the rest” to “The Professor and Mary Ann.”
The Professor’s Career Struggled After the Show
In several interviews, Russell Johnson had nothing but good memories about his time working on Gilligan’s Island as the Professor. However, he did claim to have trouble with his career after the show went off the air. Due to typecasting, Johnson struggled to get dramatic roles post-Gilligan’s Island.
Prior to Gilligan’s Island, Johnson had a wide variety of dramatic and comedic roles, but after the show, the world seemed to just see him as his Professor character. He would continue to get roles in comedies but wouldn’t break through as the dramatic actor he was trained to be.
Carroll O’Connor Auditioned For The Skipper
When searching for the Skipper, producers of Gilligan’s Island saw dozens of actors audition for the role. They were looking for a person that could portray be both hotheaded and loveable. One of the actors to make it to the final cut was actor Carroll O’Connor.
While O’Connor was able to portray a hilarious blowhard, producers thought he appear too unsympathetic for the role. The part of Skipper was offered to Alan Hale Jr. Don’t worry about O’Connor, though. He got to portray the hotheaded, loveable Archie Bunker in All In the Family.
The Millionaire’s Wife Was an Actual Millionaire
Natalie Schafer was the perfect casting choice for the role of Mrs. Howell. Not only because she was a great performer, but she because didn’t really have to act like a rich woman. After all, much like her character, Schafer was a millionaire herself!
When she was married to fellow actor Louis Calhern, the couple invested in various Beverly Hills real estate properties and took in millions of dollars over time. Much of her fortune was donated to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital, which now has a “Natalie Schafer Wing” in her memory.
Mrs. Howell Did Her Own Stunts
Throughout the show, the snobby Mrs. Howell would jump into lagoons, get caught in quicksand, and have to withstand numerous physical hazards. While the majority of the cast would have a stunt double for such scenes, Natalie Schafer, a woman in her mid-60s, refused.
Schafer promoted an active lifestyle, regularly swimming in her pool every day. Since she was in great shape and wanted to keep up with her younger castmates, the producers agreed to let her do her own stunts on the show. So whenever you see Mrs. Howell jump into the water, dart away from danger, and dance the night away, it was really her!
Ginger Didn’t Get Along with the Rest of the Cast
The cast of Gilligan’s Island meshed incredibly well together on TV, but behind the scenes was a different story. While the rest of the cast would relax and joke around between scenes, Tina Louise would isolate herself and sit alone. While there was nothing outright hostile, there was tension.
One of the sources of tension was Louise’s expectations of the show. Her agent pitched to her that the show was about an actress stuck on an island with regular people, leading her to think she was the main star of the show. When she found out that wasn’t the case, she clung to that resentment.
What is Gilligan’s First Name?
We all know good ol’ Gilligan, but did you ever catch his first name? We don’t blame you if you haven’t because it was never uttered throughout the entire series! Part of the reason why is because of a disagreement between Gilligan’s creator and Gilligan’s actor.
Show creator Sherwood Schwartz had the name “Willy” written in his notes when creating the character, intending it to be Gilligan’s first name. However, Bob Denver disagreed, insisting that Gilligan was the character’s first name. Agreeing to disagree, the two just settled on the character being only known as “Gilligan” and moved on.
Dawn Wells Still Gets Paid For Gilligan Reruns
In 1965, the standard contract for a television actor was a flat rate per episode plus a residual payment for the first five repeats of that episode. Every member of the cast signed that contract, except for Dawn Wells. Her then-husband/agent asked for an amendment to the residual clause and the producers accepted.
The producers never predicted that Gilligan’s Island would still be on TV over 50 years later. Because of the rerun clause in her contract, Wells is the only cast member to still get payments from syndicated airings of the show. Smart move, Mary Ann!
The Lagoon Set Was In Studio City, CA
The poor castaways of the S.S. Minnow were lost on an island. Surely someone would know where to look to rescue them. Well, if you thought to look in Studio City, California, you could have easily met Gilligan and the others at the lagoon.
The wet and lush lagoon set was built by CBS on their studio lot in the sunny desert of the Golden State. This was obviously done to save money from shooting on location and in the more predictable dry climate of the southwest. In 1995, the lagoon set was transformed into an employee parking lot.
John Williams Composed the Original Theme Song
The catchy theme we all know from Gilligan’s Island was not the show’s first theme song. For the pilot episode, show creator Sherwood Schwartz sung a jaunty, calypso song that described the plight of the castaways. The composer of the theme? The now-legendary composer John Williams.
Going by “Johnny Williams” at the time, Williams’ song was ultimately replaced by the theme we currently know. Williams would go on to become one of the most iconic composers for movie soundtracks, especially for films directed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Williams composed music for Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark among dozens of other hit films.
Six Women Have Played Ginger
While Tina Louise is considered to be the “official” Ginger, she was not the only one to play the role. Due to her friction with the cast and her rough history with the show itself, Louise declined to appear in any Gilligan’s Island spin-offs and reunion films.
The other women who played Ginger on camera included Kit Smythe for the pilot episode, and Judith Baldwin and Constance Forslund for the television movies. For the first animated series, Ginger was voiced by Jane Webb, but the Gilligan’s Planet cartoon had Dawn Wells voicing the roles of both Mary Ann and Ginger!
