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)

ALL:
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.

Ginger as a member of The HoneybeesGINGER:
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.
Like Hawaiians need their poi.
Like a girl needs a boy.
You need me.

The HoneybeesLOVEY:
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.

ALL:
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.
Buzzzzz.

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 Howells 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.

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17 comments

  1. Bingo, Bango, Bongo, and Irving–I won’t forget! Terrific post on a series that defied the odds to become a TV classic. I had totally forgotten about the animated GILLIGAN’S PLANET and, believe it or not, I haven’t seen the original pilot (but plan to rectify this week). You’re right, a lot has been written about GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but I learned some new stuff from your post and look forward to watching the series again this summer on MeTV. By the way, my answer has always been Ginger.

  2. For the record, Thurston Howell IV was mentioned ambiguously in “So Sorry, My Island Now” (s1 e15) at 17:00 in dialog:

    JAPANESE SAILOR
    You are married to big mouth, huh?

    MRS HOWELL
    I am Mrs. Thurston Howell the Third.

    JAPANESE SAILOR
    Have been two other like that?

    MRS HOWELL
    There may be a Thurston Howell the Fourth.

    JAPANESE SAILOR
    Wonder why Emperor want United States?

    I was surprised when I discovered that reference on the GI DVDs. What does Mrs. Howell mean there? Is there a baby she gave up for adoption and doesn’t know his whereabouts? Does she mean there may be a Thurston Howell IV in the future, in spite of her being likely past menopause? Did Mr. Howell have an affair during the shaky years mentioned in “Home Sweet Hut” (s1 e2)?

  3. I knew with your blog the coconut cream pie would not be forgotten! Never been a big fan of this show but you have to admire its enduring popularity. As for ‘the question,’ the answer for me has always been Mary Ann.

  4. Great stuff. Two tidbits:
    I remember reading in one volume of Richard Lamparski’s “Whatever Became of…” book series that Russ Tamblyn was also considered for the role of Gilligan. Also, I read somewhere (might have been Cult TV by John Javna) that Jim Backus was considered the “name” among the cast at the time, and that Backus demanded nearly double the salary budgeted for Howell (and got it).

    Still enjoy this one, never got credit deserved for some smart scripts (like “The Little Dictator”, “The Hunter”, and “The Producer”). People will be watching it 100 years from now, and likely still laughing.

  5. This is a terrifically fun and all-encompassing post on this “classic” sitcom! Like so many others, I used to watch GILLIGAN’S ISLAND on TV after school growing up. Even then, I knew it was pretty silly stuff, but Bob Denver’s antics were enough to keep me watching (of course, I watched pretty much everything then, back in the 70s). Can’t really stomach an entire episode now, but like David above, it’s hard not to be impressed with its longevity. Tina Louise might have been a bit of a diva, but she does turn in a very good performance in the Robert Ryan western, DAY OF THE OUTLAW.

    And for this straight guy, it’s a tough choice: a kiss from Ginger might curl your toes, but Mary Ann was no slouch in that cute halter top…plus you wouldn’t catch Ginger baking you a coconut cream pie or taking care of you when you had a fever.

  6. This was a hoot! I loved your reference to Louise leaving the show so that she could pursue serious dramatic parts like deodorant commercials. So many actors feel as though their talents are going to waste and then they find themselves performing parts even worse than what they left. Susan Hampshire once said that she left Disney because she was afraid of being pigeon-holed in Disneyesque roles, but today she looks back on those parts and realizes just how endearing they were. Time certainly changes one’s outlook. Although in Tina Louise’s case she doesn’t seem to want to participate in Gilligan reunions to this day, so maybe that isn’t always so.

  7. Your essay reminds me how much our culture has embraced Gilligan’s Island over the years! TV movies, cartoon series, multiple books–oh, and the Roseanne episode! This is awesome. Thanks for a great post!

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