Although it was only on the air for three seasons, Gilligan’s Island made a splash during the 1960s. Over six decades later, the show is still loved by so many. However, making Gilligan’s Island proved sometimes as rough as the storm that got them stranded on the island all those years ago.
Injuries, tragedies, and contract disputes are all part of the history of Gilligan’s Island, but so were long-lasting friendships and creativity. With its lighthearted fun, there are some darker political undertones that one wouldn’t expect from a show with a laugh track. Take a look behind the scenes to see what really went on when the cameras weren’t rolling.
A Lion Lunged at Bob Denver
In one episode of the series, Gilligan (Bob Denver) finds himself trapped inside a hut with a lion. Working with any wild animal can be dangerous, and the lion on set was ferocious. Even the trainer was covered in marks, which is never a good sign when you have to be in close quarters with an animal.
When it was time for Denver to film his scene with the lion, the animal lunged at him. He instinctively karate chopped the wild cat. Luckily, the trainer ran on to the set to tackle the lion mid-leap. That animal could have been the end of Gilligan.
Alan Hale Jr. Hid His Broken Arm for Three Weeks
At the end of Season 1, the cast and crew got together for an end-of-filming wrap party. At the gathering, Alan Hale Jr (the Skipper) told the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz, that he was happy he could finally let his arm heal. Schwartz looked surprised because he didn’t understand what Hale meant.
Hale told Schwartz that he had broken his arm three weeks prior. He reportedly missed a safety pad when falling out of a tree but didn’t want to miss filming days, so he didn’t tell anyone. Schwartz was shocked because Hale had been carrying bags of coconuts and Bob Denver while in pain.
The Coast Guard Received Telegrams Asking Them to Rescue the Cast
When the show aired, Schwartz received a surprising message from the US Coast Guard. He was confused about why they would reach out to him, but he soon found out they were being hounded with telegrams about the cast of Gilligan’s Island. Concerned citizens thought they were really stranded on an island.
People were writing to the Coast Guard to “rescue these poor people.” Schwartz couldn’t believe that people thought this was a real group of people stuck on an island. He said, “There was even a laugh track on the show. Who did they think was laughing at the survivors? It boggled my mind.”
Jim Backus Was Cheap
Although Jim Backus played millionaire Thurston Howell III, he was actually pretty stingy with his money. He might have been generous with his time, cracking jokes on set, but he was never one to spend his money on other people. He would always conveniently have an excuse not to pay.
Backus would often take Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) and Natalie Schafer (Lovey Howell) out to lunch while they were filming. However, he mysteriously always forgot his wallet when it came time to pay. To get him back, Schafer presented him with a $300 bill, the total for all the lunches.
Natalie Schafer Really Was a Millionaire
Long before Gilligan’s Island was even a thought in her mind, Natalie Schafer found her way to millions of dollars. Schafer and her husband invested in Beverly Hills real estate before the market value skyrocketed in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Therefore, she didn’t need the money from the series.
The running joke on set was that Schafer only took part in Gilligan’s Island for the free trip to Hawaii. When she passed away in 1991, a sizeable portion of her estate went to her poodle, which later went to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital after the dog died.
Much of the Original Cast Got Replaced
When CBS executives watched the original pilot for Gilligan’s Island, they were impressed but insisted on many changes. They were not happy with some of the casting and decided to fire the actors who played the Professor, Ginger, and a character that was supposed to be called Bunny.
Bunny was going to be a secretary, but the producers changed the character to Mary Ann. All three roles were recast. Some actors considered for the pilot were Jerry Van Dyke from Coach as Gilligan and Carroll O’Connor from All in the Family as Skipper.
Gilligan’s First Name Is a Topic of Debate
Since Gilligan’s Island was on TV, a popular piece of trivia has been “What is Gilligan’s first name?” It turns out that the question doesn’t have an easy answer. Schwartz considered a few different names for Gilligan, but no one ever calls him by his first name.
Schwartz considered “Willy” as a first name for Gilligan, and it appeared in an early press release for the series. However, Schwartz later said the Howells are the only ones addressed by their last names. Therefore, Gilligan must be the character’s first name.
The Cast Encountered Fans in Strange Places
While it might have only run for three seasons, Gilligan’s Island has stayed on the air for decades through reruns. People of many different ages love the show, and the cast said fans would show up everywhere. Russell Johnson (the Professor) had an unusual encounter in 2001.
