Monday, April 6, 2009

Now this is the tale of the castaways

I was in a store the other day and I saw someone wearing a Gilligan hat. Imagine that, having a hat become so synonymous with your character that people forever refer to it with your character’s name.

In fact, few other shows have had the cultural impact of Gilligan’s island. Did you know for example that the question "Ginger or Mary Ann?" is regarded to be a classic pop-psychological question when given to American men of a certain age as an insight into their characters, or at least their desires as regarding certain female stereotypes?

That’s quite an impact for a show that only aired for…3 years!

So what made the show into such a pop culture icon? 2 reasons:

Because it made you long for a life on a deserted island…

Sure, the sets were cheesy by today’s standards but still. The island was a very exotic place for someone from little-town America. Many a young boy had visions of living in one of those bamboo huts and sleeping in a hammock like Gilligan.

Because it made no pretention at seriousness.

Gilligan’s Island was funny and goofy and the perfect way to escape from a bad day at the office (or in my case, at school). TV shows today, even the zanier one, always seem to want you to learn a lesson of some sort, or aim to provide a moral with a social redemptive aspect to it.

Gilligan’s Island made no such claim. You didn’t really learn anything from watching this show (besides perhaps how to make a bomb out of a coconut) and you know what? You didn’t need to! It was pure, guiltless fun. I think we could use some of that right about now!

OK, I'll admit, there might also have been some motivation provided by the huge crush I had on Mary Ann (sorry Ginger)!
I did a bit of digging around, as I usually do when something stirs up my nostalgia gland. I learned a lot about the show and about the story behind the show.

I also found fascinating facts about the actors who brought these characters to life. Did you know?

  • That Russel Johnson (the Professor) flew 44 combat missions as a bombardier in B-25 Mitchell bombers and that plane was shot down in the Philippines in March 1945.

  • That Jim Backus (Thurston Howell, III) was the voice of Mr. Magoo.

  • That Natalie Schafer (Lovey Howell) was actually older than Jim Backus by 13 years and that she made millions in real estate.

  • That Tina Louise (Ginger Grant) posed for Playboy.

  • That although Tina Louise played the sultry actress, Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) was the real-life beauty queen, crowned Miss Nevada, she represented her state in the 1960 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City.

  • That Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells were originally considered "second-billed co-stars" and that it was Denver who went and forced the studio executives to get them added to the opening credits. Wells said that Denver never mentioned this to anyone in the cast, and she did not find out about it until years after the show ended.

    So, to our merry band of castaways I say this. Thank you for providing us with a show and characters that made us laugh, and made us dream!

    Bob Denver (Gilligan)
    Alan Hale Jr. (The Skipper)
    Russell Johnson (The Professor)
    Tina Louise (Ginger Grant)
    Dawn Wells (Mary Ann)
    Jim Backus (Thurston Howell, III)
    Natalie Schafer (Lovey Howell)

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