The Baron Watches "Gilligan's Island"

Having seen my good friend Jeff's latest TV-based discussion, Jeff Watches Torchwood, I thought, "Since Jeff is posting about a current program that he's watching for the first time, I ought to post about an old program that I'd be watching for what would be at least the fiftieth, but which I haven't looked at in quite some time - and what better program to watch than one of the seminal comedies of its generation, one which had a profound impact on American television, and which went on to inspire such varied fare as Dusty's Trail, Far Out Space Nuts, and Lost. Gilligan's Island is one of the first television programs I ever remember watching - Having been born in 1963, I was a touch too young to watch it in first-run, but I must've caught it in its earliest re-runs - I'm pretty sure that "Happy Birthday to You" and "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle" are among the first songs that I knew all the words to. I debated putting a spoiler warning on this thread - it's hard for me to conceive that there's anyone out there who hasn't seen Gilligan's Island - certainly not in the U.S. Anyway, if by some chance you haven't seen the show, but might want to watch it someday - be forewarned! There will be discussions of plot points, here. As for the rest of you, "Just sit right back..."

You need to be a member of Captain Comics to add comments!

Join Captain Comics

Votes: 0
Email me when people reply –


  • He makes people's fantasies come true, right?
  • Pilot:
    One of the extras on the first season DVD set is the original un-aired pilot for the show, with an optional commentary by the mighty Sherwood Schwartz. Because of the changes made between the pilot and the production of the program proper, this pilot was not aired at the time, and wasn't broadcast at all until the early 1990's.

    The first difference one notices is the theme music, which has a different tune and lyrics to the more familiar song, and which is sung to a Calypso beat in a faux "Mexican" accent, and is truly dreadful. In his commentary Schwartz says that the idea of the theme song grew out of network executives' concern that the show would need endless exposition each week to explain why these people were on the island. Sherwood answered these concerns by hastily writing an expository song, which placated the executives. When the series was actually green-lit, Schwartz hired a composer and musicians to write a more "professional" theme song, the one now associated with the show.

    Although the theme song is different, the incidental music for the pilot contains many of the themes and cues we would encounter later in the series. The closing credits say "Music by Johnny Williams" - apparently it was illegal to broadcast a television program in those days unless Williams had composed the music.

    Three of the cast members in the pilot are different than those who eventually appeared in the program.

    Playing a high school teacher known as "The Professor" was John Gabriel, who did a good enough job, but who - for me, at least - lacked Russell Johnson's "presence" in the role. Schwartz says in the commentary that the network people were concerned that Gabriel lacked "maturity". He did seem to be playing the role as more "studly" than Johnson later did, showing off his chest at every opportunity.

    Playing Ginger, a secretary, was dark-haired Kit Smythe, who played the role as a brassy sort of low-rent Eve Arden, very different from the Ginger we would se ein the series.

    Playing Bunny, another secretary, was blonde Nancy McCarthy, who played the role as a bubbly, good-hearted airhead, again, very different from Mary-Anne.

    Schwartz says that once he saw the pilot he realized that needed a wider range of characters, and the two secretaries became the farm girl Mary-Anne Summers and the movie star Ginger Grant.

    As for me, I have to agree that - with no offense meant to the original actors - the re-casting of these three parts was a good thing.

    The rest of the cast - Alan Hale, Jr., Bob Denver, Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer - play the familiar roles, and seemed to step right into the characters as we would come to know them - no great differences between how they're played in the pilot and how they would be played later on, in the series.

    Much of the plot of the pilot will be familiar, even if you've never seen it, because many elements of it were used later in the show. The pilot opens with the Minnow beached, and the Skipper and Gilligan discussing what to tell the passengers, they scout out the island, build huts, try to repair the transmitter, the radio and transmitter end up in the ocean, Gilligan catches the fish the swallowed the radio, they all end up talking to fish, and so on. It's established early on that Gilligan is a sort of walking disaster.

    The Skipper says "Now, hear this!" alot, which I don't remember him doing so much on the show.

