Bob Denver, who achieved iconic pop culture status as first Maynard G. Krebs of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and then as Gilligan, first mate of the doomed S.S. Minnow of Gilligan’s Island (and like another endlessly inventive veteran crewman serving aboard ship on a mid-’60s TV series, earning its sad byproduct–permanent typecasting) died last week at age 70.
What made Gilligan’s Island so successful that it’s run virtually non-stop in reruns after being cancelled in 1967? Cathy Siepp explored the reasons why in a witty essay for Reason back in 2002 titled, “Gilligan’s Island vs. the Taliban“:
[Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz] named the Castaways’ ship, the S.S. Minnow, as a jab at then FCC chairman Newton Minow, who’d famously characterized television as “a vast wasteland.” He recalls CBS chief William Paley’s horror – “I thought it was supposed to be a comedy!” – at Schwartz’s description of “Gilligan’s Island” as a social microcosm.
Schwartz’s response is a classic of let’s-save-the-pitch quick-thinking: “It’s a funny microcosm!”
Viewed through the prism of America’s enemies, it’s easy to see how the “Gilligan’s Island” gang represents everything Muslim fanatics and their sympathizers hate. As Cantor describes it, “The Skipper embodies American military might, the Professor represents American science and technological know-how, and the Millionaire reflects the power of American business…the presence of The Movie Star among the castaways even hints at the source of America’s cultural domination of the world – Hollywood.”
Extending this trope, I would add that the Millionaire displays an unseemly Western uxoriousness towards his one wife — insulting to societies where women are fourth class citizens, after the children and the camels. Mary Ann, besides her fondness for short-shorts, is offensively spunky to anyone who thinks women belong in robes and head scarves. She’s the type of virgin who offends the fantasies of suicide bombers bombers everywhere, as she obviously wouldn’t even give them the time of day in paradise.
And then there’s Gilligan, the essence of the na