When the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island aired in 1964, actress Natalie Schafer who portrayed Lovey Howell assumed the TV show would be a flop. In fact, the only reason she originally agreed to the role was for a free trip to Hawaii.
Before Gilligan’s Island took off and became a fan favorite sitcom, Schafer made a living on Broadway in New York City. Previous to her TV career, she took the stage in 17 plays and appeared in several films. Gilligan’s Island executives saw her work and approached Schafer for her now famous role of Thurston Howell III’s sophisticated wife.
Yet the comedy series based on a shipwrecked crew stuck on a deserted island was far from the actor’s idea of a dream role.
Schafer allegedly thought the premise of the show was downright silly. In addition, she thought Gilligan’s Island would be canceled after the show’s pilot episode. However, the show planned to shoot the pilot on the beautiful island of Hawaii and that got Schafer’s attention.
Natalie Schafer Didn’t Think the Show Would Last, Other Hollywood Stars Agreed
Natalie Schafer herself had no faith in the show, but she did end up accepting the role. Why?
The short answer is she would get to take a free trip to Hawaii. According to CBS News, her co-stars said she never imagined Gilligan’s Island would make it past the first episode. Therefore, she simply tagged along so she could visit Hawaii as part of the cast.
It’s ironic that Natalie Schafer’s most iconic role of her career became Lovey Howell from Gilligan’s Island. Especially since she thought so little of her role in the early stages of the show. The short lived series only lasted three seasons, but fans fell in love with the sitcom and all its quirky characters. Even today the show is a cultural sensation with reruns still prominent on television.
Not everyone was convinced that the premise of the show would work though, and Schafer wasn’t alone. For other Hollywood stars, Hawaii wasn’t even a good enough draw to take on the roles of Gilligan’s Island. Jerry Van Dyke, the younger brother of Dick Van Dyke, turned down a part in the show because of the similar concerns that Schafer had. He thought the premise of the show was too foolish.
Van Dyke instead took the lead role for a new show called My Mother the Car. In an amusing twist of fate, he ended up on a show with an even sillier premise than Gilligan’s Island. Van Dyke’s character discovers that his mother was reincarnated as an antique car. Furthermore, the show only lasted one season and TV Guide ranked it as the second-worst show in television history.
Unbeknownst to her at the time, Schafer ended up making one of the best decisions in her acting career by accepting the role of Lovey Howell.