Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale

2015 Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon: Gilligan’s Island

When I decided to write about Gilligan’s Island for the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon, I wondered what I could say about the show that hasn’t already been said. After all, more people know the words to the Gilligan’s Island theme song than can name the vice president of the United States. (I just made that up, but I’m sure it’s true.) So I’m skipping the basics that everyone knows—the series premise, the characters—and going straight to fun facts and favorite moments.

The theme song

Did you know that the pilot (which wasn’t televised until 1992) had a completely different opening theme from the one we all know and love? That’s right, instead of singing “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” we might have been singing this calypso song, which, I think, is also very catchy.

Opening theme, Gilligan's Island pilot (1963)

Just imagine how different our world would be had the pilot remained unchanged. We’d have had a different Professor, a different Ginger, and a character named Bunny instead of Mary Ann. Also, there’d have been no movie star; this Ginger was a secretary. Their tour was twice as long—six hours instead of three—but still too short to justify all the clothing and other stuff the Howells brought with them. And I guess that instead of debating the relative attractiveness of Ginger and Mary Ann, people would be asking “Ginger or Bunny?”

The great Mary Ann/Ginger debate

Arguing whether Mary Ann or Ginger is more desirable has become a popular pastime—mostly among straight men. It boils down to whether you prefer a wholesome girl-next-door type or a seductive glamour girl. Is this question just the sitcom version of the Madonna-whore dichotomy? If you’re into guys, there’s no equivalent debate; no one asks, “Gilligan or the Professor?” It could be that the show’s male actors aren’t subject to the same kind of objectification because they aren’t as attractive, but I find the Professor sort of appealing, especially now that I’m older. Really, though, isn’t the whole discussion a bit ironic when you consider that we’re talking about an island where no one had sex?

Natalie Shafer as  Mrs. HowellAs a mature married woman, Mrs. Howell always gets left out of the hotness debate, but in the episode “Beauty is as Beauty Does,” she gets equal consideration as a contestant in the Miss Castaway pageant along with Ginger and Mary Ann. With Mr. Howell backing his wife, the Skipper backing Ginger, and the Professor backing Mary Ann, Gilligan gets to cast the sole vote—and casts it for an ape named Gladys. (Gladys, incidentally, is played by a male actor and stuntman named Janos Prohaska.)

Another occasion where Mrs. Howell gets to be “one of the girls” is when she joins Mary Ann and Ginger as a singer in a girl group called the Honeybees, in the episode “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes.” You see, a rock group named the Mosquitoes lands on the island, and the castaways think that by forming their own band, they will encourage the Mosquitoes to take them back to civilization. The male castaways form a band that sucks, but then the women show their talent as the Honeybees, singing an original song, “You Need Me.” Did you miss it? Don’t worry, you can see the classic performance below. Mary Ann’s voice is dubbed. (Oh, and naturally, the idea backfires: The Mosquitoes leave them behind, convinced the Honeybees would be too much competition.)

“You Need Me,” from “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes,” Gilligan’s Island (Dec. 9, 1965)

The HoneybeesAll:
You need us—you need us.
Like a clam needs a shell.
Like a prisoner needs a cell.
Like a dingdong needs a bell.
You need us.

You need me—you need me.
Like a picture needs a star.
Like a golfer needs a par.
Like teenagers need a car.
You need me.

Mary Ann:
You need me—you need me.
Like a baby needs a toy.
Ginger as a member of The HoneybeesLike Hawaiians need their poi.
Like a girl needs a boy.
You need me.

You need me—you need me.
Like a diamond needs a ring.
Like a harp needs a string.
Like a queen needs a king.
You need me.

You need us—you need us.
Like a bee needs a buzz.
Like a peach needs its fuzz.
So that’s why you need us.

Some trivia

The Mosquitoes were my downfall one time in a Gilligan’s Island trivia incident. I was at a social gathering where I happened to hear another guest boasting of his Gilligan’s Island trivia expertise. Confident that I had superior knowledge, I challenged him to a contest. And he stumped me right out of the gate with this question: What were the names of the four Mosquitoes? I will tell you the answer now, so that this never happens to you: Bingo, Bango, Bongo, and Irving. I do think I deserve some credit for having known that three of the Mosquitoes were played by the Wellingtons, which is the trio that sings the theme song in Season 1.

Speaking of trivia and character’s names, do you know the real names of the Skipper, the Professor, and Gilligan? Yeah, they have names: Jonas Grumby, Roy Hinkley, and Willy Gilligan, respectively. Gilligan’s first name is never actually mentioned in the series, and most viewers must assume that Gilligan is his first name, but according to series creator Sherwood Schwartz, it’s Willy.

