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 ’60s. 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…
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.