‘Gilligan’s Island’ Creator Sherwood Schwartz Revealed the Only Actor He ‘Had in Mind’ for Show

by Joe Rutland

Obviously, fans of “Gilligan’s Island” think they know who creator Sherwood Schwartz really wanted for his show. The answer may surprise you.

Schwartz, who had a history of working in radio and television as a writer, talked about the actor he had in mind for “Gilligan’s Island.”

“Jim Backus I had in mind because I worked with him on ‘I Married Joan,'” Schwartz said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. Backus played the husband in that show to comedian-actor Joan Davis.

“I worked with him in radio and nobody does that character like he does,” Schwartz said, imitating Backus’ voice as Thurston Howell III. “You know he has that, has that, I don’t even know what you call it. Super high-toned voice of his.”

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Creator Says Bob Denver Wasn’t First Choice For Gilligan

Schwartz also said that he “wanted a skinny guy, a smaller guy. I wanted a big Skipper. I wanted a gorgeous, tall redhead. And a virginal, good-looking good girl and a clean-cut, nice professor who looked very, very intelligent.”

He said those were the characters “but the only one I had in mind was Jim Backus.” Bob Denver, of course, is Gilligan; Alan Hale Jr. is the Skipper. Tina Louise plays Ginger Grant, Dawn Wells plays Mary Ann, and Russell Johnson portrays The Professor. The one character Schwartz doesn’t mention for “Gilligan’s Island” is Lovey Howell, Thurston’s wife, played by Natalie Schafer.

“In fact, Bob Denver wasn’t even my first choice,” Schwartz said. “Jerry Van Dyke was my first choice. In fact, I brought him out here from Texas for that part.”

Schwartz, who also created “The Brady Bunch,” mentions that Denver and Van Dyke don’t look alike but calls them “sweatshirt-looking guys.”

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“They don’t look like they should be dressed up,” he said. “Jerry Van Dyke does not look like one. He doesn’t have the same feeling of Dick Van Dyke, his brother. Dick has an elegance about him. Jerry had none of that. He looked like he was born in a sweatshirt. Just ask his mother about that.”

Dick Van Dyke was having his own successful CBS sitcom with “The Dick Van Dyke Show” at the time “Gilligan’s Island” was on the network, too.

Schwartz thought Jerry Van Dyke “would be perfect” for the Gilligan role. He turned it down, though, to accept an offer to play a lead role in “My Mother, The Car.”

“I said, ‘OK Jerry, your choice,'” Schwartz said.

While “Gilligan’s Island” remains a beloved show in classic TV fans’ minds, “My Mother, The Car” is considered one of TV’s greatest bombs.