Things You Get Wrong About Gilligan's Island

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship." Oh come on. You knew you were going to hum the theme song from Gilligan's Island the minute you started reading this. Whether or not we want to admit it, we've been fans of this show forever—even those who weren't yet alive when it premiered in 1964, or was unexpectedly canceled in 1967. But Gilligan's Island remains an iconic piece of modern Americana even in reruns, which have aired continuously in the 50-something years since the show ended after just three seasons. And did you know a fourth season was actually planned for production? Thought not.

Truth be told, there's a lot of hidden trivia about Gilligan and his fellow castaways that you won't learn by just watching the show. Like the board game that came out in 1965, and bunches of other fun memorabilia that are on the hot list for collectors today. Then there is the show itself: Over Sixty reveals that actress Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell) really was a millionaire before she even signed on for Gilligan's Island. And Greenfield Reporter says the show's song, "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle," was not the show's first theme song. Read on for more surprising facts about Gilligan's Island.

Gilligan's Island was spawned by a moral message

It is true that Gilligan's Island was considered a "family show" according to sites like Reel Good, while other sites like Fox News enjoy commenting on the show's "unbridled sexual tension." In reality however, Mental Floss says creator Sherwood Schwartz  was inspired by his college class at New York University to create a show about "dissimilar individuals" who must get along in order to survive. Do You Remember quotes Schwartz as saying the show was intended as "a metaphorical shaming of world politics" to show that when the tough gets going, we can somehow band together. Presumably most of us were too busy laughing to get that message. But it gets even deeper.

According to Ninja Journalist, certain fans of Gilligan's Island have theorized that the seven castaways actually represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Ginger Grant (Tina Louise) represents lust, followed by Mrs. Howell with gluttony, her husband Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) with greed, goofy Gilligan (Bob Denver) with sloth, the temperamental Skipper (Alan Hale) with wrath, Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) with envy towards Ginger's sex appeal, and the sometimes snooty Professor (Russell Johnson) with pride. Wow, that's way wilder than Schwartz's simple appeal for "democracy in America," which author Paul Cantor opined was fueled by the Cold War of the late 1950's and early 1960's. 

The hidden politics behind Gilligan's Island

When Sherwood Schwartz told CBS's William Paley that Gilligan's Island would be "a social microcosm," says Cheat Sheet, it went over the broadcaster's head. Schwartz reassured Paley the show would indeed be a comedy, and wisely "never used that phrase again." But the show's "metaphorical shaming" and Biblical references aside, Gilligan's Island's other brush with politics was pure, sad coincidence. In 1963, the first episode was almost finished filming in Hawaii when the crew learned of the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22. Kennedy's murder took place in Dallas, just before the last day of shooting in Hawaii, says Mental Floss

When a member of the film crew heard about Kennedy's assassination on the radio on the morning of the 22nd, he hurried to the set with the news. The government announced the immediate closure of "all military installations," including Honolulu Harbor, as Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president. Shooting the first episode was naturally delayed for many days, but in the opening credits, MeTV points out that the American flag can clearly be seen flying at half-mast as the S.S. Minnow leaves Honolulu Harbor. 

On the lighter side, Ninja Journalist says the ill-fated boat was named for Federal Communications Commission president Newton Minow, whom Schwartz disliked intensely.

The 'Ballad of Gilligan's Isle' was not the original theme song

If you are still humming the theme song to Gilligan's Island at this point, hang onto your bucket hat (the name of the "floppy-brimmed" hat Gilligan wore). The "Ballad of Gilligan's Isle" was not the original theme song for the show. Click Americana explains that the 1963 pilot featured a different tune which is nothing like the song we know and love. In his book, Inside Gilligan's Island, Sherwood Schwartz said the song was penned by "Sir Lancelot" Victor Pinard. When he pitched the series to CBS, Schwartz even sang Pinard's song to the executives himself.

If you've ever heard the first Gilligan's Island theme song used for the pilot, you're probably glad that the second song was used in the series. So who wrote it? The writer was none other than noted composer John Williams, whose impressive accolades include two Emmy awards, three Golden Globe awards, over 20 Gold and Platinum records, 25 Grammys, and an amazing 52 Oscar nominations. Credited as "Johnny Williams" in 1964, the songwriter would later compose more theme songs for such films as Jaws, The Poseidon Adventure and more, and conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra for over a dozen years. If you didn't know this, it's because the original song and pilot didn't air on television until 1992, says Do You Remember

Where exactly was Gilligan's Island?

Finding favorite film locations is a fun and exciting hobby for many. Finding the filming location of Gilligan's Island can be tricky however, especially since the island doesn't really exist (it was, after all, "uncharted" according to the song). MeTV recounts that one episode gives a position of "approximately 140º latitude by 10º longitude," a coordinate that doesn't exist within the law of physics. Another episode says the castaways are "250 miles south of Hawaii." As for the iconic lagoon, Mental Floss says that was a set built in 1964 at Studio City in Los Angeles, but is now an employee parking lot. There are, however, filming locations to see from the original pilot.

