Source: Bettmann/Getty Image

Secrets You Never Knew About the Stars of Gilligan’s Island

By: Lindsey Charleston | Last updated: Aug 26, 2022

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about the strife behind the scenes on Gilligan’s Island. Things are often not ideal on set, even after the director has called a cut. Who would have ever guessed? 

You may have laughed along with Gilligan, Skipper, Lovey and all the gang for years, but you probably never knew these odd secrets about the actors who played them.

The Name Gilligan Was Chosen at Random

You’d think that a leading character’s name, especially one that appears in the show’s title, would be carefully considered.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Not where director Sherwood Schwartz was concerned! He just dialed a random number in the phone book — and the name of the recipient was Gilligan. If Schwarz’s finger had dropped on Kowalczyk, we wonder if the program would have been a smash.

The Plot Was Based on a Lucille Ball Film

If you’ve ever seen the Lucille Ball film Five Came Back, the idea of Gilligan’s Island will be familiar to you. Not only did the beloved comedy draw inspiration from the Bible, but it was also influenced by the 1939 film, in which a group of survivors of an aircraft accident get stuck in the Amazon.

Advertisement

Source: Alex Kahle

Now that the name of the series and plot of the series were defined, they needed a top-tier cast if they truly wanted to make the show memorable. Let’s look into some of the behind-the-scenes cast secrets next!

The Original Theme Music Was Created by John Williams

John Williams is now universally considered one of the finest composers of all time for Hollywood films. But back when was he only Johnny Williams?

Advertisement

Source: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Surprisingly, the makers of Gilligan’s Island passed him up. Before the sitcom aired, a different composer was enlisted, and the theme song in the show’s premiere is completely different.

The Lagoon in the Pacific Ocean Was Really in California

An undiscovered Pacific Ocean island? Regrettably, this is not the case! Following the cancellation of the initial intention to film in Malibu, CBS built a set for the program on their Studio City property in California.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

You might have played castaway yourself if you were lucky enough to visit the site. The set lasted almost 30 years before they paved over the paradise to put up a parking lot.

Natalie Schafer Wasn't Optimistic About the Show's Chances

Just to be fair, CBS execs weren’t the only ones who thought Gilligan’s Island was a dud. Natalie Schafer, who played Lovey Howell, was a skeptic.

Advertisement

Source: Sitcoms Online

She reportedly didn’t think a sitcom with such a ridiculous premise would stay the course. But we couldn’t fathom anyone else playing Lovey, so we’re delighted she stayed.

Advertisement

Two Main Characters are Absent from the First Season Credits

Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells may have been disappointed when they first watched the opening credits. Why? Do you recall the lyrics of that memorable theme song?

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

The Professor and Mary Ann are merely referred to as “the rest” in the lyrics, while the remainder of the characters were given specific names. This was remedied in the second season, after Bob Denver stood up for them.

Advertisement

A Grim Satire Followup Was Created

In 2003, Tom Carson of Esquire Magazine recreated the Gilligan’s Island story, and it was rather bleak. True fans of the original would not have been pleased with how it went down.

Advertisement

Source: Bettmann/Getty Image

In the dark parody, Mary Ann has an affair, Lovey admits that her marriage was a ruse, and the Professor is involved in the atomic weapon development that dropped on Nagasaki. What about Gilligan? He spends time in a mental facility where he is subject to electroshock therapy. We’re glad that’s not what really happened!

Advertisement

Dawn Wells Was Not Allowed to Sing

Dawn Wells had a lot of tricks up her sleeve, but singing was not one of them. Jackie DeShannon was hired to dub over her portions in songs like, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” because the actress was tone-deaf.

Advertisement

Source: Facebook/Gilligan’s Island

The producers heard Wells’ original voice in an episode where Mary Ann’s caterwauling was part of the plot, and quickly realized they needed to dub her from then on. Whew!

Advertisement

Gilligan Was on the Verge of Getting a Dinosaur as a Pet

If Hunt Stromberg, Jr. had his way, Gilligan’s Island may have developed into a mini-Jurassic Park series.

Advertisement

Source: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

Yes, this is true! The producers came up with the brilliant idea of giving Gilligan a pet dinosaur. Budget limitations, much to Schwartz’s relief, eventually put an end to that odd concept.

Advertisement

Ginger Wasn't Well-liked on Site

Tina Louise’s desire to separate herself from the show explains why she was not a well-liked character during production.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

While the rest of the Gilligan’s Island ensemble used to laugh and joke together in between takes, Louise, according to Bob Denver, preferred to be alone.

