Inside Gilligan's Island

gilligan on beachThere was an endless parade of silly boomer sitcoms. The best/worst is arguable but the most iconic is clear. None reaches the pop culture television status of Gilligan’s Island.

Virtually everyone, including the creator’s agent, panned the idea before it debuted. The then-president of CBS West Coast remarked: “I thought it was a stupid show. Nobody liked it.” The network brass complained all the way to the bank.

The sitcom had solid ratings from 1964-1967 and attracted even more viewers in syndication, becoming one of the most re-run television shows. But wasn’t this at the same time that boomers were in serious rebellion against traditional values?

Hollywood legend Sherwood Schwartz said that he envisioned the castaways to be a microcosm of society who demonstrated how very different people could come together to help one another in a crisis. Who knew? It was a counter culture theme in clown-face disguise; maybe that’s why boomers dug it, even if the attraction registered only a subconscious level. The Creator Schwartz wrote an “exposition” theme song—a music opening and summary repeated on each show—that told the complete story premise. Complete it was, the longest such treatment in television history and the subject of well-deserved parody. Schwartz overruled his writing staff who didn’t care for the idea or lyrics. If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the song: ? The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island.

Hollywood gods work in mysterious ways. Schwartz wanted Jerry Van Dyke (Dick’s brother) to play the goofy, inept Gilligan. Jerry thought the show would never fly and choose instead to star in My Mother The Car, which barely made it through one season and is often judged the worst television show ever. Bob Denver’s role as beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis had just ended, and he jumped on the chance to be Gilligan, who was basically Maynard without a goatee.

Jayne Mansfield turned down the role of Ginger, which fell to Tina Louise, a sexpot known for the steamy movie God’s Little Acre and other heavy parts (plus Playboy Magazine spreads). There was a running battle between Tina and the producers over everything from Ginger’s personality and status to her costumes. She refused to go to Gilligan reunions and complained later that the role had mary ann gilligan and gingerdestroyed her career as a serious actress, which gives new meaning to the phrase “whatever was she thinking?!”

Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker) tested for the role of The Skipper, which went to grade-B movie cowboy Alan Hale. A young Dabney Coleman auditioned for The Professor. No less an actress than Raquel Welch lost out to Dawn Wells for the character of Mary Ann. Dawn had some curvy credentials. She was a former Miss Nevada.

The ship’s moniker, S.S. Minnow, was named for Newton Minow, head of the Federal Communications Commission, who uttered the famous line that television was “America’s vast wasteland.” Sherwood Schwartz didn’t hold Mr. Minow in high regard. Undoubtedly, The Commissioner believed that Gilligan added vast tracts to the wasteland.

Terry Hamburg writes the Boomer to You blog about the exciting and revolutionary baby boomer years.

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