Johnson remembered when he spoke at a biotech conference and discovered hundreds of the PhDs there were also fans of the show. He inspired many students to pursue science. Bob Denver also said that when he took his wife out on a date in Chicago, the chamber orchestra played “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island” when they spotted him.
The Show Was Supposed to Have a Political Message
When show’s creator Sherwood Schwartz was in college, in one of his classes wach student had to say what they would bring to a deserted island. Schwartz was intrigued by many of his classmates’ answers, and this idea stuck with him.
When Schwartz pitched Gilligan’s Island, he used this exercise from his college class to present a series that would satirize political and social conflicts, showing how pointless they are when our survival depends on each other. He had to tone down the concept for uninterested TV producers.
Two Major Characters Aren’t Credited in Season 1
Mary Ann and the Professor are two of the main characters in the series. However, in Season 1, they are only mentioned briefly as “the rest” during the title theme. Actors Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson were frustrated by this, and they had Bob Denver’s support.
Denver made sure their names were in the title credits when it was renewed for a second season. He offered to have his name moved to the end of the credits so that Wells and Johnson would get proper recognition. His support helped, and they got spots in the new opening.
A Satirical Novel Shared the Castaways Dark Backstories
Although it didn’t come from the show’s creator (and it is just a made-up collection of stories), Esquire reviewer Tom Carson published a dark satire called “Gilligan’s Wake” in 2003. It was a collection of stories detailing unknown parts of the castaways’ lives before the island. They all had some secrets to hide.
In the book, Carson wrote that Gilligan received electroshock therapy in a psychiatric hospital; Lovey said her marriage to Thurston Howell was bogus; and Mary Ann had a steamy affair. The darkest secret was that the Professor helped in the atomic event on Nagasaki.
The Cast Made Cameos After the Show Ended
Gilligan’s Island aired on CBS between 1964 and 1967, but its popularity surged throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was so popular that the cast made cameos even after the series finale. Denver, Hale, Johnson, and Wells appeared in character on an episode of ALF. The alien was obsessed with their lives.
Denver, Wells, Johnson, and Tina Louise (Ginger) also showed up in an episode of Roseanne. Besides their cameos, Denver teamed up with characters from other classic TV shows to promote McDonald’s in the late ‘80s.
Dawn Wells Was Forbidden to Sing on the Show
While Wells had many talents, singing was not one of them. However, her character Mary Ann had to sing on the show. Wells was so tone-deaf that producers had to bring in someone to dub her parts in songs such as “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
There was only one instance when Wells’ singing voice was heard in an episode because her screeching was part of the narrative. That probably put a dent in her confidence, but she could do much more than singing, so it balanced out.
Natalie Schafer Did Her Own Stunts
Schafer might have been in her late ‘60s when she filmed the show, but she proved that age is just a number. She was a thrill seeker and loved doing her own stunts. When Lovey would plunge into quicksand or a lake, it was Schafer doing all the hard work.
She wanted to pull her weight on the series as much as the rest of the cast. To accomplish the quicksand scene, Schafer covered herself in sand and fully committed. Her secret to staying young was swimming nude and eating lots of ice cream.
This Politician’s Death Delayed Filming
The Gilligan’s Island pilot was shot in Hawaii in late 1963, with the last day of filming set to take place at a local naval base. They planned to film on November 23, 1963, but something tragic happened the day before.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, so the government closed down the base for two days. This prevented the TV crew from finishing until December. A flag flying at half-mast appears in the first season’s opening credits in honor of the late president.
Tina Louise Didn’t Get Along With the Cast
Ginger was the self-absorbed movie star of the group, and it was reported that Tina Louise kept the act going even when the cameras weren’t rolling. She clashed with the other cast members early on, and the tension lasted throughout their time working together.
A 1965 TV Guide article stated that “Between scene, while the other six principals chat and tell jokes together, she sits off by herself.” Louise’s relationships with her castmates didn’t improve as time passed, and she refused to return for a series of reunion movies.
It’s Not Known Whether Dawn Wells Still Gets Paid for Reruns
During the 1960s, reruns weren’t as common as they are today. Therefore, when the cast signed their contracts, residuals weren’t written into the deals. While the rest of the cast didn’t care because they didn’t think about reruns, one cast member knew to ask for residuals.
