‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Bob Denver Once Replaced Woody Allen in a Broadway Play

by Chris Haney

Back in 1970, fans that had heard of comedic actor Bob Denver likely knew him from his title role on Gilligan’s Island. Yet for some, including a New York Times critic, their first introduction to Denver was in a Woody Allen play on Broadway.

Woody Allen wrote and starred in his 1970’s Play It Again, Sam. The play featured for more than a year on Broadway and was a huge success. In fact, Allen later starred in a movie adaptation of the play in 1972. But it was the play that helped put him on the map as a performer and later as a director. In fact, the play is the first time he and famed actress Diane Keaton worked together. It would be the first of many projects the duo would collaborate on.

However, late in the play’s run on Broadway, Bob Denver took over the lead role for Allen. During a Feb. 7, 1970 review of the play, NY Times critic Clive Barnes covered the production for the second time. He’d already seen Allen’s performance, but was curious about Denver who he had shockingly never heard of. It turns out he had never watched Gilligan’s Island, and even made a snooty reference to it in his article. He said he “had previously passed happily through life never having heard of Gilligan’s Island.” Yet Denver’s performance shined through and eventually won over the critic.

Barnes wrote that at first Denver seemed like a fish out of water on the Broadway stage. But that “strangely enough Mr. Denver pulled himself together and started to act very effectively,” the critic wrote. He went on to specifically praise Denver, but didn’t care for the rest of the new cast.

NY Times Critic Heaps Praise on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Bob Denver

Taking over an already successful role on Broadway has to be tough. Especially late in its run after its already earned awards and critical acclaim. But the Gilligan’s Island lead character knocked his performance out of the park.

The NY Times critic was impressed at how quickly Denver turned around his performance that night. The actor may have started out slow, but evidently he truly came into his own after not long.

“Once in gear and acting, Mr. Denver was able to offer a very agreeable, zany personality,” Barnes wrote in his NY Times review. “Mr. Denver, by normal standards, was very zany, and also very funny. He has a genuine clown‐like wistfulness that Mr. Allen sometimes perspires to with only small success.”

“Although I enjoyed Mr. Denver very much once I got used to him, and the play stands up very well to a second seeing, the rest of the cast was less sharp than the original,” Barnes added.

Fans of Gilligan’s Island won’t be surprised that Bob Denver eventually won the critic over. The Hollywood legend’s talent was as unique and natural as they come, and that’s either on-screen or on-stage.