Five Facts You Likely Never Knew About ‘Gilligan’s Island’

This 1960s sitcom became only more and more popular as time went on — what was behind its massive success?

From 1964 to 1967, “Gilligan’s Island” warmed the hearts of millions of Americans — and it made no apologies for doing so.

Television viewers fell in love with the cast of oddball characters, all of whom were shipwrecked on an island together.

Though the show was meant as a goofy family program, its humor managed to tackle some rather surprising subjects. Through the seven main characters, the scripts addressed the clash of economic classes, people with vast differences setting those aside to work together for a common good — and much more.

The show ran for 98 episodes — and there were three television movies and two spinoff cartoons on top of that. All these years later, “Gilligan’s Island” is still beloved, and reruns still provide some good laughs if given the chance.

Here’s a look at five facts you likely never knew about “Gilligan’s Island.”

1.) The original theme song was terrible. The show’s theme music may top the list of most memorable television intros even now — but the rollicking “three-hour tour” wasn’t there at the beginning. Instead, there was a calypso song in the style of Harry Belafonte, written by none other than John Williams, the composer of “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” fame.

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Though his later pedigree might indicate we were worse off for its loss, you’d be wrong. Recordings still exist for those who never knew about it and who might be curious to hear the incredibly annoying, awkward song, which is about two minutes too long. Check it out below:

2.) None of the actors received royalties after the show’s syndication. According to actress Dawn Wells (who played the character Mary Ann), none of the show’s actors received royalties from episodes that aired after 1968.

Why? Because their standard contracts included compensation for only five reruns of each episode after the initial airing. A persistent online rumor claims Wells did earn royalties because of a change her husband had made in her contract, but Wells herself has denied it.

3.) “Lovey” Howell Was Actually Rich. Natalie Schafer, who played the wife of millionaire Thurston Howell III, was already independently wealthy before she auditioned to play a rich character for the show. She and her husband, Louis Calhern, made their wealth investing in real estate along the now-famous Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Upon her death, she allegedly left the majority of her wealth in a trust for her teacup poodle. Then, after the dog’s death, the remaining sum went to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills — where a wing of the building now bears Schafer’s name.

Related: Five Facts You Likely Never Knew About ‘Murder, She Wrote’

4.) The actors’ careers never recovered. Wild success, alas, too often comes with a set of thorns. “Gilligan’s Island” was never meant to be the everlasting classic it was — and with its popularity growing throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the actors could not escape the shadow of their best-known roles.

Bob Denver (Gilligan) spent most of his career reprising the titular role, and Tina Louise (Ginger) often lamented the fact that Gilligan “ruined her career.” Despite this (or perhaps because of it), all of the actors except Louise maintained continuity by providing voice for the animated series “The New Adventures of Gilligan” and later “Gilligan’s Planet.”

Fun sub-fact for those not in the know: The latter was a spin-off that involved the original gang building a spaceship from the wreckage of the Minnow and — what else — getting marooned in outer space.

5.) We don’t really know what Gilligan’s name was. Or, to be more accurate, we know his name was Gilligan — just not whether that was his first name or his last. The show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz, said the character’s full name was “Willy Gilligan.” Gilligan is never referred to by that name except in the unaired pilot, which is definitely not canon.

Actor Bob Denver also insisted that Gilligan was a first name — counter to Schwartz’s assertion, so whom can we trust: Gilligan’s creator, or the man himself?

Garrin Bufo is a freelance writer based in Maine and an alumnus of the University of Iowa. 

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