Advertisement

Gilligan's Given Name is Still a Point of Contention

Have you ever wanted to know what Gilligan’s first name is? Is it possible that Gilligan’s first name is Gilligan?

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

In a press statement, Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, referred to the hero as Willy, although this was not considered an “official” response. But wait a minute! The only characters that were called by their surnames were the super-rich Howells, according to Schwartz. So what’s really true?

Advertisement

Carroll O'Connor Was Nearly Cast as The Skipper After a Successful Audition

Even though O’Connor made the shortlist, producers were concerned that his interpretation of the role was not appealing enough. That is probably for the best because we can not picture The Skipper ever uttering “groinacologist.”

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

After bringing the grumpy Archie Bunker to life, Carroll O’Connor became a household name. He came close to landing his big break some years prior when he auditioned for the role of The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island

Advertisement

The Show Continued to Live

Even though Gilligan’s Island ended in 1967, its characters continued to appear on other television series for many years. The Skipper, the Professor, Mary Ann, and Gilligan all showed up on ALF in the 1980s for an episode in which an extraterrestrial falls in love with the show.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Roseanne included several cast members in a scene. Oh, and for a McDonalds’ ad, Denver recreated his most famous part. Yes, that was Gilligan chomping on some French fries!

Advertisement

Schafer Performed All of Her Stunts Herself

Throughout her time as Lovey, Natalie Schafer demonstrated that age is just a number. And although she was in her 60s, the actress was willing to perform her own stunts.

Advertisement

Source: Bettmann/Getty Images

Whenever Lovey was diving into the mud or lagoon, Schafer was putting her own life on the line. Swimming and eating ice cream, according to the actress, helped her stay in shape.

Advertisement

It Had to Compete with Similar Sitcoms

Jim Aubrey, the president of CBS, was not an admirer of the show. He wasn’t a fan of “the whole island thing.” He believed the program would be better suited if shot in a posh resort.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Aubrey then commissioned another sitcom based on the same concept to support his argument. The Baileys of Balboa, on the other hand, was canceled after only one season. Aubrey lost his job as a result of that disaster.

Advertisement

A Few Bloopers Made the Cut

You may have noticed one or two bloopers if you have watched Gilligan’s Island over and over. Parts of Los Angeles, for example, hang above the trees of the ostensibly uninhabited island in “The Friendly Physician.”

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

In “They are Off and Running”, the single Gilligan may also be seen wearing Bob Denver’s wedding ring! 

Advertisement

Tina Louise Regretted Doing the Show

Years later, the film legend said that the show had ruined her career. What’s more, to cap it all off? Tina Louise’s agency allegedly informed her that Gilligan’s Island was her vehicle to stardom.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

When she discovered she had to share equal screen time with six other cast members, the actress was taken aback. What’s worse, Louise is alleged to have had several disagreements with producers regarding her role. Perhaps that’s why she didn’t appear in the movie?

Advertisement

Filming Was Stopped When JFK Was Assassinated

After the assassination of JFK, the cast and crew of Gilligan’s Island were forced to take a hiatus from filming the pilot.

Advertisement

Source: Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Following the terrible incident, the US authorities shut down the Hawaii navy facility where the crew was shooting for 48 hours. 

Advertisement

Schafer Claimed to be Younger than She Was

Even though Natalie Schafer and her on-screen spouse Jim Backus appeared to be the same age, we have some startling news for you.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

During filming, the Lovey actress was a full 12 years older than Backus. Scandal! Schafer did everything she could to obscure this, even stipulating in her contract that the camera must not zoom in too close, so viewers would not see her wrinkles.

Advertisement

The Original Option for the Role of Gilligan Was Jerry Van Dyke

Although Bob Denver made the character of Gilligan his own, he was not the producers’ first choice.

Advertisement

Source: Jeff Daly/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Jerry Van Dyke, Dick’s younger brother, was the original choice for the role, but he turned down the program because the pilot screenplay was “The worst thing [he had] ever read.” Van Dyke did, however, go on to be featured in the ludicrous My Mother the Car, so perhaps he did not make the wrong decision.

Advertisement

In Real Life, Natalie Schafer is Rich

Natalie Schafer may not have had to stretch too far to play Lovey. When she landed the role of Thurston Howell III’s selfish wife, the actress was already a very affluent woman.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Schafer and her husband made their fortune in Beverly Hills’ postwar real estate market. (There was no news on whether the couple received an oil business as a wedding gift though!)

