On This Day: ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Premieres in 1964

by Joe Rutland

America’s longest-running “three-hour tour” aboard a boat launched with “Gilligan’s Island” debuting on this day on CBS in 1964.

Little did viewers realize at the time that this sitcom would last beyond its three-season stay on network TV. Who really knew that fans of a show, about people going for a boat ride about the S.S. Minnow, would still be popular in 2021.

So, let’s look at the cast for a minute, Outsiders. Bob Denver played Gilligan, a gullible first mate aboard the Minnow. Denver entered this series as its main star, coming off his time as beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on CBS’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”

Character actor Alan Hale starred as the Skipper of the S.S. Minnow. Hale put together a number of movie roles and TV appearances before joining the cast. Jim Backus played millionaire Thurston Howell III, and people knew of him from movies like “Rebel Without A Cause” which starred James Dean. Natalie Schafer played “Lovey” Howell, Thurston’s beloved wife.

Tina Louise starred as Hollywood starlet Ginger Grant. Louise did not like her role, though, and never played Grant again.

Russell Johnson played The Professor and Dawn Wells appeared as Mary Ann. Johnson and Wells would kid one another years after “Gilligan’s Island” ended. They were termed “and the rest” in the show’s credits during its first season. That changed, thanks to Denver, and both received credits during the second and third seasons.

“Gilligan’s Island” was created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz, who would follow this up with “The Brady Bunch” starting in 1969.

Sitcom’s Storylines Focused Either On Island Life Or Ways To Leave It Behind

Storylines revolved either around life on the island or an attempt to leave it. None of the “seven stranded castaways” made it off “Gilligan’s Island” during the original run. Episodes would feature The Professor using different things to bring energy and fresh drinking water to them all.

Fans could count on hearing Hale bellow “Gilligan!” at least once per episode.

Ironically, “Gilligan’s Island” scored high ratings for CBS. The network even wanted to keep the sitcom on its primetime lineup, but one show had to go. Executives seriously considered dumping popular Western “Gunsmoke” starring James Arness from the network. Well, that didn’t go over well with the wife of CBS President William Paley.

Wells recounted the story years later. She was interviewed in 2013 by Esquire.

“What happened was Gunsmoke was canceled, and we were moved into their time slot,” Wells said. “Mrs. Paley—the wife of the board chairman—had been on vacation when Gunsmoke was canceled, and when she got home, she said, ‘You can’t cancel Gunsmoke. It’s my favorite show.’ So they canceled us.”