Willie Gilligan has gone to that great tropical island paradise in the sky.
Bob Denver died of cancer last Friday at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital in North Carolina. This comes after a quadruple heart bypass earlier this year. He was 70 years old, born on January 9, 1935.
Bob Denver is of course remembered primarily as the titular Willie Gilligan of Gilligan’s Island. The show seems omnipresent, but only actually ran for three seasons and 98 episodes, from 1964 to 1967.
Many people have mocked the show as one of the top symbolic “bad” tv shows or sitcoms of all time, but that’s really not fair. The show did legitimately have a pretty strong personality, making it much better arguably than a lot of bland family sitcoms. The island castaway framework seemed pretty limiting though, and 98 episodes was MORE than enough to milk the idea. Several decades of intense re-runs really ran the thing into the ground. Still.
On top of which, you have admire the pure business skills by which the whole idea was played and replayed. In fairness, you couldn’t really argue against the 1978 tv movie “Rescue From Gilligan’s Island.” It seems only fair to give them closure, rather than leaving them stranded forever. But dang, they really managed to milk that sucker. From the Hollywood Reporter:
Denver later reprised his loveably dingy Gilligan character in two animation series, as well as a sci-fi version of the same concept. He even played Gilligan in an episode of “Baywatch.” He starred in three made-for-TV movies based on “Gilligan”: “Rescue From Gilligan’s Island,” “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island” and “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island”
You just about have to admire the imagination involved in generating that much silliness.
As a point of interest to consider during the inevitable Gilligan tribute marathons to come, I once heard an apocryphal story that the writers conceived the show as something of a Marxist social critique, if only for their own amusement. Thus you have the worthless idle rich Howells and celebrity Ginger. Gilligan and the Skipper and Mary Ann would be the working class that actually got things done. Of course, the “professor” Roy Hinkley was the enlightened intellectual leader keeping it all together.
Besides being Gilligan, Bob Denver had another semi-iconic role as the sidekick buddy Maynard G Krebs (“The ‘G’ stands for ‘Walter’”) on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” which ran from 1959 to 1963. Maynard was a 50s sitcom version of a beatnik proto-hippie, most characterized by his careful avoidance of work.
Also, if you think his career as Gilligan was silly, note that Bob Denver was a pre-law student at Loyola before becoming an actor. Think how goofy that could have turned out. Attorney Gilligan could have done a LOT more damage with a law degree than he ever did banging the hapless Skipper on the head with a few coconuts.