Behind the Scenes of 'Gilligan's Island'
| LAST UPDATE 03/13/2022
In 1964, the first episode of Gilligan's Island was aired on TV. The popular series followed a group of castaways living on an island. We're looking back at some behind-the-scenes secrets about the CBS sitcom.
How "Little Buddy" Came to Be
Fans of Gilligan's Island are probably familiar with how The Skipper called Gillian his "Little Buddy." But what some may not know is that the actor, Alan Hale Jr., used that nickname in his real day-to-day life.
The creator of the show, Sherwood Shwartz, overheard him saying it to members of the cast and crew. And that was when he decided to write it into the script. It wasn't the first time Hale's creation made its way onto a series. On the Andy Griffith Show, his character also used the nickname "Little Buddy."
Changes to the Cast
As the executives were casting the actors for the show, they realized they needed to switch out the characters who were rated "lowest" by viewers. In the original pilot, Ginger, a secretary, was portrayed by Kit Smythe. But based on reviews, they changed her occupation to movie actress and cast Tina Louise instead of Smythe.
Another change they made was to the secretary, Bunny. The creators removed the character entirely from the plot and instead created Mary Ann, a more reasonable character. Many auditioned for the role, including Raquel Welch, who was deemed not 'girl next door' enough. So ultimately, they went with Dawn Wells.
The Inspiration for 'Gilligan's Island'
Sherwood Schwartz came up with the idea for Gilligan's Island when he was in college. It came to him just by answering a question his New York University professor had asked. "If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have?"
Schwartz went above and beyond with his answer. So much so, that even years after graduating and spending time as a comedy TV show writer, he still remembered it. He took inspiration from the question and pitched the idea of a group of various people living on an island together. And that's how the popular show came to be.
Gilligan's Real First Name
If we rewatch the show Gilligan's Island, we may notice that no one ever claims that Gilligan is really his first name. While many have disputed this fact, the actor who portrayed the lead role, Bob Denver, claimed that Gilligan was, in fact, his character's first name. Yet, based on Schwartz's reports, Denver could be wrong...
Schwartz revealed, "Almost every time I see Bob Denver, we still argue. He thinks Gilligan is his first name, and I think it's his last name. Because in the original presentation, it's Willy Gilligan. But he doesn't believe it, and he doesn't want to discuss it. He insists the name is Gilligan."
Natalie Schafer's Stunts
There were many stunt scenes filmed for the show, from splashing into the lagoon to falling in quicksand. While the majority of the actors had a stunt double for those parts, there was an actress who decided to do it on her own. Despite being in her 60s, Natalie Schafer easily accomplished the stunts!
She credited her mobility and her fit shape to her ice cream diet. Schafer was able to drop 3 pounds in a short period of 5 days by eating a quart of ice cream each day. While we don't recommend this, it seemed to help the actress tremendously - especially when paired with her routine of consistently swimming.
Frugal In Real Life
In Gilligan's Island, Jim Backus portrayed the character of Mr. Howell. He was known as being a rich millionaire on the show, but when it came to real-life, he was actually pretty stingy with money. At least according to his co-star, Dawn Wells. in her book, What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life.
She wrote that on numerous occasions, Backus asked Wells and Natalie Schafer if they wanted to eat lunch. The girls accepted, except when it was time to pay for the meal, the actor claimed he had forgotten his wallet. When the season came to end, Schafer billed Backus $300 dollars for all the times she took care of the bill.
In the first season of the show, which aired in 1964, the original theme song was missing two of the main characters. The final part of the opening credit song's went, "the moo-vie star," with an image of Tina Louise. The screen read, "and also starring Tina Louise as 'Ginger.'" And then the lyrics finish with, "and the rest."
This was because Louise's contract stated no one's name follows hers. The only other actor who was named was Jim Backus. It wasn't until the second season that the two other main actors were included in the opening credits. Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells finally got the recognition they deserved.
