“Gilligan’s Island” creator Sherwood Schwartz had his work cut out for him when he set out to find a cast for the show. And while he knew it’d be difficult to do, Schwartz didn’t anticipate how much trouble he’d have finding someone to play the role of the Skipper. But just as he was giving up on getting the right person for the job, he had a lucky break.
The tone of “Gilligan’s Island” was not easy for just any actor to capture. The comedic, goofy nature of the show made for a complicated mix with the ensemble cast. Sherwood Schwartz knew this, and he needed to pick his characters wisely. He understood that his Skipper needed to be imposing, a potentially intimidating figure to Bob Denver’s Gilligan. But on the flip side, the Skipper had to have a loving disposition.
It’s a difficult blend to find in an actor, a large person who doesn’t scare an audience when he’s yelling at someone. In a 1997 interview with the Archive of American Television, Sherwood Schwartz talked about how he almost gave up on finding his perfect Skipper.
“They turned dark when they started to yell at Bob Denver,” Schwartz said. “And I was reluctant to go with inferior performance. One night, Mildred and I- my wife and I- were at a restaurant, and I’m bewailing my fate. And that’s what you have wives for, isn’t it? To be sympathetic when you’re in trouble.”
Schwartz was running out of options. He had no idea what to do, and “Gilligan’s Island” was set to start shooting in two weeks.
The ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Creator Spotted His Skipper from Across the Restaurant
Just as he was giving up, seeking comfort in a drink and the company of his wife, Schwartz spotted Alan Hale Jr. across the restaurant.
“I don’t have a skipper, and we shoot in two weeks in Hawaii,” Schwartz continued in the 1997 interview. “As I say this, I look across the restaurant. And sitting in the same restaurant at another table is Alan Hale, who had never been interviewed, never been mentioned. And I took one look and I said, ‘God. There he is. That’s the Skipper.'”
The “Gilligan’s Island” creator’s wife told him to go over and talk to him. But Schwartz didn’t know Hale personally, so he called his agent the next day. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Hale flew to Utah to film a movie that morning. After a logistical nightmare that saw Hale jump off a horse, hitch a ride to Las Vegas, and fly to LA for a brief screentest with Bob Denver, Schwartz’s instincts proved spot on. He’d found the right man for the job.