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Repnow: No phone, no lights, no motorcars

By Staff | Sep 26, 2014

Guess who celebrated a 50th anniversary on Sept. 26? Let me give you a clue. It was the three-hour tour on the SS Minnow – a two man crew and five passengers. If you are singing the theme song to Gilligan’s Island, then you deserve a wonderful piece of coconut pie!

This American sitcom was released on Sept. 26, 1964, and was created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz. Schwartz composed the sea shantey theme song, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle,” and it was sung loud and clear and very often in our recreation room by my younger brother, Kelly, and me. Even our chestnut-plaid Early American sofa with pleated skirt joined in the glee. What was it about this show that set it on the course to become an American icon? Well, for one thing, the writers of the show were creative and the cast simply could not have been better.

Alan Hale Jr. was cast as the hardy skipper. Bob Denver played Gilligan – the often bumbling and accident-prone first mate, who wore red better than Elizabeth Arden. Jim Backus played Thurston Howell, III – a multi-millionaire – and Natalie Schafer played his blonde, stylish wife. She was first introduced as Eunice Lovelle Wentworth Howell, but was affectionately called Lovey. She often was caught on camera in very stylish ensemble complete with matching gloves holding a lovely pineapple drink. Tina Louise performed as the attractive red headed, soon-to-be glamorous movie star named Ginger Grant. Russell Johnson played The Professor, who created a nuclear reactor out of coconuts, melted the metals of Lovey’s jewels for needed vices, yet never discovered a reliable raft material. Rounding out the cast was Dawn Wells, a former Miss Nevada who played a simple farm girl from Winfield, Kansas, who was a beacon for the perfect coconut pie.

Ninety-eight episodes were created, and the first 36 were in black and white. Later they were colorized for syndication. Today, this sitcom is shown all over the world and in many languages. So why do folks keep tuning in to Gilligan’s Island? Could it be that the show never featured automobiles? Perhaps it is the timeless quality of the show since most characters seldom wore different outfits – with the exception, of course, of the Howells. Maybe it is the fact that we get to live in a fantasy. Now who would not want to live on a lush island where is it always sunny, there always seems to be plenty of tropical food and the daily activities provide entertainment?! Let us not forget that they were close enough to pick up a Hawaiian AM radio transmission that kept in touch with the working world – who, by the way, were busy wearing themselves out paying for another car and wondering “what will I wear next?”

For Kelly and me, it gave us the opportunity to use our imagination because we could never figure out why the Howells would pack that much clothing, household items and jewels for a simple three-hour tour. It was certainly nice that they had – it made being shipwrecked after a tropical storm on an uncharted island the perfect place to be. It was also great fun to see Ginger’s evening gowns and hair style designed to re-create the look of Myrna Loy. She also was never far from a horoscope magazine, which we all know aided them greatly. She certainly proved that she was a survivor when she fashioned a few of her evening gowns out of treated canvas from the SS Minnow. Her process put a whole new meaning to the term “trim the sails.”

It is interesting to note that most of the cast lived well into their 70s and Lovey lived into her 90s. The relaxed lifestyle certainly agreed with them. In later years, Backus became a spokesman for La-Z-Boy chairs and he is perhaps best remembered for his voice work for the cartoon of Mr. Magoo. Truth be told, Backus, was an accomplished life-long actor playing many roles well. In fact, in the 1980s, Backus and Schafer were reunited in an advertisement for Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn.

It is interesting to note that Alan Hale had a restaurant in Los Angeles called Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel, and it had great success. He often showed up as the skipper, and needless to say handed out countless autographs in a shipshape approach.

Do you remember Gilligan referring to his best friend, Skinny Mulligan? Sherwood had originally planned to call Gilligan “Willy Gilligan,” but Denver did not like that. He wanted to be called Gil Egan and with the shouting on the set it drifted into Gilligan.

The two surviving cast members are Dawn Wells, now 75, and Tina Louise, 79. Wells wrote a cookbook, “Mary Ann’s Gilligan Island Cookbook.” Tina Louise still looks amazing. Rumors were that she thought her role in Gilligan’s Island had ruined her career, but her active role in the industry today has proven that not to be so.

Perhaps you recall Schafer as Helen Collins in the CBS series Search for Tomorrow. Did you know she took the role of Lovey at the age of 63 because it was being filmed on location in Hawaii, and she felt this would be a great vacation? She never dreamed it would be such a hit!

The show became so popular that there was even a Gilligan’s Island book which my older brother Tom received from Mrs. Fred Hennes, who was a customer of his Grit paper route. Back then, paper boys normally were loaded up with chocolate covered cherries, which we all enjoyed. However, you can only imagine our delight when this book arrived at the Repnow home. I am about to introduce Lydia to the show, and I have a feeling there will be singing after the first show as well as many, many questions of how could they pack all that paraphernalia on one little tour boat?

This recipe comes from the TV Guide magazine years ago, and it is the perfect dessert before, during or after Gilligan’s Island. What are your favorite memories of Gilligan’s Island? So Hau`oli la Ho’omana’o (that is Happy Anniversary in Hawaiian) Gilligan’s Island.

Mary Ann’s Famous Coconut Cream Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 cups fine graham-cracker crumbs

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

Mix crumbs, sugar and butter together in a bowl. Press crumb mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350-degrees.

Filling:

3 egg yolks

Dash of salt

3/4 cup sugar

3 cups coconut milk

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 cup shredded coconut

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 egg whites

Pinch of sugar

1/4 cup shredded coconut

In the top of a double boiler over steaming water, beat together egg yolks and salt. Add sugar, milk and butter. When bottom pot begins to boil, mix cornstarch with a small amount of water in a separate bowl. Add to egg-yolk mixture one spoonful at a time. Cook until thick, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, then add the coconut and vanilla.

Pour filling in the baked pie shell. In a bowl beat egg whites with 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar, one tblsp. at a time, until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pie. Garnish with coconut. Bake at 375 degress for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

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