Tension Between Co-Stars
In the Jan. 23, 1965 edition of TV Guide, it was disclosed that not all the cast members were getting along - especially with Tina Louise. "Denver will not say why he and the glamorous Tina do not get along, nor will any of the castaways, they just ignore her, and she ignores them," the article reported.
The article further revealed, “Between scenes, while the other six principals chat and tell jokes together, she sits off by herself. And recently, when Denver was asked to pose for pictures with her, he adamantly refused. Part of Louise’s dissatisfaction with the series was that she had expected to be the star of the show.”
Alan Hale Jr.'s On-Set Injury
It appears that Alan Hale Jr. was extremely committed to playing his role of The Skipper. So much so, that when he broke his arm on set, he didn't let it stop him from continuing his performance. He explained to Schwartz at a wrap party how now that they had finished filming, he could heal his arm.
Schwartz was confused, so Hale explained, "I broke it a few weeks ago." It happened during a stunt scene where he had to fall out of a coconut tree. Unfortunately, he didn't land on the crash pads. Schwartz asked, "How did you manage to haul coconuts and lift Bob Denver with a broken arm?" The actor answered, "It wasn't easy."
Dawn Wells is Still Getting Royalties
The original contracts that the cast of Gilligan's Island signed declared that each actor would get paid a certain amount for each episode - as well as royalties for the next 5 replays of each one. Yet, Dawn Wells continues getting paid to this very day, thanks to her then talent agent husband.
He advised Wells to ask for an amendment to that specific clause in the contract. Thanks to the producers approving this, Dawn still gets royalties 50 years after the original airing of the show. They had no idea it would still be on TV by now! The estate of Sherwood Schwartz is the only other person who gets money from reruns.
Bob Denver's Near-Fatal Accident
Alan Hale Jr. breaking his arm wasn't the only extreme thing that happened on the Gilligan's Island set. Bob Denver came close to passing away during filming. During a scene where his character was meant to be in Howell's hut, he stacked furniture against the door to keep a lion away. And it took a turn for the worst...
As the scene was happening, the lion attacked Denver. To try and get the lion off, he attempted to "karate chop" it, according to Dawn Wells. Luckily the trainer jumped in and pinned down the animal. When talking about the experience, Denver recalled, "even the trainer had claw marks all over him… my hair stood on end."
As in nearly every show ever created, sometimes the actors make mistakes which in turn lead to hilarious bloopers. Yet sometimes small errors get missed and make it on air. In one instance, Alan Hale Jr. kept his wedding ring on during filming... oops!
But crew members also made mistakes. In the episode "The Friendly Physician," if one looks above the island's trees, they may see a peak of the Los Angeles skyline. Another flaw was during the pilot opening credits. The song's lyrics were "Five passengers set sail that day." Yet 8 people were aboard the S.S Minnow.
When Gilligan's Island was first aired on TV, there were a few viewers who didn't quite understand the storyline. They believed that there really were people stuck on an island. Not only did these individuals send concerned letters to the show's creator, but some even called the Coast Guard to alert them of the news!
One of these "good samaritans" wrote, "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."
Ginger Was Played By 6 People
While fans enjoyed watching Tina Louise as Ginger, the actress herself wasn't too fond of playing the role. So when it came time for the series spin-offs and even sequels, a new Ginger was cast. The first to ever take over Louise's spot was Judith Baldwin. From there, a new actress was brought to play Ginger each time.
For the film, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, it was Constance Forslund. In the animated series, The New Adventures of Gilligan, Ginger was voiced by Jane Webb. And when it came to filming the 1982 cartoon, Gilligan's Planet, they decided that Dawn Wells would voice Ginger along with her character Mary Ann.
Natalie Schafer Lied About Her Age
The actress who portrayed Eunice Howell, the millionaire's wife, deceived audiences and the show's creators. Natalie Schafer lied about her real age - and when the truth finally came out, it stunned the fans of Gilligan's Island. In reality, she was 10 years older than Jim Backus, her on-screen husband!
