January 17, 2015


A year ago this week, we lost the last surviving male castaway from Gilligan's Island. This weekend, we honor Russell Johnson, aka The Professor, with the cartoons based on the classic sitcom.
(ABC, September 7, 1974-September 4, 1977)

Filmation Associates


Bob Denver – Gilligan
Alan Hale, Jr. – Skipper Jonas Grumby
Jim Backus – Thurston Howell, III
Natalie Schafer – Eunice Lovelle “Lovey” Wentworth Howell
Russell Johnson – Professor Roy Hinkley, Ph.D.
Jane Webb (also as Jane Edwards) – Ginger Grant, Mary Ann Summers

            Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of how a three hour tour became a three season run on television.

The shipwrecked S.S. Minnow.

            Gilligan’s Island was a sitcom created by Sherwood Schwartz. The series was based around seven people who embarked on a three hour tour on the small boat S.S. Minnow when they were caught up in a sudden tropic storm (it was revealed during the series that the weather bureau broadcasted the wrong day’s forecast). The storm washed the ship ashore on an uncharted deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the seven people stranded.

The CASTaways: Backus, Schafer, Hale, Wells, Johnson and Denver.

The castaways included the bumbling first mate Gilligan (Bob Denver, who got the role after Jerry Van Dyke turned it down to star in the less-successful My Mother, the Car), the boat’s captain known mostly as The Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.), millionaire Thurston Howell, III (Jim Backus, who infused the character with elements from his portrayal of Mr. Magoo) and his wife “Lovey” (Natalie Schafer, who initially took the job believing the series would flop and she would get a free vacation to Hawaii out of the deal). After the initial pilot was shot, the final three castaways were recast and their characters changed to movie star Ginger Grant (Tina Louise, replacing a practical secretary played by Kit Smythe), girl-next-door Mary Ann (Dawn Wells, replacing stereotypical blonde Bunny played by Nancy McCarthy) and educator and scientist known primarily as The Professor (Russell Johnson, replacing a high school teacher played by John Gabriel). As a result of the casting changes, the pilot was never seen during the initial airing of the series; however footage not featuring the original actors was reused for the first officially broadcasted episode. The pilot’s plot was also later recycled into the Christmas episode “Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk.”

Mourning the "death" of Thurston Howell.

Typical plots would follow these castaways in their daily misadventures trying to survive on the island and finding a way to get back home. Several running gags included the full wardrobe and supply of money the Howells had, for some reason, brought with them, the ability of The Professor to make almost any device out of the items on the island YET being incapable of repairing the Minnow, and the implausible ways numerous guest stars and strange objects found their way to the island. They occasionally got information from the outside via a battery-powered radio they had on the ship, which was able to pick up broadcast signals from Hawaii. The radio broadcasts would also be used occasionally as a plot device that causes friction amongst the group until a later broadcast retracts the earlier news.

The original black and white title screen.

The series premiered on September 26, 1964 on CBS in black and white. The well-known theme, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle,” was written by Schwartz and George Wyle as a way to eliminate exposition from the show. The theme outlined the entire backstory for new viewers, allowing the episodes to get right into the stories. There were two versions of the theme: the first, recorded by The Wellingtons, ended the character introductions with “and the rest” as Wells and Russell were considered second-billed co-stars; the second, recorded by The Eligibles, added the characters’ names to the song at the insistence of Denver. 

Gilligan and The Skipper learn of their

The series was a hit, and was renewed for two additional seasons, this time in full-color. Occasionally, the United States Coast Guard would receive telegrams from concerned viewers pleading for them to rescue the castaways, not realizing it was a scripted program. Although the ratings had fallen a bit, it was still getting respectable numbers and was guaranteed a fourth season. However, network president William S. Paley, his wife Babe, network affiliates and longtime fans preferred to save long-running western Gunsmoke from cancellation and moved it to Gilligan’s timeslot, effectively cancelling the sitcom with little fanfare in 1967. The show continued to be seen in syndicated reruns, gaining new popularity. ABC took notice and commissioned a revival of the series.

The castaways in animated form.