Wells and her agent/husband asked for residual payments for all future broadcasts, and it is rumored that the CBS lawyers didn’t argue because reruns didn’t happen often. However, Wells has refuted the rumor stating, “We didn’t really get a dime.”
Natalie Schafer Lied About Her Age
While Schafer and her on-screen husband, Jim Backus, might have looked the same age, she was 12 years his senior. She did everything she could to hide her age as she was in her late 60s. Thankfully they didn’t have HD cameras back in those days.
Schafer was so adamant about hiding her age that she had a clause in her contract stating she was never shot too closely. This was so that viewers were less likely to see her wrinkles. Despite what she thought, she looked good for someone her age.
Gilligan’s Island Competed With Another Sitcom
Gilligan’s Island aired on CBS, but the network’s president, Jim Aubrey, wasn’t the show’s biggest fan. He had many unpopular opinions about the series, and his dislike for Gilligan’s Island ultimately ended his career. Aubrey thought the series would be better if it took place at a luxurious vacation spot.
Aubrey commissioned another sitcom with the same premise called The Baileys of Balboa to show that he was in charge. Unfortunately for him, the series went off the air after just one season. After the show failed, Aubrey was fired.
The Characters Represented the Seven Sins
Schwartz had many sources of inspiration for the series, and this one was the strangest. He claimed that each character was modeled after one of the seven deadly sins. Gilligan represented sloth, the Howells were greed and gluttony, and Ginger was clearly lust.
There was also the envious Mary Ann, proud Professor, and wrathful Skipper. If you think about it, these all make perfect sense based on the characters’ personalities. The island seems to be a symbolic purgatory. Schwartz might not have been so literal about it, but the inspiration shows.
Tina Louise Thought the Show Hurt Her Career
When Louise was cast on Gilligan’s Island, she thought she would be the star of the show. However, she was shocked to find out that she had to share screen time with six other actors. Maybe that’s why she was didn’t hang out with any of her co-stars on set.
To make matters worse, Louise reportedly disagreed with producers over her character. She later said that the show destroyed her career. Most people would think it did the opposite because the show was a success, but she is entitled to her opinions.
The Pacific Lagoon Was in California
People used to be able to visit the Pacific Ocean island where the castaways were stranded. While it might not have been an actual island, the set was located in California. The initial plan was to film Gilligan’s Island in Malibu, but that plan was nixed.
CBS ended up constructing a set for the show on its Studio City lot in Los Angeles. Some lucky people got to visit the location and pretend they were castaways. The set lasted for 30 years before it was turned into a parking lot.
Producers Turned Down an Unknown Raquel Welch
Before she starred in One Million Years BC, Raquel Welch was one of the many actresses who auditioned for the part of Mary Ann. Unfortunately, the producers didn’t think she was wholesome enough. Welch had the last laugh because she landed a leading role a few years later.
Just a year before Gilligan’s Island was canceled, Welch got a contract with 20th Century Fox, and her career took off from there. She went on to star in films like The Animal, 100 Rifles, and Fantastic Voyage. She probably wouldn’t have been as successful if she got the part of Mary Ann.
CBS Told Producers There Would Be a Fourth Season
Although it has been a hit through reruns, Gilligan’s Island’s third season was a flop in the ratings. Even though the show was struggling, CBS convinced Schwartz that they would renew the series for a fourth season. However, nothing is guaranteed in show business.
After Season 3, Gilligan’s Island was forced to give up its prime-time slot to Gunsmoke. It was subsequently canceled before a fourth season was ever made. Some things are better left short and sweet, even though the group didn’t get off the island before it ended.
The Cast Bought Houses Near the Set
When it was announced that Gilligan’s Island wouldn’t be coming back for a fourth season, some cast members took it harder than others. Some of the cast was on vacation when the news broke, and when they returned, they were angry with Schwartz.
Schwartz told the cast that a fourth season was going to happen, so a number of the actors bought homes near the studio. This was their lesson not to believe anything in show business will happen until papers are signed and filming has begun.
The SS Minnow Was Named After an Enemy
Remember the charter boat that shipwrecks the crew and passengers? It was called the SS Minnow, and Schwartz named it after his archenemy, Newton Minow. Minow was the former president of the Federal Communications Commission, and he got on Schwartz’s bad side.