It wasn't that she didn't tell the truth that surprised people - it was the fact that Schafer always looked so good! This might have had something to do with her contract. At the start of filming, she asked that the camera never film close to her face… probably to hide signs of aging. Consider us impressed.
The Show Affected Tina Louise
After leaving her character as Ginger, Tina Louise went on to act in other series and many movies. But, even though Louise stopped acting in Gilligan's Island, she claimed that being a part of the sitcom was ultimately what destroyed her acting career.
While she is no longer acting, Louise is currently a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And also a part of The Actors Studio in New York. She is an active participant in helping children's literacy. In 2007 she even gave away a part of her earnings from her book When I Grow Up to literacy programs.
The Skipper's Identity
Throughout all the episodes, Alan Hale Jr.'s character is referred to as The Skipper, leading fans to believe that was his real name. But if one were to rewatch the first episode of Gilligan's Island, they may find that it's not true. The Skipper introduced himself as Jonas Grumby.
That was the first and last time his given name was ever written in the script. In 2003, a book titled Gilligan's Wake explained that The Skipper had a devastating backstory where he worked with Quinton McHale on Machale's Navy. But the story was never related to the original show, so we cant be sure of this.
Jayne Mansfield Was Almost Cast
When a few characters weren't rated highly likable by audiences, the creators of Gilligan's Island made a few changes. At the same time actress, Jayne Manfield was having struggles in her career. So, she was asked to audition for the role of Ginger after they decided that she could be a movie star in the show.
Mansfield declined to take the part because that was what her third husband had advised. Instead, she continued having minor character roles in movies. Unfortunately, not many years after she was approached for the role, Mansfield tragically passed away at age 34.
Fans Loved Mary Ann
There was a rumor that Dawn Wells was getting up to 3,000 to 5,000 letters from audiences declaring how much they adored her. Wells was asked whether or not it was true during that interview with the Vancouver Sun. She subtly replied it wasn't as much as people assumed, but that it was true.
While she was flattered that fans loved her character Mary Ann, she said at times the letters took it too far. "I'd say some of the fans stretched their imagination quite a bit. It's a very interesting thing with men, because they follow you. I get proposed to all the time." One man even continued writing to her for 35 years!
S.S. Minnow's Backstory
In 1961, Newton Minnow was the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He arguably became well-known for insulting the television, after he called it “a vast wasteland.” Funny enough, Minnow would later inspire a TV show creator.
Sherwood Schwarts credited Minnow as the man who had "ruined television." So he used his name to name the ship that the individuals in Gilligan's Island used, the S.S. Minnow. Previously. Many people had assumed the title was inspired by the baitfish that has the same name.
Veterans Appreciated Mary Ann
It's clear that viewers of Gilligan's Island were very fond of Mary Ann's character, but there was a specific group of audiences that truly appreciated her. Many war veterans seemed to connect to her role, as Dawn Wells revealed during an interview with Forbes.
Wells said, "Many vets from Vietnam have said that Mary Ann kept them going, helping them make it through, kept them positive and focused on returning safely. They kept my picture in their helmets. I have the utmost respect for what it takes to be one of America's finest, and am very thankful for what they do."
A Potential 4th Movie
There were 3 movies made after the sitcom ended in 1967. There were discussions for a 4th sequel, where Shwartz had planned that the castaways discover a nuclear war had erased the human population. Bob Denver said, "The seven of us think it's destroyed, and we get married. Gilligan marries Mary Ann, and they have a baby boy."
He continued: "The Professor marries Ginger, and they have a baby girl. And then there's a Blue Lagoon sequence where the kids grow up, so when Gilligan's son is 20, he sails off to see whether the world is really destroyed... They heard it on the radio, and Gilligan broke it just before the disclaimer came on."
Truth Behind The Millionaire's Wife
Natalie Schafer only took on the role of Mrs. Lovey Howell because it meant she wouldn't need to pay for her flight to Hawaii, where the first episode was shot. This was ironic, considering the actress probably could have paid for a trip like that on her own since she was indeed a millionaire.
