The Skipper hit Gilligan with his hat. Mr. Magoo put on a rubber nose. Mrs. Howell peered through her spectacles. In short, a crew of television heroes did everything their affectionate audience wanted them to do at “A Tribute to Gilligan’s Island” on Saturday at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana.
The tribute, the seventh in an annual series that benefits the college’s telecommunications department, drew more than 600 fans of the cult comedy show, which originally aired from 1964 to 1967.
“Gilligan’s Island” is, as department chairman Terry Bales said, a show that originally, like Rodney Dangerfield, got no respect. Bales, who also moderated the event, cited several reviews that lambasted the series’ first episode.
“I thought I came down here to apologize,” joked the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz, to the enthusiastic audience. Bales then introduced the cast, including Dawn Wells (Mary Ann), Russell Johnson (the Professor), Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell), Jim Backus (Mr. Howell), Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper) and Bob Denver (Gilligan). (Tina Louise, who played movie star Ginger Grant, did not appear because she was in New York filming a commercial.)
Backus, 75 and in frail health, was given a standing ovation. The veteran comic actor, who also made his mark as the voice of cartoon character Mr. Magoo, responded by modeling Magoo’s trademark nose.
For his own entrance, Denver borrowed an “Applause” sign from a production assistant and held it aloft, to which the crowd responded accordingly.
Schwartz recalled the difficulties of getting the series on the air “in the shape I wanted rather than (what the network) wanted” and credited the chemistry between Denver and Hale for much of the show’s popularity and longevity.
Denver, 53, cited the scriptwriting as critical to the show’s ongoing popularity. “I used to think that this kind of solid comedy writing was easy. Later (in my career), I realized it was difficult,” Denver said.
The cast members, however, were always aware of the show’s silliness. “One week, I’d pick up the script and think that this was the silliest, stupidest thing we’d ever done,” Denver recalled. “But the next week, I’d read the new script and think, ‘Oops, wrong again.’ ”
Ironically, the nonsensical program occasionally had an impact in the real world. Schwartz reported that while the show was in production, the U.S. Coast Guard was deluged with letters and telegrams demanding the rescue of the castaways.
Many audience members were heard reciting the dialogue during the screening of the popular episode entitled “The Producer,” which climaxed with guest star Phil Silvers doing a whirlwind one-man performance of “Hamlet” for the castaways.
Schwartz and the cast then answered questions from the audience, which ran from the matter of the characters’ numerous costume changes to Ted Turner’s plans to colorize the early black-and-white episodes of “Gilligan’s Island.”
“I have no problem with (Turner’s plans),” Schwartz replied, “Our show should have always been in color anyway.”
Along with the laughs and good-natured kidding, the evening produced a good deal of emotion. “We grew up with Gilligan,” said Cindy Biggs of Anaheim Hills, who attended the tribute with her husband, Mark. “They’re members of the family. When they came out, I wanted to give them all a big hug.”