‘Gilligan’s Island’: Natalie Schafer Revealed the Actor Who ‘Ad-Libbed Like Mad’

by John Jamison
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The cast of “Gilligan’s Island” included highly talented performers who all had something to offer. So what tricks did Broadway star Natalie Schafer pick up from comedic actor Jim Backus?

Well, she learned how to improvise.

It’s hard to imagine a classically trained actor learning how to improve her craft from a comedic type, yet that’s exactly what happened when Natalie Schafer watched Jim Backus perform.

In an interview from 1989, she talked about Backus, her on-screen husband.

“He taught me something I had never experienced because all my years in the theater, I’d always said dialog just as it was written, and Jim was a stand-up comic really, and he ad-libbed like mad. And at first I was sort of just floored by it, and then I started to ad-lib, and I loved it,” Schafer said.

Natalie Schafer played Eunice ‘Lovey’ Wentworth Howell on “Gilligan’s Island,” the wife of Jim Backus’ Hurston Howell III. The pair played a wealthy couple, at odds with the marooned situation in which they found themselves.

And what better place to work on your improv skills than a sitcom set where the whole cast is close? According to Schafer’s co-star Dawn Wells, the cast shared chemistry that went deeper than their characters.

“We really were a tight-knit cast, though, and I think that shows. I think the charm of the show was that you could kind of tell we all liked each other,” said Wells in a 2015 interview.

Natalie Schafer Did The ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Pilot for a Trip to Hawaii

Entertaining as Schafer and Backus are to watch together, their on-screen marriage almost never happened. At least not for the right reasons, anyway.

According to IMDb, Schafer once claimed that she only did the pilot for “Gilligan’s Island” because she got a free trip to Hawaii out of the deal.

When she finally heard that the show was picked up, she broke down crying. Why? Well, her friends thought it was because her sick mother had passed away. In reality, it was because working on the show meant she couldn’t move back to New York City.

In the end, the show worked out for Schafer. And who knows? If she hadn’t taken the role, maybe she never would have learned those sweet ad-lib skills from Jim Backus.

Outsider.com