‘Gilligan’s Island’: When and How Did Mrs. Howell Actor Natalie Schafer Die?

by Keeli Parkey
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During the mid-1960s, actress Natalie Schafer was part of a “Gilligan’s Island” cast that entertained millions of people each week. Schafer, of course, played Lovey Howell, the wife of millionaire Thurston Howell III (played by Jim Backus).

The actress, who was also known for her work on Broadway and in films, had a very long life. According to a report by The New York Times after her death, Schafter was 90 years old when she passed away. She reportedly died of cancer at her home on April 10, 1991.

She was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, according to IMDb. Her birthdate was Nov. 5, 1900. Interestingly, she was older than Jim Backus, who played her husband in the popular sitcom, by 12 years.

Her parents were Charles Emanual Schafer and Jennie Elizabeth (Tim). During the 1940s, the future “Gilligan’s Island” star experienced a tragic loss. While she was engaged to Charles Butterworth – an actor himself – he passed away in a car accident during 1946. Prior to that, Schafer was married to Louis Calhern from 1933 until 1942. This marriage ended in divorce.

In addition to appearing in the original run of “Gilligan’s Island” from 1964 through 1967, Natalie Schafer returned as Mrs. Howell for the show’s television movie reunions. These were the 1978 project “Rescue From Gilligan’s Island,” the 1979 television movie “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island,” and 1981’s “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.”

The show made Schafer and the rest of the cast – Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Dawn Wells, Tina Louise, Russell Johnson, and Backus – very famous.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Natalie Schafer Appeared on Broadway and in Films Before Landing the Role of Mrs. Howell

Before she rose to television fame thanks to her role in “Gilligans Island,” Natalie Schafer had had a successful career on the Broadway stage and in Hollywood films.

From the 1920s and into the 1950s, Schafer was cast in several Broadway productions. These included the 1941 show “Lady in the Dark,” the 1957 show “Romanoff and Juliet,” and the 1959 production of “Highest Tree.”

Her film work included projects that had some of the biggest names in Hollywood as part of the cast. For example, she worked with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Hedy Lamarr. She worked with Lamarr in the 1947 film “Dishonored Lady.” She appeared with Davis in “Payment on Demand” in 1951 and with Crawford in “Female on the Beach” in 1955.

“Gilligan’s Island” was not the first television show that cast Natalie Schafer. She also had roles on such popular series as “I Love Lucy,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Love Boat,” “Three’s Company,” and ‘CHIPs.”

Interestingly, Schafter only decided to appear in the pilot of “Gilligan’s Island” in order to travel to Hawaii for free.

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