When she passed away, the majority of her funds went to her poodle since she never had any kids. When the dog passed away, the money was to be donated to the Motion Picture & Television Fund Hospital. It's also been said that some money was given to her co-star, Dawn Wells, who helped Schafer when she had breast cancer.
The scenes in Gilligan's Island typically were set on an island, as it is the main premise of the show. At first, they attempted to shoot two episodes in Malibu, but due to weather conditions, it didn't work out. So they used a set specifically for the sitcom by CBS - in a lot that was located in Studio City, Los Angeles.
Yet there were still problems with filming in a studio. One issue was that the cars outside could be heard on camera. So when traffic was bad, the filming had to be paused. Secondly, the water in the "lagoon" was around 40 degrees! Bob Denver even wore a wet suit to avoid the cold. By 1995, they turned it into a parking lot.
Each Monday night in 1966 and 1967, when 7:30 rolled around, fans would flip their TVs channels on to CBS to watch Gilligan's Island. And on Saturday nights, the long-time fan-favorite western show, Gunsmoke, was on. CBS was in the works of canceling Gunsmoke when things took a turn.
Many fans, and even William S. Paley, begged CBS to keep the Old West show running and move it to Monday nights at 7:30 pm. The network listened, and they ultimately canceled Gilligan's Island instead. It all happened so fast that the cast didn't even know till they had all come back from their holiday trips.
The president of CBS at the time, Jim Aubrey, wasn't a huge fan of the show Gilligan's Island. He had a similar storyline that he felt would have been a better idea. But instead of letting it go, he created his own show - and it was released the same year as Gilligan's Island.
The Baileys of Balboa was about the Bailey family who lived on an island in Balboa. They found themselves getting into many disputes with their much wealthier neighbors. Aubrey wanted to demonstrate that this storyline was better, but it was canceled after one season, and he was ultimately fired from being CBS's president.
After Gilligan's Island was canceled out of nowhere, many devoted fans were left wondering what had happened. Because it was so sudden, many unanswered plot holes were left uncovered in the show. One of these questions was whether or not the castaways were ever rescued from the island.
To tie up loose ends from the sitcom's third season, a movie was made in 1978. Rescue from Gilligan's Island was just as successful as the original show had been. So much so, that a second script was written, and by 1979, the movie Castaways on Gilligan's Island was released.
It was a success back then - but even today, Gilligan's Island is beloved by many fans! It's specifically popular in Australia, along with another Sheroowd Schwartz creation: The Brady Bunch. Throughout the years, many new versions of the story have been released, some even turned it into a musical.
Hope Juber, Sherwood's daughter, continues to keep his legacy alive. She even still has a gift her dad got. "Alan Hale Jr. presented [Schwartz] with the bronzed hat, as a meaningful, sentimental gesture. I think that by bronzing the hat it was a way of not only keeping it protected and preserved but also immortalizing it," she noted.
Jerry Van Dyke Was Almost Cast
When Schwartz was first casting the actors for the show, he immediately thought of getting Jerry Van Dyke to play the character Gilligan. But unfortunately, Van Dyke was not pleased by the script. He said it was, "the worst thing I'd ever read." He clearly turned down the offer.
But he never regretted the decision. He said, “I had a lot of problems with the agency because they were trying to push me into taking [Gilligan’s Island], but that’s the joke: I turned it down and took My Mother the Car. But, again, it was really good because I’d [have] been forever known as Gilligan. So, that worked out too!”
Alan Hale Jr.'s Journey to LA
Schwartz was almost done hiring all the actors and actresses that would be cast on Gilligan's Island - he just needed to find the right match for The Skipper. He was looking for someone who was tough and rugged, yet sweet and caring, since that was the personality The Skipper had.
That's when he called Alan Hale Jr., who at the time was filming in St. George, Utah, for Bullet for a Bad Man. He was unable to get any time off from set, so Hale decided it was best to not tell anyone and leave. To get to Los Angeles, he rode a horse, hitchhiked, took a plane, and then a cab. He must've really wanted that role!