Ginger or Mary Ann? If you’re a guy of a certain age (my age), this question makes perfect sense, you already know the answer. In 1964, Gilligan’s Island, a TV show featuring seven adults shipwrecked on a tropical island, first aired. The characters, each a two-dimensional being with a primary or defining trait, acted in an entirely predictable fashion the entire four years the show ran on TV. No one grew, no one evolved, no one learned any lessons. They never changed. It’s remarkable it lasted more than a season.
Gilligan, the star of the show, was good natured but bungling. If it was important, Gilligan screwed it up. Strangely, in the end, he often solved whatever problem the group faced that week.
The Skipper served as Gilligan’s father figure. He was capable and grumpy. Loving but eternally pissed off at Gilligan.
The millionaire Thurston Howell and his wife Lovey were pompous and helpless. The other islanders accepted their snobbishness in good cheer and catered to their every whim.
The Professor pretty much saved everyone else’s ass week after week. He was MacGyver before MacGyver existed. If a contraption was needed (and a contraption was always needed), the Professor created it with coconuts and vines. No, he didn’t have a name, just the Professor.
Ginger Grant, the glamourous movie star, almost as helpless as the Howells, brought nothing to the island but her looks.
Mary Ann Summers’ trait: Wholesomeness—ever apparent in the pies she always made. But just beneath her midwestern charm and sensibility lurked stunning beauty.
Ginger or May Ann? Is there even a choice?
Ginger Gant, played by Tina Louise, was a porcelain doll. Poured into her skin-tight dress, she left the male characters drooling, mouth agape, just by walking into the scene. I never got it. Mary Ann, played by Dawn Wells, who in real life vied for the Miss America award as Miss Nevada, was the exact woman prepubescent boys wanted to marry. Pretty and friendly, she looked like she could toss a frisbee. But once those boys hit puberty, suddenly Ginger took over.
I’m off track. Jim Adams’ Song Lyric Sunday, this week’s theme is Tropical. My song is the Ballad of Gilligan’s Island, which is the name of Gilligan’s Island’s theme song. Not because it’s awesome, but because it’s ridiculous. In the song, they introduce the show’s characters:
With Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, and the rest… all here on Gilligan’s Island. And the rest, as if they had fifteen more characters to summarize. Jaw dropping, such a snub to the Professor and Mary Ann, two characters equal in every way to the others, but no credits. To learn who the actors are you need to watch the closing credits (which is set to a better song than the opener).
If this was Survivor instead of a sitcom, the Professor and Mary Ann would be the two finalists. Everyone else would have been voted off the island. Thurston and Lovey Howell would be the first to go. Everyone would wonder what they were doing there in the first place. Then Gilligan, he’s so hapless, easier just to be rid of him. Then Ginger—sure she’s pretty, which usually keeps people on Survivor until the end, but she’s utterly useless. The Skipper. Lots of bluster, but in the end, he can’t get anything done without the Professor’s help.
Who’s left? Oh right, the rest. The Professor and Mary Ann. He saves the day and she makes pies. Clearly the two to keep. Plus, Mary Ann serves as the ego to everyone else’s id. She’s the one to go to with a problem, the one to offer reasonable advice. She always kept her head. I can’t think of a single episode where she caused the drama.
After the first season, Bob Denver (Gilligan) demanded that Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson be added to the opening credits. Grudgingly the producers replaced ‘and the rest’ with ‘the Professor and Mary Ann.’ Not only more egalitarian, but the song had a better flow.
Here is the Ballad of Gilligan’s Island—the first season version, complete with the tasteless omission. Incidentally, I read today that this is the most recognizable TV theme song in history. Not surprising to me.
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailin’ man,
The Skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour,
A three hour tour.
The weather started getting rough,
the tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,
The Minnow would be lost,
The Minnow would be lost.
The ship set ground on the shore of this
Uncharted desert isle
With Gilligan, The Skipper too,
The Millionaire and his Wife,
The Movie Star, and the rest,
Here on Gilligan’s Isle.
As a kid watching Gilligan’s Island afternoon reruns with my brothers, as the final pre-show commercial came to an end, we’d all lean forward, so on cue we could just sit right back and hear a tale…
How cute is that?