Minow said television programming was “a vast wasteland,” which didn’t sit well with Schwartz. While Minow had his opinions, Schwartz got the last laugh when his show became a success. Everyone has an opinion, but you don’t have to listen to all of them.
Natalie Schafer Didn’t Believe in the Show
While CBS executives had reservations about Gilligan’s Island succeeding, they weren’t the only ones with reservations. Schafer was skeptical as well. According to reports, she didn’t believe that a show with such a silly plot would last more than a season.
Everyone was glad she stayed on board because no one could imagine anyone but Schafer in the role of Lovey. She was happily proven wrong when the show lasted for three seasons instead of one, but she wasn’t too surprised when it was canceled.
Gilligan Almost Had a Pet Dinosaur
Long before Jurassic Park was a movie, the writers for Gilligan’s Island thought of giving Gilligan a pet dinosaur. Based on what we learned from Jurassic Park, that would have been much scarier than his encounter with the lion. However, they weren’t able to follow through.
Much to Schwartz’s relief, budget constraints didn’t allow for that bizarre idea to come to life. It would have been a much different show if they landed on an island with dinosaurs and kept them as pets. That is even sillier than the original idea for the series.
Alan Hale Jr. Had to Audition Secretly
Hale wanted his role in Gilligan’s Island desperately and was willing to go to extreme lengths to just audition. At the time, he was filming a Western movie in Utah, and they wouldn’t let him leave for his audition. However, that wasn’t going to stop Hale.
Hale rode a horse, hitchhiked, and caught a flight to Los Angeles to get to his audition. Luckily, he was rewarded for his efforts and didn’t lose his part in the Western film despite breaking the rules. He was the perfect person to play the Skipper.
The Professor Almost Had a Nephew
When the Gilligan’s Island producers were toying with what characters to have on the series, they initially thought to give the Professor a young family member – a nephew to be exact. While “Uncle Professor” doesn’t roll off the tongue, it could have been interesting.
Luckily, this was just an idea because the executives shut down having a child in the cast. They already had a big kid in the cast in the shape of Gilligan. We do have to wonder if the Professor would have been a good uncle.
John Williams Composed the Original Theme Song
Today, John Williams is regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood composers of all time. Before he became known, he was subbed by the producers of Gilligan’s Island. They didn’t think he was a big enough name and didn’t like what he created for the show.
The music legend provided the tune for the show’s theme song for the pilot episode. His contribution was consequently replaced before the sitcom made it to the air. They made a big mistake in getting rid of his music.
The Coconut Cups Were Real
While authenticity might not have been one of Gilligan’s Island’s strong suits, they did get it right a few times. During Season 1, the cast drank out of coconut cups that were made from real coconuts. Although it was realistic, the cups were porous and soaked through.
In the following two seasons, ceramic replicas replaced the natural coconuts. The premise was that the characters had to use various devices they could find on a tropical island, so coconuts would be an obvious choice for something to drink out of.
Russell Johnson Was Once in the Military
Before he was a TV or movie star, Russell Johnson took a different life path. After high school, Johnson joined the US Air Force as an aviation cadet. He used the money he received from the GI Bill to fund his acting classes, which paid off.
He took what he learned in his acting classes and found fame as the Professor. After Gilligan’s Island, Johnson and Wells got guest roles on ABC’s sci-fi drama The Invaders. Johnson appeared as an attorney in The Invaders: The Trial.
Jerry Van Dyke Was Their First Choice for Gilligan
Bob Denver might have made Gilligan a famous character, but he wasn’t the first choice for the role. Producers wanted Jerry Van Dyke, who starred in Coach, but he turned down the role. When he got the pilot script, he said it was the worst thing he had ever read.
Van Dyke wasn’t one to talk because he went on to star in the ridiculous My Mother the Car. It’s possible he didn’t have the best judgment. If he had given the script a chance, he might have liked playing Gilligan.
Jayne Mansfield Almost Played Ginger
Like Gilligan’s character, another actor was initially chosen to play Ginger over Tina Louise. Producers first approached Jayne Mansfield for the role, but she turned it down. The blonde bombshell’s third husband advised her to pass on the show. She shouldn’t have listened.
Mansfield passed away just after the third season of Gilligan’s Island. While it would have been fascinating to see her in this role, it’s hard to imagine anyone else besides Louise as Ginger. Surprisingly, producers wanted a sex symbol at first instead of someone more wholesome.
