Natalie Schafer, a veteran comedic actress best known for her role as Lovey Howell, the millionaire’s wife on the television series “Gilligan’s Island,” has died. She was 90.
Miss Schafer died Wednesday of cancer at her Beverly Hills home, her publicist and friend Frank Liberman announced Thursday.
She last appeared in “I’m Dangerous Tonight,” for HBO last fall.
A native New Yorker who studied fashion design at the Merrill finishing school, Miss Schafer brought her own style, including a love of pearls and lorgnettes, to the role as the fluttery wife of Thurston Howell III, portrayed by the late Jim Backus.
Producers of the show originally planned to dress Mrs. Howell in tweeds and low-heeled shoes.
“But I’ve never worn low-heeled shoes in my life,” Miss Schafer once told The Times. “And tweed skirts are too scratchy.
“So I decided Mrs. Howell should wear mad clothes--crazy hats, slacks with ruffly tops, gloves and jewelry with sports clothes,” the actress said. “And pearls. Always pearls. At first the producers and writers were aghast and they fought the idea. But I finally won.”
Like other members of the cast, she often agreed with critics who panned the series as silly. But the story of sightseers shipwrecked on a desert island ran for three years, and has continually been re-shown as something of a cult series.
Nervous about being tied down by a series, Miss Schafer said she took the part “because I didn’t think it would last, and besides the pilot was being made in Honolulu, and I’d never been to Honolulu.”
Confessing that she often got bored on the set of “Gilligan,” she said she fought the feeling by doing needlepoint, including a piece that said, “This, too, shall pass.”
Miss Schafer began her career on stage, performing in an Atlanta stock company and then playing opposite Pat O’Brien in “The Nut Farm” in Chicago and New York.
She met her late husband, Louis Calhern, while performing in “The Rhapsody” on Broadway.
“The romance was a smashing success,” she said later, “but not the play.”
Her screen debut came in 1944 in “Marriage Is a Private Affair” with Lana Turner. Among her subsequent films were “The Snake Pit” in 1948, “Anastasia” in 1956, “Susan Slade” in 1961 and “The Day of the Locust” in 1975.
Before “Gilligan,” she impressed early television viewers in Philco, Kraft and Lux playhouse productions and in episodes of “I Love Lucy,” “Route 66,” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Miss Schafer is survived by several nieces and nephews and her longtime companion, Maurice Hill.
She had requested that any memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society or to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.