    Back Story: Mr. Howell is "retired" - or to be precise, has never worked, having inherited everything from his father.
    The Howells are members of the Sunnybrook Yacht Club.
    Gilligan admits to having lost the anchor on the Minnow, contributing to the ship's being wrecked.
    Gilligan and the Skipper once served on a destroyer together, and Gilligan once saved the Skipper's life by pushing him out of the way of a depth charge that got loose.

    Taking It Seriously: The only part of this that seems fantastic (in the old sense of the word) to me is the idea that the radio is still working after having been eaten by a fish. Still, I suppose it could be a super-durable water-proof model, which would be a useful thing to have on a small boat like the Minnow, that's out at sea alot.

    Gilligan Spoils a Rescue: A plane flies overhead, and the castaways try to spell out "HELP", using the fish they've caught, but Gilligan messes up his assigned letter, making the "P" backwards.. You know, if I was a pilot, I think I still might've looked into that.

    All in all, this was fairly amusing - I found it funnier than I thought I would. I found the interplay and physical comedy between Hale and Denver to be very entertaining - those two really worked well together.
  • Luke Blanchard said:
    He makes people's fantasies come true, right?

    Well, maybe some people's... ;)
  • Back in the ‘80s I had a subscription to Star Trek videos via Columbia House (the ones in those big honkin’ cardboard cases). They came two episodes per tape, and the only other choice was single episode tapes from the video store in regular cardboard slipcases. I decided the Columbia House subscription was the better deal, but only marginally all things considered. Because I was letting them overcharge me for this series, I didn’t feel guilty of taking them up on their offer to sample other series at $4.50 for the first tape with the option of cancelling at any time (which I usually did after the first tape), so I ended up with a lot of odd first episodes of verious TV series on VHS.

    All that is my long-winded preamble leading up to how I, too, have seen the unaired pilot. The pilot is interesting to me primarily for that awful Mexican/calypso hybrid theme song Bob already mentioned, but it’s also a good example of what a pilot is for: to identify and correct weaknesses in a show’s premise before it goes into actual production.

    When you watch the first aired show, note that they used a shot from the pilot which shows the replaced cast members sleeping in the Minnow!
  • Two On A Raft:

    This is the first broadcast episode, the first with the familiar cast, and the first with the familiar theme song sung by the Wellingtons. When you're watching a first season episode, during the theme song, when they're singing the first "a three hour tour", right about when they sing "tour", look in the background, and if you look carefully, you will see a flag at half-mast. This is because these sequences were filmed shortly after the assassination of JFK, when the nation was still in mourning.

    The plot is fairly simple - The Skipper and Gilligan set out on a raft to find help, but unwittingly end up back on their own island, and confusion ensues, as each group of castaways become convinced that the others are hostile headhunters.

    As Jeff noted above, the opening scene is re-used from the pilot, and if you look closely, you can see the "replaced" actors. To be fair, it's well enough edited that's it's not too obvious - if you weren't looking for it, you might well not notice it.

    In other news - wow, Dawn Wells was hot! I mean, Tina Louise was no slouch, but I'm definitely a "Mary-Ann" guy. (This now ends the "aging lech" portion of the performance)

    The funniest part of this for me is still the interplay between the Skipper and Gilligan. I'm keeping an eye out for the first time the Skipper hits Gilligan with his hat - he moves as if to do so in this episode, but doesn't follow through.

    Back Story: When the radio report gives the castaways's names, the only name they give for Gilligan is, simply, "Gilligan". In the treatment for the show , Gilligan's first name is given as "Willy". I'd personally be willing to accept that as definitive, but it's never mentioned on air.
    The Skipper's name is Jonas Grumby, and he is described as "an old salt in these waters".
    Thurston Howell III is described as a billionaire and one of the world's richest men.
    His wife, Lovey Howell, is desscribed as a "socially prominent international hostess", whatever that means.
    Mary Ann Summers is from Winfield, Kansas, and is an employee of the Winfield General Store.
    Ginger Grant is from Hollywood, and is said to have boarded the Minnow directly from a night club singing engagement.
    Professor Roy Hinkley is described as a research scientist and a well-known scoutmaster.
    The Minnow is said to have sailed the previous Tuesday.
    Mr. Howell is an avid golfer.
    Ginger once sang in a night club in Waikiki that was off-limits to all military personnel, and once took an extremely trip to Catalina on a movie producer's yacht.
    The Professor finds evidence that the Marubi tribe have visited the island in the past.