The Skipper, the Professor, and Gilligan

Jonas Grumby (the Skipper), Roy Hinkley (the Professor), and Willy Gilligan

By the way, Bob Denver was not the first actor approached to play Gilligan. That distinction goes to Jerry Van Dyke, who turned down the role. Who knows why? Maybe he thought the premise of the show was too absurd. Instead he chose to star in My Mother the Car.

Dawn Wells book coverHow about some coconut cream pie?

Since Michael’s TV Tray is a classic TV and food blog, I would be remiss if I failed to discuss that island delicacy, coconut cream pie. Remember how Mary Ann was always baking them? Mary Ann’s portrayer Dawn Wells actually published Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook, which includes 13 different recipes for coconut cream pie, as well as other recipes, plus some of Wells’s Gilligan’s Island memories. Here’s a video of Wells baking a coconut cream pie for Conan O’Brien while promoting the book.

And what good is a pie if it doesn’t get thrown in someone’s face? Someone did us the favor of editing together various Gilligan’s Island pie-in-face clips.

Pies in faces on Gilligan’s Island

Behind-the-scenes stuff

Dawn Wells isn’t the only one who published a Gilligan’s Island book; Bob Denver (Gilligan), Russell Johnson (the Professor) and Sherwood Schwartz also shared their stories. Denver’s book is Gilligan, Maynard & Me; Johnson’s is Here on Gilligan’s Isle; and Schwartz’s is Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication.

Dawn Wells with pies

Dawn Wells bakes coconut cream pies while narrating the 2001 docudrama, Surviving Gilligan’s Island.

The actors also share reminiscences in the 2001 docudrama Surviving Gilligan’s Island. It’s primarily from Wells’s point-of-view, but Denver and Johnson appear too. The docudrama is as cute as Wells herself, and it’s fun to see the behind-the-scenes drama reenacted by other performers. Wells is seen baking coconut cream pies when she interrupts the action to narrate. The full movie is on YouTube.

One thing that all the accounts have in common is that they uniformly portray Tina Louise (Ginger) as temperamental. Reportedly, she was under the impression when she signed on that she would be the star of a series about a movie star stranded on a desert island “along with some others.” Sherwood Schwartz has suggested in interviews that she might have gotten a clue from the name of the series.

Louise also has stated the series caused her to be typecast and ruined her career as a serious actress. She is the only cast member who didn’t participate in the three TV movies. (More on those later.) The same year she declined to return as Ginger in Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, Louise took on the serious, dramatic role of a former sitcom star cursed with damp armpits. Yes, she played herself in a series of ads for Arrid Extra-Dry.

Arrid Extra-Dry commercial with Tina Louise (1978)

I snark, but Louise actually did give a great post-Gilligan performance as Charmaine, the tennis-loving trophy wife in The Stepford Wives. And she was a good enough sport to reunite with castmates Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, and Russell Johnson in a 1995 episode of Roseanne. (Roseanne must have been very powerful at that time to be able to make that happen.) In the closing tag, the Gilligan’s Island actors take on Roseanne roles that play against their Gilligan types: Tina Louise plays the decidedly unglamorous Roseanne, Dawn Wells plays surly Darlene, Russell Johnson plays dumb Mark, and Bob Denver plays Jackie—in drag.

Closing tag with Gilligan’s Island cast, “Sherwood Schwartz: A Loving Tribute,” Roseanne (May 24, 1995)

Getting off the island—and off the planet

Rescue from Gilligan's Island adWhen Gilligan’s Island was canceled in 1967 after three seasons, the characters were left stranded on the island. But that wasn’t the end. In 1978, they finally were rescued in the TV movie Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, only to be shipwrecked again on the same island at the end of that movie. Then, in the 1979 TV movie The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, they find a plane that they had previously overlooked on the island, and they manage to get it up in the air long enough to be spotted on radar, and are rescued again. And then, at last, the Gilligan’s Island saga comes to its logical conclusion, when they turn the island into a resort and are visited by the Harlem Globetrotters in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. I kid you not.

The second half of The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island sets the stage for what might have become a Fantasy Island copycat series. It even has Fantasy Island-type guest stars (Marcia Wallace and Tom Bosley). The Howells finance the transformation of the island into a resort, and all the other castaways work there—because why wouldn’t they want to spend the rest of their lives on the island they tried so hard to leave? And from whom did the Howell’s buy the property anyway? Did they steal it from the native headhunters who used to show up occasionally in the original series? What government has sovereignty over the island? Well, we’re not supposed to ask these questions, any more than we were supposed to ask why the Professor couldn’t build a boat in the original series.

Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligans Island adThe Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island continues the Fantasy Island format with Globetrotters appearing as themselves, and Barbara Bain and Martin Landau playing the movie’s villains. Jim Backus was at this point too ill to appear as Mr. Howell for more than one scene. Instead, we’ve got the Howells’ son, Thurston Howell IV, whom they missed so much that they never even mentioned him when they were shipwrecked.