Advertisement

Ginger Was Almost Portrayed by Jayne Mansfield

Tina Louise is the only person that could play Ginger. But, believe it or not, she was on the verge of losing the job to one of the era’s most prominent sex symbols.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

The producers contacted Jayne Mansfield to play the movie actress, but her third husband urged her to decline.

Advertisement

Russell Johnson Used to be a Member of the Military

Russell Johnson had a successful career before his appearance on Gilligan’s Island, but it was very different.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

After graduating from high school, the star enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet. In a clever twist, he utilized the GI Bill money to pay for his acting courses — which led to him shooting to fame as the Professor.

Advertisement

Some Viewers Thought the Show Was Real

Some Gilligan’s Island fans had a hard time distinguishing fiction from truth. When the show first aired, concerned individuals approached the American Coast Guard and asked them to assist the “stranded” Gilligan.

Advertisement

Source: Facebook/Gilligan’s Island

According to one letter, “Why not send one US destroyer to rescue those unfortunate folks before they starve to death?” Well, maybe because it’s just a TV show?

Advertisement

The Coconut Cups Were Genuine

To be honest, one of Gilligan’s Island‘s weaknesses was its lack of realism. But now and again, what you saw on TV was the real deal.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Producers utilized real hollowed-out coconuts for the characters to sip from in the early episodes. However, these handcrafted props quickly became soiled, and eventually, they were replaced with fake ones.

Advertisement

The Professor Almost Had a Nephew

Initially, the creators of Gilligan’s Island considered giving the Professor a young family member on the desert island — a nephew, to be precise.

Advertisement

Source: CBS/Getty Images

Uncle Professor? It’s not exactly easy to pronounce. Fortunately, the executives laughed it off since they already had a large child in the cast in the form of Gilligan himself.

Advertisement

Schafer Just Wanted to Take Advantage of the Free Vacation

Schafer has acknowledged that she only agreed to participate in the Gilligan’s Island pilot because it included a free trip to Hawaii. That is the kind of woman we admire!

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Unfortunately, the plan backfired. The New Yorker was forced to relocate to Los Angeles once the program was picked up for a full season, and she was not pleased. She sobbed so much that many around her assumed there had been a death in the family at the time.

Advertisement

The Seven Deadly Sins Were Represented by the Characters

This topic is by far the weirdest of all the sources of inspiration for Gilligan’s Island. Sherwood Schwartz said that each figure was supposed to symbolize one of the Bible’s seven deadly sins.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

So, in addition to the slothful Gilligan, the Howells’ avarice and gluttony, and lusty Ginger, there was jealous Mary Ann, haughty Professor, and wrathful Skipper. It makes a lot of sense.

Advertisement

Mary Ann Was Almost a Secretary Called Bunny 

When the Gilligan’s Island pilot got the green light, the cast was not the only thing that changed. 

Advertisement

Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

And if the producers had stuck to their original ideas for Mary Ann and Ginger, we would have had a completely different program. Both of them were supposed to be secretaries, and Mary Ann was to be called Bunny.

Advertisement

Raquel Welch, a Relatively Unknown Actress, Was Turned Down by Producers

Raquel Welch was one of the numerous actresses who tried out for the role of Mary Ann, but executives decided she wasn’t wholesome enough.

Advertisement

Source: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Welch, on the other hand, had the final laugh. She won a huge deal with 20th Century Fox just a year before Gilligan’s Island was canceled, and the rest is film history.

Advertisement

Dawn Wells Struck a Profitable Business Transaction

Dawn Wells not only snagged a place as a  Hollywood icon for the role of Mary Ann, but she was also assured that she would be rewarded for the rest of her life.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Yes, the actress was the sole cast member who demanded more than a salary and short-term royalties, owing to her astute business sense. Every time an episode aired, the money kept rolling in for Wells.

Advertisement

Alan Hale Jr. Once Fractured His Arm on Set

When Alan Hale Jr. fell from a coconut tree, he fractured his arm. But, ever the hero, the actor pushed through the rest of the day’s filming without seeking medical help.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

The actors may not have been truly trapped, but it didn’t stop them from suffering from the occasional island-related injury. Such was the case with poor Hale.

Advertisement

Bob Denver Came Dangerously Close to Being Mauled by a Lion

On Gilligan’s Island, Hale Jr. wasn’t the only cast member who put his life on the line. Gilligan was lunged at by a lion during one especially perilous moment!