    Taking It Seriously: We first hear the anonymous radio announcer (voiced by Charles Maxwell) that the castaways will listen for the whole of the series. The station does not identify itself, or its location. The announcer speaks in American-accented, so I assume that it's broadcasting out of Hawaii, particularly since it seems to be someplace where the Skipper is well-known. The station always seems to come in quite clearly, so either the island is relatively close to where they're broadcasting from, or the station's got a really powerful transmitter. (Or, if you want to be paranoid, you can assume it's some Silver Age version of the Dharma Initiative, broadcasting from just out of sight offshore.)
    I know nothing about the Pacific Islanders, so I can't say for sure that there were any headhunters in those parts in the 1960's, but I have my doubts about the anthropological soundness of the portrayal of the "natives" on this show.
    Gilligan encounters a woodpecker, a bird which my admittedly somewhat limited research indicates is not found on the Pacific islands.

    Gilligan Spoils A Rescue: Not really, in this one., although I suppose you could blame his poor workmanship for the relative flimsiness of the raft. However, he does set off a rock trap that nearly kills them all.
  • You’ve already divulged the answers to the two most commonly asked trivia questions arising from this show, namely the Skipper and Professor’s real names. Wikipedia lists Lovey’s given name as Eunice Wentworth Howell, but I have no idea which episode that’s from. It goes on to say, “[Natalie]Schafer had it written into her contract that there were to be no close-ups of her, perhaps because of her advanced age. Schafer was 63 when the pilot was shot although, reportedly, no one on the set or in the cast knew her real age, and she refused to divulge it. Originally, she only accepted the role because the pilot was filmed on location in Hawaii.She looked at the job as nothing more than a free vacation, as she was convinced that a show this silly would ‘never go.’”
  • Yeah, I've heard the "Eunice Wentworth" name, too. I'll try to make a note of it when it comes up.
  • Good Lord, I'm really enjoying reading this thread!

    I don't think Baby Bean has ever seen Gilligan's Island, or is as likely to see it at all as I was. It's not on anywhere in my local market, and our limited cable package doesn't cover any cable stations that may be airing it.

    She is getting to see some Cosby Show and Andy Griffith though.

    "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

    Check out the Secret Headquarters (my store) website! It's a pretty lame website, but I did it myself, so tough noogies

    Listen to, it's the future of rock-n-roll!

  • The Baron said:
    Yeah, I've heard the "Eunice Wentworth" name, too. I'll try to make a note of it when it comes up.

    There was an episode which called the validity of the Howell's marriage into question, I recall. The Skipper was going to reunite them, but in the meantime they moved into separate huts. I remember they were going to use a cigar band as a wedding ring. Maybe it's from that episode.
  • I am too heartily approve of this project. I watched hours and hours of Gilligan's Island when it was on reruns on TBS. My girls haven't seen it yet, but I am surprised to discover it isn't on either Hulu or Netflix streaming. I have been watching Magnum PI's first season via Hulu, and they watch over my shoulder and I know they would adore Gilligan's in the same way I did.

    @Luke, has Fantasy Island episodes available, including these weird minisodes, which break apart a episode and show you just one is very weird.

    Dagwan said:
    Good Lord, I'm really enjoying reading this thread!

    I don't think Baby Bean has ever seen Gilligan's Island, or is as likely to see it at all as I was. It's not on anywhere in my local market, and our limited cable package doesn't cover any cable stations that may be airing it.

    She is getting to see some Cosby Show and Andy Griffith though.

    "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

    Check out the Secret Headquarters (my store) website! It's a pretty lame website, but I did it myself, so tough noogies

    Listen to, it's the future of rock-n-roll!

This reply was deleted.