You can watch all three TV movies on YouTube, at least until they get yanked down for copyright infringement. By the way, Ginger is played by Judith Baldwin in the first two movies and Constance Forslund in the third.

But wait, there’s more! The 1982-83 animated series Gilligan’s Planet takes the castaways and strands them on another planet! Find out how it happens in the opening credits:

Opening, Gilligan’s Planet (1982-83)

All the original cast lend their voices except, of course, Tina Louise. Dawn Wells voices both Mary Ann and Ginger, which truly renders the Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate moot, at least if you’re a cartoon character. But what’s up with animated Ginger having blonde hair? Supposedly, it was done to avoid trouble with Tina Louise, but it just seems wrong. Everyone knows gingers are redheads. Not only that, by this time, two other redheads had played Ginger in the TV movies, so I don’t get it.

Well, that about it wraps it up. I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry in the Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon. Gilligan’s Island airs on MeTV’s summer schedule seven days a week.

This post is part of MeTV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to metvnetwork.com to learn more about MeTV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.

Today on the tray: Ladybug picnic

picnic basketApril 23 is National Picnic Day.

According to Punchbowl.com, “People have been eating their meals outside in the beauty of nature for centuries. In fact, our modern-day idea of a picnic evolved from Medieval hunting feasts and Victorian garden parties. These were usually quite sophisticated affairs, which involved multiple courses and elaborate preparations.”

ladybugPeople often think of insects, particularly ants, as picnic-spoiling pests—but ladybugs (coccinellidae) are a different story. Come picnic with the ladybugs in this Sesame Street classic, “Ladybugs’ Picnic.” The ladies have a grand old time—competing in sack races, telling knock-knock jokes, and toasting marshmallows.

Ladybugs’ Picnic is brought to you by the number 12.

“Ladybugs’ Picnic,” Sesame Street (1971)

Today on the tray: Evil mushrooms

poisonous mushroom

Poisonous Amanita phalloides

April 16 is Day of the Mushroom (not to be confused with National Mushroom Day—that’s October 15).

Day of the Mushroom sounds like a movie where mushrooms take over the earth, doesn’t it? While there are good mushrooms to be sure, some can be pretty evil. The Amanita phalloides variety, for example, can cause organ failure and death. And then there are Witchiepoo’s evil mushrooms on H.R. Pufnstuf. They can turn you into a mushroom just by touching you.

psychedlic mushrooms

Psilocybin or “psychedlic” mushrooms, which probably inspired the H.R. Pufnstuf show

That’s what happens to Freddy the Flute in the 1969 episode titled “Flute, Book and Candle.” Despite Pufnstuf’s warning (“Don’t anyone touch the evil mushrooms!”) poor Freddy winds up in a patch of the evil talking fungi and is touched. One of the mushrooms is smoking a cigar, so you know he’s evil. What I don’t understand is this: If Freddy can talk, and the mushrooms can talk, and everything else on Living Island can talk—how come Freddy can no longer talk once he becomes a mushroom?

Watch the episode below. Pufnstuf’s warning is at 2:15. Freddy’s mushroom transformation is at 3:17.

H.R. Pufnstuf, “Flute, Book and Candle” (Nov. 22, 1969)

Today on the tray: Pecans

pecansApril 14 is National Pecan Day. Let’s celebrate by time-traveling back to 1962 and baking a pecan pie using the recipe from the Imperial Pure Cane Sugar box.

“Autumn’s fresh pecans—plump and tender for Imperial Harvest Pecan Cake…” Did the same actor do the voiceovers for every commercial from the ’50s and early ’60s? I swear they all sound alike.

Vintage commercial, Imperial Sugar Harvest Pecan Cake (1962)

Here are some fun pecan facts from NationalPecanDay.com

  • Pecans are known for their buttery flavor and soft crunch.
  • The pecan tree is the only nut tree native to North America.
  • Pecan is a Native American word, of Algonquin origin, used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”

Born on this date: Tiny Tim and David Cassidy

Tiny Tim, the performer known for his vibrating falsetto and his ukelele, and David Cassidy, the Partridge Family heartthrob, were both born on April 12 in different years (Tiny Tim in 1932 and Cassidy in 1950). Tiny Tim died in 1996.

I can’t help comparing their long hair—Tiny Tim with his greasy ’60s locks and David Cassidy with his blow-dried ’70s mane. I wanted hair like Cassidy’s, but the most my mother would allow was a modified Danny Bonaduce.

Here are some pretty groovy performances by each of the birthday boys.

Below, Tiny Tim sings his signature song, “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips,” on Laugh In. Dick Martin’s reactions are priceless.

Tiny Tim sings “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips” on Laugh-In (1970)

Here’s one of my favorite Partridge Family/David Cassidy performances, “Bandala,” from the episode “Soul Club.” The Partridge family has never looked so white, banging their tambourines and swiveling their hips while pseudo Black Panthers accompany them on violins at an inner-city block party/fundraiser. Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr. are in this episode.

