‘Gilligan’s Island’: How a Phone Book Helped the Show Find Its’ Name

by Taylor Cunningham

Can you imagine a classic TV series based around seven castaways trapped on Hokusfigger’s Island? We can’t either, but that was almost the name of Gilligan’s Island.

When creator Sherwood Schwartz hatched the plan for the series, the plot, character personas, and first episodes came easy. But once he had all the hard work in the bag, he was completely stumped by the show’s title.

Aside from the above idea, Schwartz also toyed with the idea of calling the show Johnson’s IslandWinkelpleck’s Island, Thompson’s IslandHogfighter’s Island, and Wilson’s Island. But luckily none of those ideas stuck. So Schwartz turned to the white pages for inspiration.

“I just kept looking through telephone book after telephone book until I hit the name ‘Gilligan.’ I felt ‘Gilligan’ was amusing enough to indicate a comedy series and acceptable enough to avoid burlesque,” Schwarz said in the book Inside Gilligan’s Island: A Three-Hour Tour Through The Making Of A Television Classic.

In all, it took Sherwood Schwartz three long weeks of skimming to decide that the S.S. Minnow’s fateful trip would land on Gilligan’s Island. While it may seem silly to spend so many painstaking hours thinking of just the right moniker, a series name sets the initial impression. And Schwartz wanted to be sure that title didn’t make his future classic sound too “dramatic” or too “ridiculous.”

Bob Denver Made Sure the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Theme Song Paid Tribute to All the Castaways

Once Gillian’s Island earned its name, Schwartz got to work on the rest of the details. And after hiring the actors, he asked five-time Oscar-winning composer John Williams to write the opening theme song. But once he put the tune together, the lead star Bob Denver wouldn’t have it. So the show eventually scrapped the work and created an entirely different song.

In the original piece, the professor and Mary Ann weren’t even mentioned. Instead, the lyrics ended with “the movie” star, and the last two were referred to as “the rest.”

The reason behind the snub was that Tina Louise’s contract explicitly wrote that she had to come last. And Williams couldn’t figure out how to add her name at the end while still including the remaining characters.

When Denver heard the theme song, he wouldn’t stand for it. So he personally sat down with Schwartz and re-tooled Louise’s contract so the song could arrange the names any way they wished. While the original song played throughout the first season, season 2 opened with the jingle that we all know and love.

The Wellingtons ended up creating the final version. Their song played on the opening credits from 1965 to 1966.

In the end, no one harbored any hard feelings. As the show continued, the whole fiasco turned into an inside joke. For the rest of the actors’ friendships, the professor’s Russell Johnson and Mary Ann’s Dawn Wells became known to their castmates as “the rest.”