To the delight of fans everywhere, the fan site Gilligan's Island studiously recorded the known shooting locations of that first long-hidden pilot. The list includes Zuma Beach near Malibu, California and Hanalei Plantation Resort and Moloaa Bay in Hawaii. The producers procured the first of four S.S. Minnows at Honolulu Harbor, where the cast was filmed sailing out to sea. Islands in the opening credits are identified as Coconut Island (pictured) in Hawaii, Sandy Cay in the Bahamas and the landscape at Marina Del Rey, California. Notably, Sherwood Schwartz once confirmed that a Coast Guard colonel once contacted him regarding some legitimate letters from Gilligan's Island viewers who wanted the castaways rescued.

The castaways' endless wardrobes and other goofs

Seeing as Gilligan's Island was a goofy comedy, it is no surprise that there were several "goofs" in the filming of the show right out of the gate—or harbor as it were. MeTV explains that the opening credits who the S.S. Minnow sailing out to sea with eight, not seven, people aboard. In an early episode, says Gilligan's Island fan site, Ginger and Mary Ann inexplicably smell fudge burning in their hut, but when it falls down the structure is completely empty. In another episode, the Professor tries to glue the Minnow together. It falls apart, only to be seen completely intact in two later episodes. Early on too, Gilligan is seen wearing Bob Denver's wedding band. 

The most obvious blunder on Gilligan's Island is the amazing amount of clothing (and makeup) Mary Ann, Ginger, and the Howells have seeing as they only went on a "three hour tour." Yet Ginger and Mary Ann especially, notes Eternal Lifestyle, never appear in the same outfit twice. 

And what about all of those gadgets the Professor rigs up? Kiwi Report notes the castaways' radio was a Packard Bell AM radio, the original which did not come with a "telescoping antenna" or even a handle. One of the weirdest incidents regarding the show was when rocker David Bowie died in January 2016. Journalistate reports somebody began circulating the hashtag #RipBobDenver at that time as well—but Denver actually died back in 2005.

The characters on Gilligan's Island had real names

We all know the names of Thurston Howell III and Ginger Grant, but aside from these two characters, everybody else on Gilligan's Island went by a nickname or had no last name. Ah, but they did! Sherwood Schwartz, says Ninja Journalist, picked Gilligan's name from a Los Angeles phone book. He also pitched Gilligan's first name as Willy, according to Mental Floss. That didn't go over well with Bob Denver, who refused to call his character anything but Gilligan. Then there is Mrs. Howell, whose nickname "Lovey" was used so often that folks think it was her first name. It wasn't; according to the Internet Movie Database, her actual name was Eunice Wentworth Howell.

What about Mary Ann and the Professor (who, if you think about it, would have made a great romantic couple)? Fandom confirms that Mary Ann's last name was Summers and she hailed from Winfield, Kansas. And the Professor's real name, according to Greenfield Reporter, was Roy Hinkley. Last but not least is the Skipper whose real name, Jonas Grumby, was not revealed until the original pilot aired in 1992, says MeTV. According to the site, the name is mentioned on the radio and calls the Skipper "an old salt."

Gilligan's Bob Denver was a great guy

Interestingly, comedian Jerry Van Dyke was Sherwood Schwartz's first choice for the character of Gilligan. But Van Dyke declined the offer, later quipping, "That's the joke: I turned it down and took My Mother the Car. But, again, it was really good, because I'd [have] been forever known as Gilligan. So that worked out, too!" (per Mental Floss). Bob Denver was cast instead, and it is notable that he was indeed the great-great-grandson of James William Denver for whom the city of Denver, Colorado was named (per The Famous People). And no, he was no relation at all to singer John Denver, says 104 Star, whose given name was really Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. 

It also turned out that Denver was a hard bargainer. For one thing, he felt it was unfair that actress Tina Louise's contract stipulated that "no one would follow her name in the credits," meaning that Russell Johnson and Mary Ann Dawn Wells would receive no billing and were simply referred to as "the rest." Denver (who had previously starred with Louise in the beach romp movie For Those Who Think Youngaccording to MeTV) negotiated during the second season that if Johnson and Wells didn't appear in the credits, his own name could be "placed anywhere in the credits he liked." Denver won, with Johnson and Wells receiving onscreen credit, says HuffPost

Ginger Grant slept in the nude!

In the pilot episode of Gilligan's Island, the character of Ginger was actually a teacher portrayed by actress Kit Smythe. Later, Smythe was replaced by Tina Louise, whose Ginger was reintroduced as a sultry Hollywood actress. But Fandom says Louise's agent allegedly led her to believe that she would be the star of the show, resulting in "a great deal of tension" on the set, says Cheat Sheet. Louise, who preferred movie acting to television acting, often sat away from the rest of the cast. But although polls actually showed viewers preferred Dawn Wells' character to hers (per Forbes), the two actresses were "actually quite close friends," says Kiwi Report. 

