December 2, 2022

Tina Louise’s Relationship With The Gilligan’s Island Cast Was Fraught With Conflict

The television or movie studio in which a film or TV show is produced is, in many ways, just like any other workplace. People with specific jobs show up to work, do their thing, and then go home at the end of their workday. Of course, since multiple people are on the set at once -– actors, directors, writers, producers, people with various technical jobs –- it can be scarcely different from an office or a factory. And people who work in those environments tend to form relationships with one another, for good or for ill. Sometimes those relationships turn into lifelong friendships, while other times those relationships are strained.

That was the case on the set of “Gilligan’s Island,” which only ran for a few years, from 1964-1967 per Reuters, but later became a smash hit in reruns on local channels and on basic cable. Though six of the seven main cast members got along just fine (more or less), there was one cast member who hated everything about the show and thought the whole thing was beneath her. Her attitude caused strained relationships on the set, and unfortunately typecasting would prevent her from getting high-profile roles later in her career. Her name was Tina Louise and she played the role of airheaded “movie star” Ginger Grant.

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It Was ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ Not ‘Ginger’s Island’

With the possible exception of Jim Backus (Mr. Howell), none of the seven main cast members of “Gilligan’s Island” were bankable, headlining stars. All had had some success here or there –- Bob Denver, for example, was a supporting character in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” -– but none were marquee names. Tina Louise, for her part, had racked up a long list of TV credits by the time she auditioned for “Gilligan’s Island,” according to her IMDb page, and had even found some success on Broadway, per Masterworks Broadway.

For reasons perhaps known only to her, during her tenure on “Gilligan’s Island,” according to History Collection, she believed the show should have been about her, even though it’s “Gilligan’s Island,” and Gilligan was and is Bob Denver. It was not “Ginger’s Island.” Further still, Denver had the most powerful contract, and he actually used his weight to improve things for his fellow actors, including by getting the theme song changed to include “The Professor and Mary Anne” instead of “… and the rest,” effectively ensuring that Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells would have equal billing.

Tina Louise Was Quite The Pill On-Set

Upset by being in a show in which she was a supporting character, according to Showbiz Cheat Sheet, Tina brought hostility to work every day and, according to some reports, refused to have anything to do with the other actors, to the point of even sitting by herself during meal breaks. Similarly, according to History Collection, as the show progressed, she became withdrawn. And as she angled for more prominent stories for Ginger, she “irritated” her other cast members.

It bears noting that rumors of Tina’s hostility on-set are just that: 60-year-old rumors. When asked directly about Tina and how she acted on set, her co-stars didn’t exactly heap fulsome praise upon her, but they spoke more-or-less kindly of her. For example, speaking to Forbes, Dawn Wells (Mary Anne) said of Tina: “We’re not enemies, but we’re not close,” adding that Dawn did a play in New York and Tina, who lived in the city at the time, didn’t come to see her. However, Dawn also shared a story about how she taught her older, more-experienced, more-glamourous costar how to make Thanksgiving Dinner. “She came to my house and sat on the cooking stool and read recipes with my mom, watched how we did it, and wrote it all down,” she said.

The “Gilligan’s Island” franchise continued after the original show went off the air, producing spinoffs and an animated series. Louise steadfastly refused to have any part of it, even as the rest of her castmates reprised their roles.

Tina Louise’s Typecasting Fears Came True

Tina Louise feared that she was going to be typecast by playing an airheaded dingbat on a farcical comedy, according to Outsider. And as it turns out, she was right: she was indeed typecast, and her career suffered because of it. “Gilligan’s Island” producer Sherwood Schwartz basically confirmed it. “She felt that it had hindered her career as a dramatic actress. And she even refused to do voice-over for the animated segments. And she wasn’t mad at me, she was mad at the show because it just stuck her in a stereotype,” he said.

“Gilligan’s Island” didn’t end her career, however. As her IMDb resume makes clear, she continued to act over the next several decades, although she never became a bankable, headlining actress.

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By the 1990s, she had, to an extent anyway, put her hostility about “Gilligan’s Island” behind her, appearing in an episode of “Roseanne” with her fellow castmates Dawn Wells, Bob Denver, and Russell Johnson, according to TV Guide. However, she continued to refuse to participate in any “Gilligan’s Island” reunions or spinoffs. When Dawn Wells died in 2020, according to Reuters, Louise became the only living member of the “Gilligan’s Island” main cast.