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TV-Holic: Still on Gilligan’s Island

Last month we took you on a three-hour tour (give or take) of Gilligan's Island. But there's so much more to tell! Just sit right back and you'll find out where the S.S. Minnow got its name, which shrewd cast member is still collecting royalties, and why the Professor and Mary Ann were originally left out of the opening credits.

The S.S. Minnow

When the sets were being assembled for the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island, the folks in the prop department were given a list of necessary set dressings that included “one small boat with holes in its hull.” Three business-suited studio employees were dispatched to a boatyard in Honolulu, where their somewhat formal attire caught the attention of the resident commercial fishermen. The curiosity of the locals quickly turned into outright incredulity as they watched the men purchase a cabin cruiser without so much as setting foot onboard, and then proceed to smash the hull with a sledgehammer. The damaged craft was loaded onto a barge and tugged back to the filming location, where it was christened the S.S. Minnow. Sherwood Schwartz named the boat after FCC Chairman Newton Minow, who’d recently decried television as a “vast wasteland.”

Bob Denver later asked a prop master why they’d perforated the Minnow prior to delivery (rather than just damaging it once it was on the set), the man shrugged and replied “I got a memo that said ‘boat with holes.’”

Credit Where It’s Due

The first season opening credits ended with a picture of “Ginger” as the singers crooned “the moo-vie stahr” followed by a hastily added “and the rest.” The text accompanying the photo proclaimed: “and also starring Tina Louise as ‘Ginger.’” (The only other cast member whose character name was listed in the credits was Jim Backus, a show business veteran and very recognizable character actor whose resume was longer than Ginger’s evening gown.) Louise had had it written into her contract that, along with the “also starring” billing, no one would follow her name in the credits.

Once the show was renewed for a second season, champion-for-the-underdog Bob Denver approached the producers and asked that Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells be added to the opening credits, stating that their characters were just as vital to the dynamic as any of the others. When the producers started pointing to the clause in Tina Louise’s contract, Denver countered by referring to a clause in his own contract which stated he could have his name placed anywhere in the credits he liked. He threatened to have his name moved to last place, so an agreement was hammered out with Louise, a revised theme song was recorded, and Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells took their rightful place in the opening montage.

Sweet and Innocent (and Savvy)

Dawn Wells grew up in Nevada, not Kansas, but her life was no less idyllic than that of Mary Ann Summers. She helped her mother grow fresh vegetables in the family’s backyard garden, and she did very well in school. When she first enrolled at Missouri’s Stephens College it was with an eye toward getting a medical degree. But then she caught the acting bug and switched her major to drama. She entered the Miss Nevada Pageant in 1959 simply for the experience of being on stage in front of a large audience, and ended up winning and representing her state in the 1960 Miss America contest.

Wells was married to talent agent Larry Rosen when she was hired for the Gilligan cast, and it was Rosen who noted the clause in her contract (which was standard at the time) that limited her to collecting residuals only the first five times any episode re-ran after its original airing. Rosen told Wells that if the series was a success, this clause could cost her a lot of money. Wells was the only castaway who asked for an amendment to that residual clause in her contract, and the producers granted it, never thinking the series would be on the air 40 years later. As a result, Sherwood Schwartz and Dawn Wells are the only two folks connected with the show who still receive money from it.

Hard Knock Life

When Russell Johnson was eight years old in 1932, his father passed away. His mother was unable to support her seven children, so Russell and his brothers were sent to Philadelphia’s Girard College, which served as a boarding school for orphaned boys at the time. After he graduated he joined the Army Air Corps, where he served as a gunner on bombers during World War II. In 1945 his B-24 Liberator was shot down in the Philippines and he had to crash-land on the island of Mindanao. He broke both his ankles and received a Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf cluster, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of War ribbon with four battle stars, and the Philippine Liberation Medal. He used his G.I. Bill to attend the Actor’s Lab in Hollywood.

It’s hard to picture the always-benevolent Professor as a bad guy, but in the years prior to Gilligan’s Island , Johnson made dozens of appearances in TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Superman and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he was almost always cast as a “heavy” – a thug, a criminal, n’er do well. Once he landed the role of the Professor, he installed a set of reference books in his dressing room so that he could look up any scientific terms that were included in his dialog. He thought it would make his character more believable if he spoke the very technical phrases with some knowledge of their meaning.

The Bitter Millionaire

Jim Backus’ career dated back to Vaudeville and radio. He even had some impressive big-screen credits, such as James Dean’s father in Rebel without a Cause. He easily made the transition into television, nabbing a starring role on I Married Joan as well as his own short-lived sitcom. He’d also been providing the voice of the lovable near-sighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo since 1949.

Despite his extensive resume before and after Gilligan’s Island, he was always immediately associated with Thurston Howell III. Unlike castmate Tina Louise, Backus didn’t mind being typecast; what he did mind was that once the series proved to have serious staying power via syndication, which made certain executives very rich, said executives (a veiled reference to Sherwood Schwartz) never approached the stars to re-negotiate their contracts and retroactively share the wealth. To his credit, by the time the ill-conceived Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island was filmed, Schwartz realized that he couldn’t substitute another actor as Mr. Howell as he’d done with Ginger. Instead, a grown Howell son was written into the story instead, but Jim Backus (who was very ill with Parkinson’s disease at the time) was still listed in the opening credits alongside the other stars, despite the fact that his participation in the movie was basically a “cameo” appearance.

Previous Installments of TV-Holic...

The Early TV Appearances of 7 Big Stars
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11 Famous Actors and the Big TV Roles They Turned Down
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6 Secrets From the Brady Vault
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6 Unusual TV Deaths
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Happy 50th Anniversary, Twilight Zone!
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6 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets From Cheers
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5 Minor TV Characters Who Hijacked the Show

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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