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Classic TV

‘Fantasy Island’ Cast: Fun Behind-the-Scenes Facts About the Beloved Drama

Who could forget "Da plane! Da plane!"


From 1977 to 1984, everyone wanted to go to Fantasy Island, the mysterious, tropical resort where the enigmatic host, Mr. Roarke, pledged to allow guests to live out their wildest fantasies — for good or for ill. The show’s mix of romantic dreams, dangerous adventure and an endless stream of recognizable guest stars — from a young Michelle Pfeiffer and Geena Davis to David Cassidy and Gilligan’s Island’s Bob Denver — kept us tuning in.

With Hollywood’s super producer Aaron Spelling (Dynasty, Beverly Hills 90210) behind the scenes, the series aired on Saturday nights on ABC at 10 p.m., after The Love Boat.

Related: ‘The Love Boat’ Cast: See the Stars of the Campy Classic Then and Now

The dashing Ricardo Montalbán played elegant Mr. Roarke, who always wore a white suit and cheered on his staff with “Smiles, everyone, smiles!” as the plane delivering the week’s guests arrived.

Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize from Fantasy Island, 1980
Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize, 1980Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Roarke was alerted to the arrival of new visitors by his trusty assistant Tattoo, played by French actor Hervé Villechaize. At the start of the opening credits, Tattoo would climb the property’s bell tower, ring the bell and famously call out, “De plane! De plane!” It was a catchphrase that fans mimicked and remains what he’s most famous for today.

The series entertained viewers for 152 episodes over seven years — and was developed from two made-for-TV movies that were hits. Though The New York Times groused that “the plotting and writing are painfully obvious,” viewers warmed to Mr. Roarke, whose steady hand and strong moral code guided his guests, even as their fantasies — from reconnecting with old loves, to tracking down killers — frequently didn’t turn out the way they’d expected.

The show was able to handle both lighthearted comedy and deeper topics — as when Spelling’s actress daughter Tori appeared as a young girl whose parents had been killed by drunk drivers. “She went to Fantasy Island to see… why God let this happen,” Spelling said, noting that TV shows could “say something.”

The producer raved about Montalbán, who died in 2009 at age 88, calling him, in an interview with the Television Academy, the show’s “quarterback,” who helped “make it work, and [didn’t] preach.”

Portrait of Ricardo Montalban from Fantasy Island, 1980
Portrait of Ricardo Montalbán, 1980Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

Nearly 40 years after the original Fantasy Island ended, the series remains a fan favorite, because after all who wouldn’t want to be able to travel to an exotic island and live out your wildest dreams? Here is a look back at the show’s stars, along with some fascinating behind-the-scenes secrets about this memorable series.

1. The idea for Fantasy Island started as a joke

Aaron Spelling
Aaron Spelling, producer of Fantasy Island with Charlie’s Angels cast in 1978Bettmann / Getty

Aaron Spelling and his partner Leonard Goldberg had already succeeded in producing several hit shows, including Charlie’s Angels, Starsky & Hutch and The Love Boat, when ABC president Brandon Stoddard asked them to pitch more shows. “We must’ve pitched six ideas and he turned them all down,” Spelling said in the Television Academy interview. “So, I said as a joke, ‘What do you want, this great island people go to, and all their sexual fantasies will be realized?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I love that!’” But, Spelling added, “We never did the sexual things on the island at all.”

Related: The Original ‘Charlie’s Angels’ Cast Is Unrecognizable Today

2. Mr. Roarke could have been played by Orson Welles

Orson Welles, 1973
Orson Welles, 1973Len Trievnor/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty

When Spelling was casting Fantasy Island, the network wanted Mr. Roarke to be played by either Orson Welles, the genius behind Citizen Cane, or the director John Huston (China Town).

But Spelling wasn’t interested. “Orson Welles is very tough to work with,” he told the Television Academy. According to Montalbán, in his interview with the TV Academy, Spelling emphasized to ABC the physical hardships and long hours of making a series, which for Welles, who was extremely overweight, and Huston, who reportedly had emphysema, would be difficult. Spelling got his top pick: Montalbán fit nicely into Roarke’s immaculately tailored white suit.