There Were Two Cartoon Spin-Offs
Saturday morning cartoons were becoming a big craze in the 1970s and 1980s, leading Sherwood Schwartz to think Gilligan’s Island could find a young audience as a cartoon. The New Adventures of Gilligan first aired in 1974 and ran for two seasons.
Years later, the cartoon show was rebooted and sent Gilligan and his fellow castaways to outer space in Gilligan’s Planet. Instead of being stranded on a remote island, the cast of characters find themselves on an undiscovered planet. It never explains how the Professor was able to build a spaceship to leave the island, but not a boat.
The Creator Saw the Show as a Social Commentary
When Sherwood Schwartz created Gilligan’s Island, he saw the show as much more than the wacky antics of different personalities trapped on an island. He wanted to create a show that critiqued world politics and focused on the cooperation of different social classes.
In the book Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication, Schwartz stated that he saw the show as “a social microcosm and a metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, yes we can all get along.” Beyond the surface of coconut jokes, Gilligan’s Island is much deeper than you believe.
The Skipper’s Name is Jonas Grumby
Pop Quiz: What is the Skipper’s real name? If you didn’t know it before, don’t be ashamed. The Skipper’s name “Jonas Grumby” was only mentioned twice throughout the entire series. While the Skipper’s name is a nice Easter egg, the character’s backstory is even more compelling.
The 2003 novel Gilligan’s Wake provided an unofficial backstory for Grumby. The man known as “The Skipper” supposedly served under Quinton McHale, the main character of the show McHale’s Navy. He also became lifelong friends with Gilligan after Gilligan saved his life during their time in the U.S. Navy.
The President of CBS Didn’t Believe in the Show
While Gilligan’s Island was being developed, the then-president of CBS James Aubrey had doubts for the show. While he liked the characters he couldn’t fathom them being marooned on a deserted island for multiple episodes, much less for seasons. But Gilligan creator Sherman Schwartz made a deal.
Schwartz told Aubrey that if the ratings ever slipped on the show, he would have the characters rescued from the island and go on a different adventure. While it faired well in the ratings, Gilligan’s Island wasn’t received well by critics. Due to the controversy involving the cancellation and renewal of the TV show Gunsmoke, Gilligan’s Island was canceled so Gunsmoke could take its time slot.
There Were Three Gilligan Reunion Movies
While Gilligan’s Island only ran for three seasons, it garnered a growing fan base in syndication. The popularity was such that in 1978, a two-part made-for-TV movie Rescue From Gilligan’s Island was on the air. The castaways were rescued but ended up back on the island again after their Hawaiian cruise reunion was spoiled at sea.
In 1979, another television movie The Castaways On Gilligan’s Island saw the characters rescued and build a resort on the island. The third movie saw the cast interact in an unusual crossover with the trickster, stuntman basketballers in The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan’s Island.
The Cast Appeared On Alf
Not only did Gilligan have visitors on his show, the cast visited other programs, too. On the episode titled “Somewhere Over the Rerun,” Gilligan, the Skipper, the Professor, and Mary Ann made an appearance on ALF. Alf becomes a big Gilligan’s Island fan and dreams that he is stranded on Gilligan’s Isle.
After dealing with the island’s woes, Alf decides that Gilligan’s Island is “only fun in half-hour chunks” and goes back to his regular life when he wakes. While it was for a short moment, it was interesting to see the cast in their old roles on a 1980s sitcom.
The Coconut Cups Were Real (Sort Of)
Many of the sets and props on Gilligan’s Island weren’t authentic except for one particular set of props. The cups made out of hollowed-out coconuts were indeed real and the cast drank out of them legitimately. While they were authentic, they also didn’t last very long.
Over time, the shells on the coconut cups absorbed the liquid that was poured into them. This caused the coconuts to appear discolored and their appearance looked terrible on camera. After they turned gross-looking, the real coconut cups were replaced with artificial ones that looked good on the screen and didn’t absorb their contents.
The Lagoon Set Was Next to an L.A. Freeway
The lush lagoon on Gilligan’s Island is so convincing that you would never know that it was actually a lot in Studio City, California. However, the lagoon set’s location was a pain for the sound engineers because it was right next to a busy Los Angeles freeway.
Due to the close proximity to one of the busiest roads in the city, scenes at the lagoon set had to have multiple retakes due to the sound of passing cars and trucks on the road. They also didn’t bother to schedule any shoots at the lagoon set during rush hour as they couldn’t edit out the sound of engines and car horns in the background.
Natalie Schafer Saw the Show as a Free Trip to Hawaii
Some actors read the pilot script of Gilligan’s Island and saw the opportunity to be on a fun hit TV show. Not Natalie Schafer. After reading the script and being offered the part of Mrs. Howell, Schafer only accepted the role for one reason: a free trip to Hawaii.
The initial filming of the show’s pilot took place on location in Hawaii, meaning that the actors would be given free plane tickets and downtime between shoot days to enjoy the beach. Schafer saw the pilot as a free working vacation, but it turned into one of the more prominent acting roles of her career.
Alan Hale Jr. Rode a Horse to His Audition
Alan Hale Jr. saw a great opportunity when he was asked to audition for the role of The Skipper. He got the opportunity while he was filming the movie Bullet for a Bad Man and was asked to come to L.A. for a screen test. The problem was that he was in Utah.
Hale couldn’t get time off from shooting the movie, so he sneaked away on horseback, hitchhiked, took a plane, and rode in a cab to make it to his audition to act alongside Bob Denver. His tenacity and drive helped get him the role that defined his career.
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