Sherwood Schwartz, who created both Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, was full of colorful anecdotes when he shared stories about both series.
This was in an interview conducted in 1997 in Beverly Hills. The Archive of American Television wanted to get an oral history from one of the most creative minds in TV history. So Schwartz shared and shared for six hours.
One of the most fascinating stories concerned Gilligan’s Island, back when the quirky show about a bunch of castaways first aired in 1964. Schwartz was at his office when he received a phone call from a Coast Guard lieutenant. He invited the guy to come talk to him.
Yes, Really. Fans Sent Telegrams about Gilligan’s Island
Schwartz described the meeting: “The show was on the air for about 10 weeks … I had no idea why a lieutenant in the Coast Guard would want to see me, but I said, ‘fine.’ He came in and said ‘I didn’t want to tell you over the phone because I didn’t think you’d believe me. But here read these.’
“He tosses about a dozen to 18, I don’t know, a batch of telegrams on my desk and says here read them. And they all said almost the same thing, all from different parts of the country. “
Schwartz said the telegrams were sent to various military bases around the country. They all were a variation on the same message. Schwartz recited them from memory: “For a couple of months now, we’ve seen seven Americans on an island. They’re going to die. And we send millions, billions across the ocean to other countries. Why can’t we spare one vessel to go and save these people?”
So Schwartz wanted to ask these folks about the Gilligan’s Island laugh track. “So who did they think was laughing. What was happening to these people? Where did they think the music came from, the commercials?”
Maybe Sherwood Schwartz Created Reality TV and Didn’t Know It
It does sound silly that people really believed that seven people left on the SS Minnow all packed up for a three-hour tour. And that said fans thought all seven still were on this uncharted desert isle. It begs the question, how did these folks think scenes from Gilligan’s Island were getting back to the mainland? This was decades before reality TV became a thing.
Obviously, Schwartz still got a kick out of the story. And then the Gilligan’s Island creator went off on another tangent that still seems so relevant in 2022.
“Television has such a power,” Schwartz said. “Look what happened on soap operas when someone gives birth to a little girl or little boy. They’re flooded with little socks and things for the baby, like it really happened. There’s a belief factor that’s incredible in television. And it’s not true in any other medium. It’s scary, really scary.
Schwartz, who died in 2011, also offered other thoughts on Gilligan’s Island during the lengthy interview, And he discussed The Brady Bunch, an iconic series from the 1970s.
You can check out all of the interviews here.