‘Gilligan’s Island’: Why Jerry Van Dyke Turned Down the Role of Gilligan

by Emily Morgan

“Gilligan’s Island” remains one of pop culture’s most iconic shows. Even though it only ran for three seasons, it still maintains a wide following with audiences of all generations. 

Actors such as Bob Denver and Tina Louise have “Gilligan’s Island” to thank for giving them their start in Hollywood, and to this day, they remain best known for their work on the beloved show. 

At the time of its premiere, few expected the show to be so well-received. As a result, several well-known stars passed on the chance to be on the show, including Jerry Van Dyke, younger brother of legendary actor Dick Van Dyke. 

Born in 1931 and, like his older brother, was drawn to entertainment from a young age. He began as a stand-up comedian, performing in nightclubs as a young man before landing early appearances on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

In 1964, Van Dyke turned down an offer to play Gilligan because he didn’t want to be part of an ensemble cast. His goal was to replicate the success of his older brother and have his own TV show. 

One year later, his wish came when he captured the lead in the short-lived “My Mother the Car.”

Jerry Van Dyke’s Harsh Criticism Of ‘Gilligan’s Island’

Van Dyke also turned it down because he hated the script, calling it “the worst thing I’d ever read.”

Despite Van Dyke’s critical opinion, the show wound up becoming a commercial success. 

For fans, it seems impossible to imagine anyone else playing lovable Gilligan.

Still, before the debut, showrunners were on the hunt for their perfect Gilligan. They thought that they had found the best fit for the role with Van Dyke.

The show debuted in 1964 and centered on a “three-hour tour” gone wrong, as their boat capsizes on an island.

The show follows the passengers, including Gilligan, Skipper, the professor, Mary Anne, Ginger Grant, and Thurston Howell, and his wife, as they undergo humorous entanglements. 

“Gilligan’s Island” ran for three years, and although it received high ratings it became even more popular in syndication. 

After going off the air in 1967, most of the cast returned for a reunion movie series.