Surviving Gilligan's Island

June 05, 2001

In 1964, when the S.S. Minnow set sail on a three-hour tour with the Skipper, Gilligan, Mary Ann, Ginger, the Professor, and Mr. and Mrs. Howell aboard, they had no clue that a storm would send them crashing to a deserted island and then into TV history. It is 37 years since the show premiered, and not only is it still running in the U.S., it has found loyal fans in more 30 countries worldwide.

But fans have never had the opportunity to see what really happened behind the scenes of this popular show. Now that's about to change. "Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three-Hour Tour in History" is currently in production and will air next year on CBS. The nostalgic romp, starring original cast members BOB DENVER (Gilligan), DAWN WELLS (Mary Ann) and RUSSELL JOHNSON (the Professor), features little known facts and insights -- from on and off-screen -- into one of television's most beloved casts. ET caught a behind-the-scenes look at the current production with Dawn.

ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT: So what is it like?

DAWN: It is a double-edged sword. It is very powerfully emotional. Bob, Russell and I worked together yesterday for what might be the last time we do a scene together as actors, which is different than the "Gilligan's Island" thing. Also, being executive producer puts me into the critical part -- that's not the way Natalie wore her hair; make sure you've got blue on because her eyes were blue kind of thing. But I am really enjoying the producing end of it and I would really like to do some more.

ET: How is it to watch someone else play you?

DAWN: I haven't worked with her yet. It was hard for me to look objectively when casting. She is not only playing Mary Ann, she is playing Dawn Wells. That may not be the same character exactly.

ET: What makes this different than other tell-all TV movies?

DAWN: It is not the typical behind-the-scenes gossipy kind of show. There is a lot of depth to it. You are getting a chance to see the real people behind it and what our lives were going through at the same time. It is a very nice piece.

ET: Do you remember what it was like when you started?

DAWN: I was the baby on the block. I had just come from stage and arrived in Hollywood. It was like six or seven months after I got here that I got the role. I was wide-eyed learning everything -- the camera and the union rules. It was a good beginning for me.

ET: Why do you feel it is the right time to do this project?

DAWN: More so than in the last few years, there are all these gossipy things that come out. But even before all that started, I thought let's finalize the answer there. Let's tell them what it was really like.

ET: What will fans learn that they never knew about the show?

DAWN: Some of the things that happened in our lives; what was going on when the show was cancelled; how we really got the role; how we learned to become a family.

ET: More than other shows, your cast stayed in touch. Did you really feel like a family?

DAWN: I wonder if that was part of the casting, or part of the magic of the show that gave us the feeling? The cast has to be right; the chemistry has to be right, the blend has to be right. The script is good, but if you cast people who don't necessarily work together, it doesn't work. I am very anxious to see these seven as this three or four weeks of filming happen, will they bond and become the family we were?

ET: How hard was this to cast?

DAWN: The casting director was telling me she had seen more actors in this than anything she had done because you have to have the talent, the essence of the people and the look alike, so you have three layers. It is very hard to get right.

ET: Is there a reason TINA LOUISE is not involved?

DAWN: I don't think Tina has participated in anything with us. I don't think we've tried to present a bad image of her or anything. I don't think she would have wanted to. I think it is okay. It is her choice.

ET: What made the show a timeless classic?

DAWN: Timeless is a good word because there were no clothes or cars that told you when the series was made. I think it is everybody's fantasy to be marooned on an island and I think it was the chemistry. I think you loved us. When JIM BACKUS died, people sent cards and flowers as if it were a family member.

ET: What question are you most asked by fans?

DAWN: "Where did you get the clothes?"