Gilligan’s Island was a sitcom that ended much too abruptly, leaving viewers wondering if the castaways ever got off of their island. Luckily, reruns of Gilligan’s Island continue to be broadcast around the world today, and its episodes continue to make people crack up. Here, we take a look at some little-known facts about our favorite castaways.
1. Gilligan’s first name is Willy
Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz famously picked Gilligan’s name out of a Los Angeles telephone directory, but did you know that Gilligan actually has a first name? He is referred to only as Gilligan for the entirety of the show, but according to Schwartz’s original notes, his first name was supposed to be “Willy.”
Bob Denver (who portrayed Gilligan) insisted that Gilligan was the character’s first name. However, the name “Willy Gilligan” was said only once on the show in the original (but unaired) pilot episode. Willy Gilligan was mentioned once in the original pilot on a radio newscast about the wreck. However, this original pilot was scrapped and was shown for the first time in 1992, meaning that most people think of the first mate just as Gilligan rather than Willy Gilligan.
2. Mrs. Lovey was a millionaire in real life
Mrs. Lovey was the wife of billionaire businessman Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. Mrs. Lovey was played by actress Natalie Schafer, who was a millionaire in real life. Natalie Schafer and her actor husband Louis Calhern invested in Beverly Hills real estate at a time when Rodeo Drive could be purchased for only $50,0000.
Supposedly, when Natalie Schafer passed away in 1991, she left a large portion of her estate to her poodle. Although this is just a rumor, Natalie Schafer did leave a hefty two million to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital. With this money, the hospital was able to renovate and renamed an outpatient wing in her honor.
3. The Skipper fell out of a coconut tree and broke his arm
Alan Hale, who played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, reportedly fell out of a coconut tree and broke his arm. Although most people would seek medical attention for a broken bone before coming back to work, Hale decided that the show must go on and worked through the pain.
Bob Denver (Gilligan) remembers that Hale missed his mark while falling from the coconut tree and landed a little awkwardly on his arm. Despite the pain he was in, Hale got up and finished filming his scenes. In fact, the very next scene that was shot included Hale, who had a broken arm, carrying not just a load of coconuts but also Gilligan himself!
No one realized the extent of the injury that Hale was dealing with. Sherwood Schwartz recalled noticing Hale’s discolored arm at a wrap party weeks after the incident. After asking Hale what had happened, he responded, “Oh, I broke it a few weeks ago!” Hale didn’t seek medical treatment for his arm because he didn’t want to disrupt the filming schedule, so he worked through the pain he was in.
4. JFK’s assassination delayed production
The series’s pilot was initially filmed over a several-day span on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The last day of shooting was scheduled for November 23, 1963, in the Honolulu Harbor. However, after Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president, he announced that all military installations (including Honolulu Harbor) would be closed for a two-day mourning period.
As a result, filming was delayed for several days. In the opening scene for Gilligan’s Island, an American flag can be seen flying at half-mast in the background.
5. Some fans thought the cast was actually stranded
Soon after the show aired, Sherwood Schwartz began receiving strange telegram forwards from the United States Coast Guard. These messages were sent by angry American citizens who could not understand why the Coast Guard was unwilling to go rescued these marooned people.
According to the Center for Media Literacy, telegrams sent to the Coast Guard complained that “for several weeks now, we have seen American citizens stranded on some Pacific island. We spend millions in foreign aid. Why not send one US destroyer to rescue those poor people before they starve to death?”
Schwartz was confused by these messages, noting, “there was even a laugh track on the show. Who did they think was laughing at the survivors of the wreck of the U.S.S. Minnow? It boggled my mind.” Luckily, these confused viewers equaled less than two dozen, but even this number is relatively high for adults who could not distinguish fact from fiction.
6. Six actresses have played Ginger
Tina Louise truly encapsulated the red-haired starlet, Ginger, throughout Gilligan’s Islands time on air. Supposedly, Tina Louise didn’t get along with her fellow actors, and as a result, other actresses had to step in to play Ginger in spin-offs and sequels of the show.
In the original pilot that went unseen until 1992, actress Kit Smythe played Ginger although in this first pilot, Ginger was a secretary rather than an actress. After the show wrapped up and Tina Louise took a step back, actress Judith Baldwin played Ginger in Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978) and The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979). Actress Constance Forslund played Ginger in the 1981 film The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. In the animated series The New Adventures of Gilligan, Ginger was voiced by Jane Webb. Finally, Ginger and Mary Ann were both voiced by Dawn Wells for the 1982 cartoon Gilligan’s Planet.
7. The S.S. Minnow was a jab at the chair of the FCC
Sherwood Schwartz named the ill-fated S.S. Minnow after the then-chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton N. Minow. In 1961, Minow gave a famous speech at the 39th Annual Convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, in which he declared that television had become a “vast wasteland,” and that networks needed to take more responsibility for the shows they aired.
Schwartz, who believed that Minow had “ruined television,” got revenge by naming the S.S. Minnow after him.
8. The inspiration for Gilligan’s Island came from a public speaking class
A question posed by a professor inspired Sherwood Schwartz to create Gilligan’s Island. During a public speaking class at New York University, a professor asked his students to give an impromptu one-minute speech. The topic? If you were stranded on a desert island, what item would you like to have? Schwartz, who was a student in this class, was intrigued by this question and it stuck with him until he pitched the idea of Gilligan’s Island as a sitcom.
9. The location of the castaways changed multiple times
No one knows exactly where Gilligan’s Island was supposed to be located. Three fairly specific locations are given out in episodes for viewers paying close attention. In one episode, the island’s position is said to be approximately 140° latitude by 10° longitude, which are impossible coordinates.
In another episode, their position is stated as approximately 110° longitude by 10° latitude. If 110° longitude is negative, that would put the island a ways off of Mexico’s Pacific coast. Finally, one episode states that the location of the island is about 250 miles south of Hawaii, meaning the location would be 10° latitude, -140° longitude.
10. Gilligan was almost played by Dick Van Dyke’s brother
Although Bob Denver is remembered as the quintessential Gilligan, there was almost a time when the iconic role didn’t go to him. Instead, the producers wanted to give Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke’s brother, the lead. Jerry was offered the role in 1964, but turned it down for two reasons. One was that he didn’t want to be part of an ensemble cast, instead preferring to be a star just like his big brother.
The other reason was that after reading the script, he thought it was “the worst thing [he’d] ever read.” Instead of playing Gilligan, a role that would go on to make Denver extremely famous, Van Dyke decided to play David Crabtree in the very short-lived show, My Mother the Car. Never heard of it? There’s a reason why. Not only did Jerry Van Dyke turn down the role of Gilligan, he did so only to find himself on what is often considered one of the worst shows ever made.
Supposedly he later regretted his decision.