When late Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz originally set out to cast the show, he had no idea who Bob Denver was. The actor who would eventually become the face of Gilligan’s Island was not even Schwartz’s top pick to play the title character.
“I didn’t even know him,” Schwartz said of Denver in a 2013 interview with the Writers Guild Foundation. “As a matter of fact, he was not my first choice. He was my second choice, and luckily, he chose to do it.”
Schwartz died in 2011 in Los Angeles; Denver passed away in 2005 in North Carolina. But while they lived, the two men would have more influence than anyone else over the fate of the now-iconic TV show.
Watch Schwartz talk about creating Gilligan’s Island here:
So Who Was Schwartz’s Top Choice to Star in Gilligan’s Island?
Schwartz initially had someone else in mind for Gilligan. And that someone was Jerry Van Dyke, brother of Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins. But according to Closer Weekly, Van Dyke listened to his agent, who advised him to pass on the role.
So that left an opening for Denver. He met Schwartz in Hollywood before shooting the pilot in Hawaii. And at first, Denver wasn’t sure the show was going to go anywhere. But it did, and the rest is television history.
“I had a meeting with Sherwood Schwartz, the producer, writer and creator,” Denver once explained to a Canadian radio station. “And when he and I got done talking, I was on the floor laughing when he told me the premises of some and the guest stars and things. I said, ‘Are you sure the network is going to let you do this?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I have permission to shoot the pilot,’ and I said, ‘Well fine, it would be great.’ So we shook hands and that was the deal.”
“Then we shot the pilot on the island of Kauai in the Hawaiian string there,” Denver went on. “I still couldn’t believe it when I was in Hawaii for two weeks shooting a half-hour situation comedy that was so stupid and silly. And then I figured, well if it didn’t sell at least I got a nice, you know, two weeks. I stayed an extra two weeks so I had a month on the island. Then of course, it sold and became a hit.”
Of course, had he guessed how big a hit it would become, Denver said, “I would have made a better deal.”