3. Mr. Roarke was an angel stuck in purgatory

Lisa Hartman, Ricardo Montalbán, Pamela Franklin, Fantasy Island, 1980 Spelling-Goldberg Productions/Columbia Pictures Television/

There were many hints on Fantasy Island regarding Mr. Roarke’s supernatural background. In the 1980 episode “Elizabeth,” Gilligan’s Island’s Tina Louise played a woman possessed by the spirit of a woman from Roarke’s past…who died 300 years earlier.

And there are passing references to him being friends with Helen of Troy, Cleopatra and even the devil (played several times by Roddy McDowall). Montalbán’s theory, he described, was that Roarke was an “an angel that still had a little bit of sin of pride in him… so he is in charge of Purgatory. And he has his little cherub to help him. Purgatory where people go through tests and some of them for the better and some for the worse.”

4. Hervé Villechaize was an artist

Herve Villechaize in his apartment in Paris, 1973
Herve Villechaize in his apartment in Paris, 1973Nik Wheeler/Corbis/Getty

Though his life ended tragically when he died by suicide at age 50 in 1993, the 3-foot-11 actor had started out with great prospects. Born in France, he’d studied to be a painter at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris at 16, and according to MeTV, he was the youngest artist to have his work shown at the Museum of Paris when he was 18. “I painted since I’m 6 years old and until I was 23 I didn’t stop painting,” he told Good Morning America in 1978. What’s more, he once gifted one of his paintings, a bright mix of flowers and suns, to the actress Greta Garbo, which eventually sold at auction for $875.

5. Hervé Villechaize played Oscar the Grouch’s feet

Sesame Street’s resident grump, who lived in a trash can, was voiced by Carol Spinney for decades. And while Oscar usually was only seen popping out of his can, a few episodes, including six in Hawaii in 1978, showed him walking — with feet protruding out of the bottom of the can. The performer in those instances was none other than Villechaize. “A little person would be needed to get in this costume, and the man for the job was Hervé Villechaize,” said Spinney, who praised him as “an intellectual, very thoughtful, and quite an artist.”

6. The music was composed by a multi-award winner

The soaring theme music that opens Fantasy Island over views of tropical waterfalls and the little plane arriving on the island, was composed by Laurence Rosenthal, who’d had a long career in film, television and Broadway.

He was twice nominated for Academy Awards, for his original score for 1964’s Becket, and 1972’s Man of La Mancha. The same year he composed the Fantasy Island music, he was also working on music for The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York. Rosenthal went on to win Emmy Awards for several of his scores, including the 1986 miniseries Peter the Great and 1988’s The Bourne Identity (a TV version that starred Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith).

Related: Jaclyn Smith Today: From ‘Charlie’s Angels’ to Style Icon, She’s Still Absolutely Timeless

7. Tattoo got replaced

Ricardo Montalban and Christopher Hewett on the set of Fantasy Island, 1983
Ricardo Montalbán and Christopher Hewett on the set of Fantasy Island, 1983Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch/Getty

Villechaize, who’d gotten his big break with a role in the James Bond flick, The Man with the Golden Gun, was fired from Fantasy Island in 1983 after he acted inappropriately on set and demanded that producers match his salary to Montalban’s. “As the fan mail came…something happened to him,” Montalbán said. “He was a little arrogant,” Montalbán added that he would never say good morning and he always carried a gun.

Christopher Hewett was brought in as Lawrence to replace Villechaize in the last season, and though he’d go on to embody the titular character in Mr. Belvedere, Tattoo’s departure likely speeded the demise of Fantasy Island.

8. We can’t quit Fantasy Island

Cast of the Fantasy Island revival, 1998
Cast of the Fantasy Island revival, 1998Getty

Despite the original show being cancelled in 1984, it keeps pulling us back in. ABC revived it in 1998 with Malcolm McDowell as Mr. Roarke. Sadly, it only lasted 13 episodes before getting the boot. The show was revived again as a 2020 horror film, which tanked, and again by Fox in 2021 for a sequel series, with Roselyn Sánchez as Elena Roarke, a grandniece of Mr. Roarke. But after two seasons, the show was cancelled in May 2023.  

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