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15 Fateful Facts About Gilligan’s Island

The 98th—and final—episode of Gilligan’s Island was broadcast on April 17, 1967. Though never a critical favorite, the show was still a solid ratings hit and the cast and crew had every expectation of returning in the fall for a fourth season. But at the last minute CBS needed to find some room on the schedule for Gunsmoke, the favorite show of Babe Paley, wife of network president William Paley. So Gilligan got the axe and, at least as far as viewers know, the cast is still stranded somewhere in the Pacific.

Forty-eight years after that final wrap party, however, Gilligan’s Island is still on the air. It was sold into syndication and has been broadcasting reruns continuously in 30 different languages around the world. Just sit right back and you’ll hear some tales of everyone’s favorite castaways.

1. IT WAS INTENDED TO BE A “METAPHORICAL SHAMING OF WORLD POLITICS.”

One day in a public speaking class at New York University, the professor had students compose an impromptu one-minute speech on this topic: If you were stranded on a desert island, what one item would you like to have? Sherwood Schwartz was a student in that class, and the question so intrigued him that it remained lodged in the back of his mind for many years.

After working for some time as a comedy writer for other shows, Schwartz decided to pitch his own idea for a sitcom. Thinking back to that desert island question, he thought it would make for an interesting dynamic to have a group of very dissimilar individuals stranded together and have to learn to live and work together. The island would be “a social microcosm and a metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, yes we can all get along,” Schwartz explained in Inside Gilligan's Island: From Creation to Syndication. Schwartz quickly discovered after his first few pitch meetings that words like “microcosm” and “metaphor” were not very helpful when trying to sell a comedy.

2. GILLIGAN’S FIRST NAME IS WILLY.

After getting a green light from CBS for the pilot, Schwartz went about assembling his cast. He chose the name of the bumbling first mate—Gilligan—from the Los Angeles telephone directory. Gilligan’s first name was never mentioned during the series, but according to Schwartz’s original notes, it was intended to be “Willy.” Yet Bob Denver always insisted that “Gilligan” was the character’s first name. “Almost every time I see Bob Denver we still argue,” Schwartz once admitted. “He thinks Gilligan is his first name, and I think it's his last name. Because in the original presentation, it's Willy Gilligan. But he doesn't believe it, and he doesn't want to discuss it. He insists the name is Gilligan.”

3. SCHWARTZ WANTED JERRY VAN DYKE TO PLAY GILLIGAN.

Jerry Van Dyke was Schwartz’s first choice to play the lead, but Van Dyke said that the pilot script was “the worst thing I’d ever read.” On the advice of his agent, Van Dyke accepted the lead in the short-lived (and critically panned) My Mother The Car instead. “I had a lot of problems with the agency, because they were trying to push me into taking [Gilligan’s Island],” Van Dyke recalled in an interview. “But that’s the joke: I turned it down and took My Mother the Car. But, again, it was really good, because I’d [have] been forever known as Gilligan. So that worked out, too!”

4. ALAN HALE GOT TO HIS AUDITION VIA HORSEBACK.

The Skipper was the toughest, and last, character to be cast. Schwartz auditioned dozens of actors (including Carroll O’Connor), but no one was quite right; he wanted someone strong and commanding, sometimes blustery and short-tempered, but able to show a genuine affection for Gilligan even when smacking him over the head with his hat. Alan Hale was filming Bullet for a Bad Man in St. George, Utah when he got the casting call for Gilligan and was unable to get time off for a screen test. So he had to sneak off set after a day of filming, which was no easy task. In Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History, it was revealed that Hale made his way to Los Angeles to read a scene with Bob Denver via horseback, hitchhiking, airplane, and taxi cab. He reversed the process after the audition and made it back to Utah just in time to resume filming his western the next day.

5. THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK DELAYED PRODUCTION ON THE SERIES.

The pilot for the series was filmed over several days in November of 1963 on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The last day of shooting was scheduled for November 23, 1963 in Honolulu Harbor for the scenes showing the S.S. Minnow embarking on its fateful three-hour tour. Late in the morning on November 22, a crew member ran to the set and announced that he’d just heard on the radio that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. As Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President, it was announced that all military installations (including Honolulu Harbor) would be closed for the next two days as a period of mourning. Filming was delayed by several days as a result, and in the opening credits—as the Minnow cruises the harbor—the American flag can be seen flying at half-mast in the background.

6. THE MILLIONAIRE’S WIFE REALLY WAS A MILLIONAIRE.

Natalie Schafer, who played Mrs. Lovey Howell—and allegedly only accepted the invitation to play Mrs. Howell because it meant a free trip to Hawaii to film the pilot—was a real-life millionaire. During her marriage to actor Louis Calhern, the couple had invested heavily in Beverly Hills real estate at a time when a house on Rodeo Drive could be purchased for $50,000.

When she died in 1991, Schafer bequeathed a large chunk of her fortune to her favorite teacup poodle (she had no children), with instructions for that money to be donated to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital after the pooch’s passing. Said hospital now has a "Natalie Schafer Wing." Rumor has it that Schafer also left a tidy sum to Gilligan’s Island co-star Dawn Wells (Mary Ann), who lived with and helped care for Natalie as she battled breast cancer.

7. DAWN WELLS STILL GETS PAID FOR GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.

All of the actors signed contracts that guaranteed them a certain amount of money per original episode plus a residual payment for the first five repeats of each episode. This was a pretty standard contract in 1965, when as a rule most TV shows were only rerun during the summer months as a placeholder between seasons.