Several Bloopers Made It Into the Final Cut
If you are someone who has watched Gilligan’s Island over and over again, you might have caught some of the mistakes they left in the show. In the episode titled “Friendly Physician,” parts of Los Angeles can be seen in the background above the trees.
Another mistake everyone missed was that Denver kept his wedding ring on despite his character being single in the episode “They’re Off and Running.” Also, the castaways were supposed to be on a three-hour tour, yet they had an awful lot of supplies on the boat.
Zsa Zsa Gabor Made a Guest Appearance
Famed actress Zsa Zsa Gabor made a guest appearance during Season 2 in the episode titled “Erika Tiffany-Smith to the Rescue.” The beautiful socialite arrives and wants to buy the island to build a resort. Her arrival stirs up different feelings from everyone.
The Skipper falls for her and tries to impress Gabor’s character, but she only has eyes for the Professor. If she got to the island and left, how come she didn’t take everyone with her? Something didn’t make sense there. However, Gabor was more amusing than expected.
Gilligan’s Name Was Picked Randomly
You would think that there would be careful thought behind the lead character’s name, especially if it is the title of the show. That might have been the case for other series, but Schwartz didn’t spend much time thinking about Gilligan’s name.
Schwartz surprisingly selected the name Gilligan from a phone book. What if his finger hit a different name? Would the show have been called Robert’s Island, or would he have picked another name? Luckily, he landed on Gilligan because that sounds like a sailor’s name.
A Lucille Ball Movie Inspired the Premise
There were many inspirations for Gilligan’s Island. Besides the seven deadly sins and a game Schwartz played in his college class, Lucille Ball’s movie Five Came Back also encouraged the show. In the 1939 film, a group of plane crash survivors are left stranded in the Amazon Forest.
The characters in the film include a wayward pilot and co-pilot, a botanist and his wife, a sultry woman with a shady past, and a wealthy playboy and his homespun wife. Sounds familiar, right? Schwartz liked the movie, and it helped him create characters.
Jim Backus’ Role Was Written Specifically for Him
The role of Thurston Howell III was written explicitly for Jim Backus, who was close friends with Schwartz. However, at the time of casting, Backus was not available immediately. He was also too expensive to hire for a supporting role.
Eventually, Backus was available at the last minute and liked the script enough to join. CBS approved the extra money to hire him because he was a well-known name, and he could draw in more viewers who were already fans of his work. He was the perfect man to play the millionaire.
The Term “Little Buddy” Wasn’t Written Into the Script
After watching Gilligan’s Island, everyone can see that the Skipper is a softy underneath his rough exterior. He often referred to Gilligan as his “little buddy,” but that wasn’t a nickname created for the show. Hale used to call people that name in real life.
If you followed Hale’s work, then you probably heard him give that nickname to another television character two years before he was on Gilligan’s Island. In 1962, Hale appeared on The Andy Griffith Show, where he played a farmer who refers to his partner as his “little buddy.”
Six Women Have Played Ginger
Although Tina Louise is best known for playing Ginger, she didn’t get along with the cast and refused to return for any reunion spin-offs. Instead of eliminating her character, other actresses stepped in to play Ginger. When Louise gave up the part, she was replaced by Judy Baldwin.
Constance Forslund later replaced Baldwin in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. In the 1974 animated series, The New Adventures of Gilligan, Jane Webb voiced Ginger. Lastly, Dawn Wells voiced both Mary Ann and Ginger in the 1982 cartoon Gilligan’s Planet.
Mary Ann Was a Fan Favorite
In an interview with The Vancouver Sun, Wells was asked about a funny rumor. People said she received between 3,000 to 5,000 fan letters a week from fans. She said it wasn’t that many, but she did get a good amount of fan mail.
Wells said she got some creepy letters, saying, “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. “ A fan once wrote to remind her that it was their anniversary.
There Was Almost a Fourth Movie
Like the fourth season, Schwartz also planned for a fourth movie. The plot was supposed to revolve around the castaways discovering that a nuclear war has wiped out human civilization. Wouldn’t they have also been wiped out if the rest of the population was gone too?
Denver explained, “The seven of us think it’s destroyed, and we get married. Gilligan marries Mary Ann, and they have a baby boy. The Professor marries Ginger, and they have a baby girl. Then there is a scene where Gilligan’s son is older and sails off to see if the world is destroyed, but it isn’t.”