Notably, Gilligan's Island premiered just two years after the death of Marilyn Monroe. Several fan sites, including AV Club, enjoy comparing Monroe to Ginger. One thing wholesome Gilligan's Island censors missed, for instance, was the second episode which MeTV points out has Ginger wearing nothing but a sheet when the castaways are rousted out of bed in the night. The Monroe similarities appeared lost to Louise, who feared being typecast and later claimed the show ruined her movie career. MeTV reports the actress declined to appear in subsequent shows about Gilligan's Island after the series ended.

The Howells had a son?

Diehard fans of Gilligan's Island will remember the show where Gilligan saves Mrs. Howell's life and is adopted by the millionaires. Seeing as they've been married for between 19 and 22 years (Mr. Howell states both in that same episode, according to the Gilligan's Island fan site), the couple were obviously beyond child-bearing years. Yet in a later reunion movie, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, MeTV points out that the Howells did have a son, Thurston Howell IV. And there is more: in real life, Natalie Schafer was 13 years older than Jim Backus, a fact the actress kept very secret, even in her contract, says Kiwi Report. 

Other interesting facts about Schafer include that she really was a millionaire even before taking the role of Mrs. Howell. Schafer and her husband invested in property in Beverly Hills and made a fortune, according to Mental Floss. As for Jim Backus, the actor was known as the voice of the Mr. Magoo cartoons and other shows before landing his role on Gilligan's Island. And although the cast loved him, he was known as a bit of a cheapskate who sometimes "forgot" his wallet when dining out with Schafer. She got even, once billing Backus $300 for those meals. When she died, says Over Sixty, she left her fortune to her poodle.

How much did the Gilligan's Island cast make?

Not as much as one would think. Snopes quotes Dawn Wells as guessing her weekly salary was around $750 a week, or $6,300 dollars by today's calculations. She also said that actors like Tina Louise and Jim Backus made more. And when the show ended, says Over Sixty, the cast received $7,000 apiece for subsequent syndication. Considering that other stars, like Dick Van Dyke (brother of Jerry Van Dyke), made $1,550 per episode back in 1961 (per Parade), that's pretty low. Back then, reruns were practically non-existent, although The Take credits Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as being the first to contract for possible reruns of I Love Lucy. Nobody could know that Gilligan's Island would become such a popular rerun, but by some miracle, it did.

For years, says Mental Floss, a rumor persisted that Wells' husband, Larry Rosen, made sure that a "residual clause" in her contract meant she got paid for reruns. Wrong. Wells herself (who died in 2020) debunked that rumor but said that Sherwood Schwartz made $90 million from the show including its reruns. Schwartz's daughter, Hope Juber, said that is also untrue. "If there is $90 million, it must be buried in a chest on the island somewhere because we've never seen it," she said, according to Market Watch.

Some of the cast did their own stunts

Although there were plenty of stuntmen on Gilligan's Island (Janos Prohaska played the ape who stole Mrs. Howell's brooch in one episode, for instance), many cast members did their own stunts on the show. Even Natalie Schafer, who was 64-years-old when the show premiered, declined a stunt double. Mental Floss says the actress claimed she stayed fit by regularly swimming in her pool, and naked at that! The Gilligan's Island fan site points out several scenes where actors can be seen "falling" onto mats that are clearly visible.

Occasionally, the stars did hurt themselves. Neatorama recalls one episode where Alan Hale fell out of a palm tree and broke his right wrist, but heroically didn't mention it "because he didn't want to hold up production." The most dangerous stunt? That would be the time Bob Denver's Gilligan was locked in the Howell's hut with a real lion, says HuffPost. Dawn Wells happened to be filming the scene with her own 8mm camera, in which Gilligan sees the lion standing on the twin beds in the hut and tries to run. The lion suddenly "lunged" at Denver, which Wells said the actor responded to by making a "karate chop" a la Barney Fife as the big cat's trainer tackled it. Denver later said of the incident, "my hair stood on end."

The end of Gilligan's Island

You would think that Gilligan's Island would end with the castaways getting rescued, but no. The producers, according to Kiwi Report, were "feeling" the ratings slipping in 1967 when they toyed with adding a dinosaur character "to freshen things up." Ninja Journalist adds that CBS President Jim Aubrey and Sherwood Schwartz had agreed that the castaways would eventually be rescued, bringing a natural end to the series. But neither idea happened, nor did the renewal for a fourth season, says Mental Floss. Instead, the series was suddenly replaced by Gunsmoke, which had been cancelled but was brought back after William Paley and his wife voiced their disapproval.

According to Do You Remember, the 98th and final episode, "Gilligan the Goddess," aired on April 17, 1967. But reruns began as fans received a few bonus movies in the coming years: Rescue from Gilligan's Island in 1978, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island in 1979, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island in 1981. There was also a cartoon that aired between 1974 and 1977, a video game in 1990, and even a reality show, The Real Gilligan's Island, in 2004. There has been talk of making Gilligan's Island into a movie since 2009, says TV Series Finale, but nothing has come of it yet. 

Which leaves only one more question: How come the song is about "Gilligan's Isle," but the show is titled Gilligan's Island? Nobody seems to know the answer to that one.