            The New Adventures of Gilligan picked up exactly where the TV series left off: with the castaways stuck on the island and trying to either survive or be rescued. Most of the original cast reunited for the cartoon with the exception of Dawn Wells, who was unable to reprise her role due to being on the road in a play, and Tina Louise, who was trying to distance herself from the role and series. Louise often clashed with producers over her character during the sitcom and felt that doing it made it unable for her to be taken seriously as an actress. Jane Webb assumed both roles for the cartoon, credited as Jane Edwards for Mary Ann. As a result, Ginger’s appearance was changed to a platinum blonde in order to avoid any conflict with Louise over likeness rights. 

Sailing on that fateful trip from the series opening.

Like many other Filmation productions, Gilligan gained a new pet in the form of Snubby the monkey to be his comedy sidekick. Gilligan and the Skipper would also end each episode by talking to the audience about the lesson they learned during their adventure. In 1974, Milton Bradley developed a board game based on the cartoon that featured a three-dimensional representation of the island players had to maneuver through to the hut at the end.

An ad for ABC's 1974 Saturday morning line-up.

After two seasons of 24 episodes, ABC moved the show to Sundays and aired a third season of reruns. New episodes were never produced as ABC severed all ties with Filmation after their other program, Uncle Croc’s Block, failed miserably in the ratings. That began ABC’s long affiliation with rival Hanna-Barbera. To date, only “Off Limits” has been made available on DVD on Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s vol. 2 in 2009.

"Woohoo! We're finally getting off the island!"

But, Gilligan wasn’t done on Saturdays yet. In 1982, Filmation made a second attempt at the franchise with Gilligan’s Planet.

Season 1:
“Off Limits” (9/7/74) – The Professor cordons off a dangerous part of the island, but Gilligan just has to investigate.

“Looney Moon” (9/14/74) – The castaways contract island madness.

“Raven Mad” (9/21/74) – A raven threatens to feed Gilligan to its babies.

“Father of His Island” (9/28/74) – Gilligan poses as father of the island when natives come calling.

“Wrong Way Robot (a.k.a. Yeah, Would You Want Your Sister to Marry One?)” (10/5/74) – The Professor builds a robot that may be able to send for help.

“Opening Night” (10/12/74) – Mr. Howell opens a restaurant.

“Lollipop Casserole” (10/19/74) – Gilligan suggests Mary Ann bake a lollipop casserole, which ends up destroying all the huts.

“The Loners” (11/2/74) – The Howells charge for the privilege of borrowing items from them.

“The Ego Trip (a.k.a. Kon-Tackly)” (10/26/74) – Mr. Howell gets an inflated ego.

“The Olympiad” (11/9/74) – The castaways hold their own Olympics between Team Gilligan and Team Howell, with the Professor as the judge.

“Their Own Image” (11/16/74) – Natives attack the island.

“The Disappearing Act” (11/23/74) – Gilligan mysteriously disappears.

“A Sinking Feeling” (11/30/74) – The castaways have to save Gilligan and Mr. Howell from quicksand.

“Reluctant Hero” (12/7/74) – Gilligan can’t admit he’s a hero.

“The Same Old Dream” (12/14/74) – Mary Ann has a dream about getting married to Gilligan.

“The Sputtering Eagle” (12/21/74) – Ginger’s high school boyfriend lands on the island and turns out to be an evil spy.

“Super Gilligan” (12/28/74) – Gilligan gains super powers from a radioactive banana.

Season 2:
“Marooned Again” (9/13/75) – The castaways are rescued, but Gilligan gets them marooned again.

“Live and let Live” (9/13/75) – Gilligan thinks the castaways plan to kill him.

“Wheels on Parade” (9/20/75) – The Howells make Gilligan their butler.

“The Movie Makers” (9/27/75) – A film crew comes to the island to make a movie about the castaways.

“Silence is Leaden” (10/4/75) – The castaways have a no-talking contest.

“The Great Train Robbery” (10/11/75) – Snubby steals supplies from the supply hut.

“Moderation” (10/18/75) – The castaways try to use island moderation.

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