Advertisement

Source: YouTube/Z-1’s World of Wonders

However, the on-set trainer’s fast thinking saved Bob Denver’s bacon. Fortunately, the only damage was to a pair of ripped-apart twin beds.

Advertisement

Bob Denver Threatened to Have His Name Removed from the Credits at One Point

Bob Denver was not only the most daring member of the ensemble, but he was also the most faithful.

Advertisement

Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The actor once asked that his name be deleted from the show’s opening credits unless the names of the Professor and Mary Ann were also included, even though they were simply acknowledged as “the rest” in the first season.

Advertisement

CBS Promised the Creators a Fourth Season

The third season of Gilligan’s Island was, unfortunately, a ratings dud. Despite this, CBS persuaded Sherwood Schwartz to renew the show for a fourth season.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

What is the moral of the story? Nothing is secure in the television industry. The network terminated Gilligan’s Island before season four was completed after being forced to give up its schedule to Gunsmoke.

Advertisement

The Cast Purchased Homes Close to the Set

The fact that several of the cast members were on vacation when the cancellation was announced made it all the more difficult. And the stars may have had a few choice words for Schwartz when they returned.

Advertisement

Source: Bettmann/Getty Images

He’d assured them that a fourth season was on the way, and a number of the cast members had bought houses near the California studio as a result of his promise.

Advertisement

The Creator's Arch-Enemy Inspired the Name of the S.S. Minnow

What was the origin of the name of the charter boat that shipwrecks the crew and passengers? Well, it was named after Newton Minow, Schwartz’s arch-enemy.

Advertisement

Source: YouTube/Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

After characterizing television programming as “a huge wasteland,” the former president of the Federal Communications Commission attracted Schwartz’s anger. We’re sure Minow was laughing once he recognized the name.

Advertisement

CBS had to be persuaded to produce the show

The harsh decision by CBS to cancel Gilligan’s Island was probably unsurprising. After all, the network had reservations about the show from the beginning.

Advertisement

Source: Facebook/Gilligan’s Island

With his grumbles about needing to keep the characters on the island, Jim Aubrey didn’t help matters. However, Aubrey was finally won over when it was agreed that the castaways would be rescued if the show’s ratings dropped.

Advertisement

Alan Hale Jr. Went Through a Secret Audition Process for the Part

Alan Hale Jr. was determined to land the Gilligan’s Island job by doing whatever was necessary. How badly did he want this audition?

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Enough to get away from the western he was shooting in Utah when he was told he couldn’t go to his audition. The actor was ultimately rewarded for his efforts after a horseback ride, hitchhiking, and a trip to Los Angeles.

Advertisement

Jim Backus Was a Slacker

Even though he had a reputation for being picky, Jim Backus was considerably more popular on the set than Louise. However, he had a reputation for being a bit stingy.

Advertisement

Source: IMDb

Dawn Wells said that the actor took her and Natalie Schafer out to lunch regularly. However, Backus would discover, oh-so-conveniently, that he had forgotten his wallet when the check arrived, leaving the others to cover it.

Advertisement

Six Women Have played Ginger

It’s pretty unanimous Tina Louise perfectly portrayed the bombshell starlet, we all know as Ginger. Though she was not exactly enamored with the role like we have mentioned previously.

Advertisement

In subsequent spin-offs and sequels, other actresses stepped in to play the role of Ginger. Initially, in that pilot, Kit Smythe filled the role, though the character was portrayed as a secretary. After Louise stepped away from the island forever, she was replaced in later TV movies (Rescue from Gilligan’s IslandThe Castaways) by Judith Baldwin.

Advertisement

The Flag In The Opening Credits Is At Half-Mast

As we mentioned previously, on the final day of production in Hawaii, the cast and crew learned of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. There is a small, subtle reminder of this historical incident seen on the series.

Advertisement

In the opening credits of the first season, as the Minnow pulls out of the harbor, the United States flag can be seen flying at half mast. 

 

 

Advertisement

Charles Maxwell Was The Uncredited Voice On The Radio

Throughout the series the castaways are constantly tuning in to news with their portable radio. The man’s voice being the only thing that kept them tethered to the “real world”.

Advertisement

The announcer heard on the radio is the voice of Maxwell, a veteran character actor who appeared on t.v. shows BonanzaGunsmokeLawmanRawhide and The Rifleman. Though he was never credited for his role, Gilligan’s Island was his longest recurring role.

Advertisement

It was Originally A "Six Hour Ride," Not A "Three Hour Tour."