Even though the word “syndication” wasn’t yet a standard term in the TV production glossary, Dawn Wells’ then-husband, talent agent Larry Rosen, advised her to ask for an amendment to that residual clause in her contract, and the producers granted it, never thinking the series would be on the air nearly 50 years later. As a result, the estate of the late Sherwood Schwartz (who reportedly pocketed around $90 million during his lifetime from his little microcosm-on-an-island show) and Dawn Wells are the only two folks connected to the show who still receive money from it.

8. RAQUEL WELCH AUDITIONED FOR MARY ANN.

The programming executives at CBS were underwhelmed by the pilot, but it managed to impress three different test audiences enough that they put the series on the fall schedule. But before filming for the first episode began, they had a few caveats—the first of which was replacing three cast members who had tested the “lowest” with audiences: John Gabriel, who played The Professor, a high school science teacher; Kit Smythe, who played Ginger as a secretary, not a movie star; and Nancy McCarthy, who played Bunny, yet another secretary. It was decided to make Ginger an actress, and Bunny was replaced by wholesome farm girl Mary Ann. One actress who auditioned for Mary Ann’s part was a young Raquel Welch, though something about her just didn’t scream “girl next door.”

9. THE SHOW’S STARS FOUND FANS IN THE STRANGEST PLACES.

Years after the show stopped filming (it’s never really been “off the air”), the cast members found fans in the most unusual places. For example, in 2001 Russell Johnson was asked to speak at a biochemical conference in San Francisco. “There were four or five hundred PhDs there, and every one of them was a Gilligan’s Island fan,” he recalled. Bob Denver took his wife to dinner at Chicago’s elegant Pump Room once and the trio of musicians immediately switched from playing their semi-classical chamber music to “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island.” Dawn Wells was vacationing in the Solomon Islands in 1990 when she and some friends canoed to a remote island in the area that had no running water or electricity. The visitors were ushered to a hut to meet the village chief, and Wells was stunned when “The chief's wife said, ‘I know you. In 1979, I was going to nursing school in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, and I used to come home and watch you in black-and-white!’”

10. THE SKIPPER BROKE HIS ARM FALLING OUT OF A COCONUT TREE.

Alan Hale was an old-school “the show must go on” kind of actor. In Inside Gilligan’s Island, Schwartz recalled chatting with Hale at the season one wrap party when the actor, as jolly and convivial as always, happened to comment that now that shooting was completed, he could take care of his arm. When Schwartz asked what was wrong with his arm, Hale nonchalantly replied: “Oh, I broke it a few weeks ago.” He went on to explain that three weeks prior he had missed the crash pads slightly when he fell out of a coconut tree for a scene and had smashed his right arm on the stage. He hadn’t sought medical treatment because he didn’t want to disrupt the filming schedule. Schwartz was dumbfounded; “How did you manage to haul coconuts and lift Bob Denver with a broken arm?” “It wasn’t easy,” Hale admitted.

11. NATALIE SCHAFER DID HER OWN STUNTS.

Even though Natalie Schafer was in her mid-60s when Gilligan’s Island was filmed, she insisted on doing the majority of her own stunts—and never complained about jumping into the lagoon or sinking in fake quicksand. In 1965, she told “Let’s Be Beautiful” columnist Arlene Dahl that she kept in shape by swimming in her backyard pool—in the nude—and by periodically following her special “ice cream diet,” which consisted of eating nothing but one quart of ice cream (spread out over three meals) daily. She would lose three pounds in five days following that regime.

12. THE MILLIONAIRE WAS A CHEAPSKATE.

Jim Backus, who played Mr. Howell, was beloved by his castmates. In addition to being the source of endless ribald jokes and a willing coach to the less experienced actors on how to ad-lib or deliver a punch line, he was also notoriously cheap. In What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life, Dawn Wells recalled how during the show’s first season he would often invite her and Natalie Schafer out to lunch … only to realize that he had left his wallet back at the studio when the check came. Before the cast departed for summer hiatus after the wrap party, Schafer presented Backus with a bill for a little over $300—the total he owed for all those meals.

13. THE PROFESSOR AND MARY ANN WEREN’T IN THE ORIGINAL OPENING CREDITS.

In the first season of Gilligan’s Island, the opening credits ended with a picture of Ginger as the singers crooned “the moo-vie star” 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 mentioned the clause in Louise’s contract, Denver countered by referring to a clause in his own contract which stated that 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 Johnson and Wells took their rightful place in the opening montage.

14. THE LAGOON WAS LOCATED IN STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA.

The lagoon set was specially built for the show by CBS on their Studio City lot in 1964. They’d originally tried filming two episodes in Malibu, but they had a lot of downtime due to fog. Of course, filming at the studio had its own set of problems; sometimes filming had to be halted when traffic noise could be heard from the nearby Ventura Freeway. And the water temperature would hover around 40 degrees during the winter months, forcing Bob Denver to wear a wetsuit under his Gilligan costume. In 1995, the lagoon was turned into an employee parking lot.

15. THE MOVIE STAR WANTED TO BE THE TELEVISION STAR.

In the January 23, 1965 edition of TV Guide, an article about Bob Denver mentioned the on-set tension between Tina Louise and the rest of the castaways: “Denver will not say why he and the glamorous Tina [Louise] do not get along, nor will any of the castaways–they just ignore her, and she ignores them. Between scenes, while the other six principals chat and tell jokes together, she sits off by herself. And recently when Denver was asked to pose for pictures with her, he adamantly refused. Part of Louise’s dissatisfaction with the series was that she had expected to be the star of the show. (Her agent had allegedly pitched it to her as the story of an actress stranded on an island with six other people.)

Bob Denver eventually capitulated to network pressure and agreed to do a photo shoot with Louise for a TV Guide cover in May of 1965—but only if Dawn Wells was included. To his chagrin, Wells was cropped out of the final image.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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