For millions of television viewers who ever took the profound silliness of “Gilligan’s Island” to heart, that hapless cry is still greeted with guilty delight more than 20 years after the goofy show went off the air.
In honor of the series’ continued popularity, Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana is presenting “A Tribute to Gilligan’s Island” on Saturday in the college’s Cook Gym, where all seven original cast members, as well as the show’s creator, will be reunited.
The event is the college’s seventh annual “Tribute to a TV Classic,” which in past years has toasted “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” “Candid Camera,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “Mr. Ed,” “Batman” and “Laugh-In.” Proceeds benefit the college telecommunication department’s Scholarship and Production Fund.
In conjunction with the tribute, Saturday has been proclaimed “Gilligan’s Island Day” in Orange County by the Board of Supervisors and the mayor of Santa Ana.
Besides the philanthropic aspect, these tributes provide cast members an opportunity to speculate on the reasons that certain shows remain so popular in syndication. The evening should also give comforting validation to fans who still giggle when Gilligan gets it in the noggin with a coconut for the umpteenth time.
“The question we always get is ‘Where did (the castaways) get all those clothes?’ ” says Jim Backus, who portrayed the ridiculously wealthy Thurston Howell III. “I always say, ‘They had a very large suitcase.’ What’s funny is that they never think that’s a phony answer. They wink; they’re in on the joke. After all these years, they are still in on the joke.”
Said Alan Hale, who played the Skipper: “There’s a genuine fondness for us and the show. The fun and the nonsense is what it’s all about. . . . I was in Dallas and I (got) a call to come over to a party. I walk into a roomful of people and they’re all dressed like us! Adults!”
Nonsense, indeed, but for creator/executive producer Sherwood Schwartz, the making of such nonsense is by no means easy. “What is wrong with a lot of TV is lukewarm water. Our cast and our characters on ‘Gilligan’ were hot. They were easily identifiable. Our bumbling hero was the most bumbling you ever saw. Our rich man was a billionaire. And the professor knew absolutely everything.”
Rancho Santiago telecommunications department chairman Terry Bales, organizer of the tribute, has chosen an episode entitled “The Producer” to air in its entirety Saturday because it is the one people seem to remember most vividly. In it, guest star Phil Silvers played movie mogul Harold Hecuba and produced a musical version of “Hamlet” featuring a cast of castaways.
Along with that episode, and excerpts from others, the tribute will feature a question-and-answer session with Schwartz and the cast, which along with Hale, Backus and Schafer is slated to include Bob Denver (Gilligan), Russell Johnson (The Professor), Dawn Wells (Mary Anne) and Tina Louise (Ginger Grant).
Today, Denver, who subsequently starred in the Gilligan-like series “The Good Guys” (1968-70) and “Dusty’s Trail” (1973), lives in Las Vegas and periodically takes TV and commercial roles. In February, he was seen in “Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis,” a TV movie revival of the 1950s series in which he first made his mark as the dopey beatnik Maynard G. Krebs.
Hale continues to make appearances regularly at boat shows, while Schafer, Backus and Johnson are semi-retired. Louise continues to act on television and in commercials. Wells is currently appearing in “Fire Escape” at the Richmond Shepherd Theater in Los Angeles.
Schwartz, who wrote for Red Skelton’s variety show before developing “Gilligan’s Island,” last week wrapped-up work on another TV movie reunion of “The Brady Bunch” series that he created. The special is scheduled to air around Christmas.
The cast--minus Louise--was briefly rescued from the netherworld of syndication immortality for three TV-movie reunions in 1978, ’79 and ’81. The first time all seven were reunited publicly was earlier this year on Fox television’s “The Late Show” talk program.
But it was the original series that ran from 1964-67 on CBS, not the latter-day movies, that instilled the devotion in viewers that cast members say they still experience daily, such as encounters with fans who can recount entire blocks of dialogue.
Johnson believes that the appeal was in “the fantasy of a faraway tropic island. It’s very idealistic, really.”
Said Wells: “There wasn’t anything that looked like us. We had such a pretty setting. Then, sitcom was all set in a living room.”
“Still is,” added Schwartz. “And we had a lot of different kinds of comedy going. We had the wit and the satire that Natalie and Jim were doing and, of course, the slapstick with Alan and Bob Denver.”
As played by Denver, Gilligan became a figurehead of knuckleheads, frequently reinterpreting everything that was told to him (Professor: “After treating the tablet with this acid solution, the hieroglyphics will become legible.” Gilligan: “And we can read it too.”). When he wasn’t playing the supreme simpleton, Gilligan was imagining himself as Dracula, Mr. Hyde or James Bond in one of the show’s periodic dream sequences.
“People make such a big deal out of what ‘Moonlighting’ is doing with ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ” Schwartz said with a sly smile. “We were doing it 20 years ago.”
An autograph-signing will follow the tribute, along with signings of Backus’ autobiography and Schwartz’s new book “Inside Gilligan’s Island,” which recounts the history of the series from its inception. The book also serves as kind of family memoir of “Gilligan,” which, according to Schwartz, is the second most popular syndicated program worldwide, behind only “I Love Lucy.”
“People have to touch us,” Hale said. “They come up to me and they’ve got tears in their eyes. I mean, they really well up.”
Johnson adds, “It’s a thrill to be part of something that is a part of so many lives. We still get recognized in public all the time. We’re that popular.”
And, as Gilligan might have said, people like ‘em too.
“A Tribute to Gilligan’s Island” will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. in Cook’s Gym, Rancho Santiago College, 17th and Bristol streets, Santa Ana. Advance tickets: $8, adults; $6.50, students and seniors; $5, children 12 and under. Tickets will be $2 more the day of the event. Information: (714) 667-3177 or (714) 667-3163.
“The Treasures of Gilligan’s Island,” will start at 1 p.m. at Rancho de Santiago Theme Park in Orange and will include a picnic, appearances by “Gilligan’s Island” cast members, games, buffet, silent action and other activities. Proceeds will benefit the college’s Orange Campus Theatre Fund, the telecommunications department and the Endowment Fund. Tickets: $50, adults; children 2-12, $15. Information: (714) 667-3198.