The Partridge Family performs Bandala in the episode “Soul Club” (Jan. 29, 1971)

Today on the tray: Egg salad

egg salad in bowlThis week (the week after Easter) is National Egg Salad Week. Essentially it’s a way to get rid of those leftover hard-boiled eggs that the Easter Bunny left behind.

The University of Illinois Extension offers some Facts for Families for National Egg Salad week, including this:

Hard-cooked eggs should be stored in the refrigerator and used within one week, advises Carol Schlitt, University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

When storing hard-cooked eggs, you may notice a “gassy” odor in your refrigerator. The odor is caused by hydrogen sulfide that forms when the eggs are cooked. This gas is harmless and usually dissipates within a few hours.

Hey, remember the “Nerds” series of sketches on Saturday Night Live, and how Lisa Loopner’s mother, played by Jane Curtin, always offered people her “famous egg salad”? Gilda Radner played Lisa Loopner, and Bill Murray played Lisa’s boyfriend, Todd.

Below, Mrs. Loopner offers Lisa some advice as Lisa prepares to go to her prom. (Go to 1:45 in the video for the egg salad part; full transcript here):

Now, listen, what I’m about to say is very hard for me to say. Lisa, dear… making a baby is like… it’s um… it’s like making egg salad. You, the woman, produce the eggs, and the man furnishes the mayonnaise—of course, you don’t need chopped celery for… Oh, I’ve just given you my egg salad recipe, and I was saving that for your 21st birthday!

“Nerds Prom Night,” Saturday Night Live (May 20, 1978)

Even if your egg salad recipe isn’t as famous as Mrs. Loopner’s, have a great National Egg Salad Week.

In memory of James Best

James Best died yesterday, April 6, 2015, at age 88.

The actor was best known for playing Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard from 1979 to 1985. He also appeared on lots of other shows over the course of a career that stretched back to the 1950s.

Clip from “The Fugitive,” The Dukes of Hazard (Nov. 3, 1981)

James Best sits up in his coffin on The Twilight Zone

James Best sits up in his coffin in The Twilight Zone, “The Last Rights of Jeff Myrtlebank” (1962).

I was never really a Dukes of Hazzard fan, To me, Best was memorable for his Twilight Zone episodes, “Jess-Belle” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”

In the former, Best plays a handsome country boy who is fought over by two young women, one of whom uses a love potion to secure his affection. (The episode was penned by The Waltons creator Earl Hamner.)

In “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank,” he plays a man who awakens, alive and well, in the middle of his own funeral, causing the superstitious townsfolk to fear him.

Today on the tray: Coffee cake

Drake's Coffee CakeApril 7 is National Coffee Cake Day.

I always think of coffee cake as the cake with the cinnamon crumbs on top that fall off and make a mess, but apparently the term can be applied more loosely to any cake intended to go along with coffee.

Coffee cake can come in handy in many situations, so it’s good to take some with you wherever you go. On Seinfeld, for example, Jerry uses Drake’s Coffee Cakes to bribe Newman in order to buy his silence about Jerry’s spending time with someone else’s girlfriend. See the scene below from the episode titled “The Suicide.”

Jerry bribes Newman with Drake’s Coffee Cakes, Seinfeld, “The Suicide” (Jan. 29, 1992)

So enjoy National Coffee Cake Day—and watch out for those cinnamon crumbs.

Today on the tray: Cracker Jack

Cracker Jack packageApril 6 is National Caramel Popcorn Day.

“There’s something exhilarating about salty, crunchy popcorn that’s been coated with sweet, amber caramel. Maybe that’s why a particular brand of the stuff is a mainstay at ballpark concession stands across America,” writes CD Kitchen—referring, I’m sure, to Cracker Jack.

Cracker Jack commercial

“What have you got there, little boy?” Man reaches for sleeping boy’s Cracker Jacks in creepy commercial.

This Cracker Jack commercial from 1965 just screams pedophilia, as the strange man furtively reaches over towards the sleeping child to grab his… Cracker Jacks. Or maybe he’s going for the boy’s toy surprise. Seriously, I can’t imagine that they would ever make this commercial today. (I don’t mean to cast any aspersions on the actor, Jack Gilford, whom you might recognize from Cocoon.)

Vintage Cracker Jack commercial (1965)

Today on the tray: Manischewitz wine

In honor of the first night of Passover, here’s a 1962 radio commercial for that staple of Passover seders, Manischewitz wine. Bob Crane, later of Hogan’s Heroes, does two different voices in this spot. Plus there’s a jingle!

Manischewitz tastes just like grapes right off the vine

Imported sun-drenched berries make the very wines divine

That’s why this famous label is your natural flavor sign


Man oh Manischewitz!

What a wine!


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