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‘Gilligan’s Island’ Cast: Surprising Facts About the Stars of the Beloved Castaway Comedy

The backstory on Dawn Wells' "Ginger or Mary Ann" t-shirt and funny behind-the-scenes secrets on set


Gilligan’s Island, with its quirky tale of castaways trying to escape from their shipwrecked tropical island, is one of the most beloved sitcoms of the 1960s. The comedy ran from 1964 to 1967, becoming iconic thanks to its famous theme song, amusing situations and the lovable Gilligan’s Island cast.

Bob Denver played the hapless title character to perfection, and we always laughed at his consistently failed attempts to leave the island. The ragtag cast of characters from the SS Minnow entertained audiences for 98 episodes, and we still think Gilligan’s Island is the best deserted island TV show of all-time — we’re not ashamed to say we love it even more than Lost!

Gilligan's Island Cast, 1964-1967
Gilligan’s Island Cast, 1964-1967Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Part of what made Gilligan’s Island so irresistible was the simplicity of its premise. The Skipper and Gilligan were the two-man crew of a charter boat, the SS Minnow, and along with their five passengers, they left on “a three-hour tour” out of Honolulu. Running into a storm, they had a shipwreck on an unchartered island in the Pacific Ocean, leading to comic situations as the gang figured out how to survive and continuously tried to escape.

The show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz (who would go on to create another beloved sitcom, The Brady Bunch), said in a 1997 interview that the underlying concept of the sitcom was that everyone needed to learn how to get along to survive, which is “the most important idea in the world today.” While Gilligan’s Island was filled with goofy humor, this message still resonates.

Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Russell Johnson, 'Gilligan's Island,' 1964-1967
Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr. and Russell Johnson in Gilligan’s IslandCBS/Getty Images

After being cancelled in 1969 (with — spoiler — the castaways still on the island), Gilligan’s Island reached a new audience in syndication, leading to several TV movies that reunited the original cast, minus the original Ginger, in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  

Nearly 60 years after the show first aired, the Gilligan’s Island cast remains beloved as ever. Here’s a look back at the show’s stars, along with some fascinating trivia about them.

Bob Denver as ‘The First Mate,’ Gilligan

Bob Denver, 1964
Bob Denver on Gilligan’s Island in 1964Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Bob Denver was already known to TV audiences, before Gilligan’s Island, having played the beatnik sidekick Maynard G. Krebbs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis from 1959 to 1963. While Denver continued acting, consistently showing up in TV shows through the ’90s, it was hard for him to shake the hapless character he so brilliantly embodied. He may have bought a sailboat after the show ended, but that didn’t mean he wanted people to start singing the theme song whenever they saw it! Sadly, Denver passed away at age 70 in 2005.

Did you know?

Originally, Jerry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke’s brother, was supposed to put on that bucket hat and play “little buddy.” Jerry turned down the role twice, and thankfully, it went to Bob Denver. 

Alan Hale, Jr. as ‘The Skipper,’ Jonas Grumby

Alan Hale, Jr., 'Gilligan's Island', 1965
Alan Hale, Jr. on Gilligan’s Island in 1965Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

By the time Hale became the lovable Skipper, the actor was already known for playing a cowboy in many Western movies and shows throughout the ’40s and ’50s. When Gilligan’s Island got cancelled, he continued to work, making guest appearances on a variety of sitcoms, including The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Alf and Growing Pains until his passing at age 68 in 1990. 

Did you know?

Hale once broke his wrist and didn’t tell anyone until a year later because he was so determined to keep filming. As Denver recalled of his co-star, “Doing physical comedy with someone that secure was great.”

Jim Backus as ‘The Millionaire,’ Thurston Howell III 

Jim Backus, 1955
Jim Backus in 1955Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Backus became famous even before he was a familiar face, as he provided the voice of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. As a radio star in the postwar era, one of his characters, Hubert Updike III, would become the basis for the ultra-wealthy Thurston Howell III. Film aficionados may remember him as Frank Stark in the 1955 James Dean-starring classic Rebel Without A Cause, but it was his perfectly snooty TV role that brought him instant recognition. When the sitcom was cancelled, Backus went on to appear in everything from cult movies like Friday Foster to family fare like Pete’s Dragon. After stepping away from the screen, Backus died at 76 in 1989.

Did you know?

One of Backus’ grade school teachers was Margaret Hamilton, who would later play the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. 

Natalie Schafer as Lovey Howell

Natalie Schaefer, 1964-1967
Natalie Schafer on Gilligan’s Island in the ’60sBettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Natalie Schafer became famous as the spoiled, high-society wife of Thurston Howell III. Prior to being cast on Gilligan’s Island, she had a busy Broadway career and appeared in a various films in the ’40s and ’50s. Once she left the island, Schafer appeared as a guest star on shows like Three’s Company, The Brady Bunch and The Love Boat. She lived a long life, passing away at age 90 in 1991.

Did you know?

Schafer was known for being secretive about her age, often giving her birth year as 1912 when she was, in fact, born in 1900. She reportedly even kept her true birth year hidden from her husband and close friends.

Tina Louise as ‘The Movie Star,’ Ginger Grant

Tina Louise, 1964-1967
Tina Louise on Gilligan’s Island in the ’60sBettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

At 89, Tina Louise is the only still-living cast member of Gilligan’s Island. She first appeared in movies such as God’s Little Acre, but her role as the stereotypical movie starlet, Ginger Grant, is what she will always be remembered for. Following Gilligan’s Island, the fiery redhead appeared in movies like The Wrecking Crew and The Stepford Wives. She also showed up in shows like Kung Fu, Dallas and Married…With Children, and stepped away from acting in 2019.

Did you know?

While Tina Louise is the iconic Ginger, the character was also played by three other actresses. Kit Smythe was cast as Ginger in the pilot, while Judith Baldwin and Constance Forslund played the character in later TV movies. Louise was rumored to not get along with her cast mates, and wasn’t interested in returning to the island.

Russell Johnson as ‘The Professor,’ Roy Hinkley 

Russell Johnson, 1983
Russell Johnson in 1983Bob Riha, Jr/Getty Images

Russell Johnson played Professor Roy Hinkley, PhD, who was always coming up with novel inventions in an attempt to get the castaways back home. Like many of his cast mates, Johnson often felt he was typecast following the show, but he kept acting, with appearances in Gunsmoke, Wonder Woman and MacGyver. Johnson passed away in 2014 at the age of 89.

Did you know?

The Professor and the Skipper were in a movie together well before Gilligan’s Island. Both Russell Johnson and Alan Hale, Jr. appeared in the 1955 Western Many Rivers To Cross.  

Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers 

Dawn Wells in 'Gilligan's Island' 1960s
Dawn Wells on Gilligan’s Island in the ’60sBettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Unlike some of her co-stars, who were seasoned showbiz veterans, Dawn Wells, who played the sweet girl next door, Mary Ann, only started acting in the early ’60s. The former Miss Nevada of 1959, Dawn Wells later made appearances on The Love Boat, Growing Pains and Baywatch, and was happy to reprise her Gilligan’s Island role in the movies. She passed away in 2020 at age 82. 

Did you know?

An ongoing conversation around Gilligan’s Island centered on whether male viewers preferred the vixen Ginger or the good girl Mary Ann. While Tina Louise tried to escape the character, Wells embraced the good-natured rivalry and said she had a t-shirt that read: “Ginger or Mary Ann, the ultimate dilemma.” As she put it, “You can go anywhere and say ‘Ginger or Mary Ann,’ you don’t have to say what show it is, everybody gets it. And I always win.”

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