A more noticeable key difference between the pilot and the series is the duration of the charter. In the first theme song, the lyrics tell of a “six hour ride.”

Advertisement

Somewhere along the way in the creative process that itinerary was cut in half. We’re not quite sure why there was the sudden decision made to take away three hours.

Advertisement

The Band That Sang The Familiar Theme Song Also Sang "The Ballad of Davy Crockett."

The first version of the “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle,” a catchy little tune was written by  the shows creator Sherwood Schwartz with the help of George Wyle. It was then sung by the Wellingtons.

Advertisement

The folk-rock act also performed “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” heard in the Disney miniseries Davy Crockett. The Gilligan’s theme would eventually be changed to include the Professor and Mary Ann as their characters grew in importance and fandom. The first version merely referred to them as “the rest.”

Advertisement

The Wellingtons Also Appeared As The Mosquitoes On The Show

Even though the Wellingtons were no longer being featured on the theme song The Wellingtons did get to physically appear on the show in the second season episode “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes”.

Advertisement

The band ended up washing up on the shore of the island as the parody bands The Mosquitoes. This was a kitschy play on popular band The Beatles.

Advertisement

The Howell's Didn't Have A Child & Then Did

It is told on the original series that Lovey and Thurston Howell produced had no children. However, in the third and final (lets not forget bizarre) reunion movie The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island The couple all the sudden had a son.

Advertisement

David Ruprecht, who was the host of the game show Supermarket Sweep was also included in the cast. This was due to the poor health of Jim Backus, the original Thurston.

Advertisement

A Western Knockoff Of 'Gilligan's Island' called 'Dusty's Trail.'

After Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz hit the jackpot again with sitcom hit The Brady Bunch. However, his third was not a charm. In 1974, the creator-producer attempted to recreate Gilligan’s Island in a Wild West setting.

Advertisement

THE WACKIEST WAGON TRAIN IN THE WEST, US poster art, Bob Denver, (center), Forrest Tucker (r.), 1976

The end result was Dusty’s Trail, which also starred Bob Denver alongside Forrest Tucker of F Troop fame. The pitch included a rich couple, a brainiac, a farm girl and a stunning bombshell. Unfortunately the show tanked after one season, though four episodes were stitched together to make the theatrical release The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West.

Advertisement

The Estimated Location Of The Island Is About 250 Miles SE Of Hawaii

Plenty of viewers of the show often question where the island is exactly? Throughout the three seasons a few different “somewhat specific” locations are given. In “‘X’ Marks the Spot,” the island’s position is said to be approximately 140º latitude by 10º longitude. (it should be noted these are impossible coordinates.)

Advertisement

Copyright © 2015 Ray Bentz. All rights reserved.

In the series episode “Big Man on a Little Stick,” their position is stated as approximately 110º longitude by 10º latitude. These coordinates  would put the island a ways off Mexico’s Pacific coast. Finally, in “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane,” the U.S. Navy spots Gilligan flying over the island in a jet pack. They report the location as 250 miles south of Hawaii!

 

Advertisement

The 'Gilligan's' Cast Once Impersonated the cast of "Roseanne"

Tina Louise was eventually able to  reunite with her Gilligan’s costars and in a very unlikely place, the t.v. studio for Roseanne. It was a bit of a homecoming for everyone involved.

Advertisement

The two shows filmed on the same sound stage so in the episode “Sherwood Schwartz—A Loving Tribute” even had the castaways slipped into the roles of Roseanne characters. As seen in this still, Louise playing Roseanne, Dawn Wells as Darlene… and Bob Denver as Jackie!

Advertisement

Alan Hale Played A Chef Named Gilligan On "BATMAN"

In an episode of Batman titled “The Ogg and I”  featuring Vincent Price as villen Egghead, the Police Chief enters a diner and sidles up to the counter.

Advertisement

The cook then comes out to take the police chief’s order (some viewers may have recognized the friendly face).  The chef is Alan Hale! The police chief then says to the chef, “Right, Gilligan, one large milk and a hot pastrami.”

Advertisement

There Were Two Cartoon Spin-Offs

Spin-offs of popular sitcoms were quite popular in the 70s. Gilligan’s Island spawned two separate spin-off shows, the latter of which sent the castaways into space.

Advertisement

Gilligan’s Planet, which lasted a mere 13 episodes, would end up being the final Saturday morning cartoon ever produced by the legendary studio, as the company shifted to producing content afterwards.

Advertisement