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

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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.

1. 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.

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.

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2. 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.

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!

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3. 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.

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.

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4. 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.

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.

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5. 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?

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.

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6. 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.

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.

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7.  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.

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.

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8. 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.

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!

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9. 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.

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!

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10. 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.

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!)

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11. 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?

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?

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12. 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?

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.

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13. 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.

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!

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14. 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.

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.

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15. 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.

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.

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16. 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.”

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

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17. 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.

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.

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18. 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.

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

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19. 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.

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.

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20. 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.

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.

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21. 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.

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?

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22. 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.”

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

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23. 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.

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.

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24. 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.

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.

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25. 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!

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.

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26. 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.

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.

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27. 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.

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?

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28. 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.

Following the terrible incident, the US authorities shut down the Hawaii navy facility where the crew was shooting for 48 hours. That is why a half-mast flag is flying at the start of the first season’s episodes.

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29. 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. 

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.

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30. 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.

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.

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31. 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.

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.

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32. 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.

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.

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33. 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!

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.

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34. 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.

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.

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35. 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.

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.

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36. 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.

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.

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37. 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.

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.

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38. 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.

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.

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39. 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?

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.

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40. 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.

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.

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