With Gilligan’s Island looking stage-bound, yet featuring a fully functional, deep lagoon, where in the world did the classic show actually film?
Before or since, there’s never really been another sitcom that’s captured the spirit of Gilligan’s Island. A classic to this day, the show brought sprawling jungle, shore, and water-bound locales to audience’s living rooms throughout the 60s.
It’s no secret, however, that these seemingly wild locations were fabricated. They look it, for sure, but where on earth did CBS manage to pull this off? The answer is as simple as it is surprising.
For Gilligan’s Island, the entire show was filmed at CBS’s Radford Studios Complex in Studio City, Los Angeles. It’s the same stage The Mary Tyler Moore Show, then Roseanne, made famous. That’s right – everything from the lush jungles to sandy beaches to those sometimes perilous lagoon scenes were all shot in one single studio environment. So how’d they pull this off?
CBS had literal thousands of live and fake plants in the studio for Gilligan’s jungles. For the beach, sand was brought in and laid out. And for the lagoon, a literal parking lot-scale concrete “tub” was filled to the brim with water. Production would then drain the lagoon for use as an actual parking lot when Gilligan’s Island wasn’t filming.
‘Gilligan’s Island’s Surprising Legacy
This parking lot lagoon was the last surviving bit of the set’s legacy, standing all the way up to 1997. That year, it saw demolition for one of Radford Studios’ expansion projects.
When it was in use, the lagoon was so “lifelike” and effective, though, that the United States Coast Guard would often receive telegrams from citizens fearing for the lives of the “people trapped on that tiny island.”
In fact, according to media historian William F. Fore, the Coast Guard got such a kick out of this that they would forward the mayday telegrams directly to Gilligan creator & producer Sherwood Schwartz.
Fore further states that the spinoff film Rescue from Gilligan’s Island payed homage to these telegrams. To do so, the storyline involving Gilligan’s successful rescue after lighting a fire was a prominent plot point of the movie. The U.S. Coast Guard spots Gilligan’s fire via helicopter, and the castaways finally see rescue after a decade.
The first episode put to film on this set in 1963, however, wouldn’t make it to television for another three decades. The original pilot for Gilligan’s Island, “Marooned”, featured seven characters like the initial series. Only four of these characters, though, would carry over into the show we know today. Those were, of course, Bob Denver as Gilligan, Alan Hale Jr. as The Skipper, and Natalie Schafer & Jim Backus as the Howells.
Fans wouldn’t see this 1963 pilot until TBS aired it over 29 years later in celebration of the show’s legacy. An absolute bummer for the other three actors in the pilot, to be sure. Yet the result gave us Dawn Wells’ Mary Anne, Tina Louise’s Ginger, and Russell Johnson’s Professor. We wouldn’t have it any other way!