HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: This leggy red-headed glamour girl portrayed screen siren Ginger Grant on TV's "Gilligan's Island."
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: TV Star, Model, and Movie Star
BIRTH: She was born February 11th of '34, making her over thirty as a castaway. Her exotic birthplace: New York City. Her moniker at birth: Tina Blacker.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: Few of our Swingin' Chicks of the '60s have tried to separate themselves from their '60s pasts as much as Tina Louise has. At times it's seemed like she's almost embarrassed about the cult stardom that has lingered from her role as Ginger Grant on "Gilligan's Island" in the mid-'60s. Even in the '60s she seemed to see the show for the lightweight froth that it was. When it debuted, critics roasted it: the L.A. Times wrote that it "never should have reached the air," the N.Y. Times called it "the most preposterous sitcom of the season," and the S.F. Chronicle called the show "preposterously bad" and couldn't "believe that 'Gilligan's Island' was written, directed, and filmed by adults." But pulled along by high ratings, the show survived for three years and three decades of reruns. In a recent interview with Pinup magazine, she said she doesn't even include the show on her resume: "Who wants to be known just for that? I don't want to traipse around in an evening gown looking glamorous for the rest of my life." When Sherwood Schwartz created "Gilligan's Island," supposedly Jayne Mansfield was the model for sex goddess Ginger Grant. When Jayne allegedly rejected the part, thirty-year-old Tina got it, and eternal cult popularity was hers. "Gilligan's Island" ran from '64 to '67, totalling 98 primetime episodes and thousands of reruns. The show raised far more questions than it ever answered: Why would the Howells bring bags of cash with them? Why would everybody pack so many clothes for a three-hour cruise? How come they could build a record player and a car but they couldn't fix a two-foot hole in the Minnow? How could such a slight show that was derided by the critics stay so popular for so long? Though the lightweight plots floated along with buoyant slapstick, Ginger Grant did display a range of talents, from singing to seducing (to get off the island Ginger made unfulfilled overtures to virtually every guest star who drifted into view) to sympathizing (one dream sequence showed her as a nurse). Some 35 years after the show left its characters stranded 250 miles (the Professor's estimate) southeast of Hawaii, Tina is still trying to get off "Gilligan's Island."
CAREER IN THE '60s: She had lots of work in the '60s, but no major movies and only Ginger as a regular role. Early in the decade, Tina lived in Italy for eighteen months to try to get better roles than what Hollywood was offering. She returned to make dozens of TV appearances during the '60s on shows such as "The Doctors," "Burke's Law," "Mannix," "Ironside," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," and "Love, American Style." Her ten movies in the '60s included a role as a stripper in For Those Who Think Young ('64) and The Wrecking Crew with Dino ('69), plus some obscure foreign flicks. Interestingly, for her most famous role as Ginger, she wasn't the producer's first choice. In the pilot episode filmed in late '63, Ginger was played by a different red-headed actress, Kit Smythe. Kit remembered the auditions to the E! channel: "There were about eight girls that screen tested and of course there I was, I mean I'm looking at all these gorgeous girls and I'm thinking to myself, 'oh damn, oh I'm never, this is crazy, I'll just be myself,' and I was very fortunate to do that." (That pilot episode, filmed in late '63, had a different Professor, this one played by John Gabriel. Dabney Coleman also auditioned for the role). In December '63, when the pilot was screened for CBS execs, they unanimously hated it. Creator Sherwood Schwartz re-edited the pilot, wrote the now-familiar theme song to bring audiences up to date on the story, and resubmitted it to the CBS brass. They agreed to screen it for audiences, who instantly loved it. The only change mandated was that the characters of Bunny (later Mary Ann), Ginger, and the Professor be replaced by different actors. For the part of Ginger, the execs wanted a TV-version of Marilyn Monroe. Said Tina Louise in an interview shown on the E! channel, "I was doing Fade Out Fade In with Carol Burnett on Broadway, and then they called me and said they weren't too happy with the person in the pilot, and could I play a Marilyn Monroe/GB-type character. It sounded kind of fun, they said it was going to replace 'The Defenders,' and off I went. I figured it would last a year." CBS bought out her Broadway contract for $10K in order to get her to Hollywood. Tina soon complained that she wasn't the focus of the show and wasn't given more to do. According to the book Inside Gilligan's Island, when Tina was pitched the Ginger role, she thought she was told that the show would be about her, with six others along as supporting players. Not given many laughs in the script, she felt out of place and threatened several times to leave the show. She had a three-year contract, though. Her complaints did lead the scriptwriters to create scripts built around each character in turn, so that each one would be at the center of an episode on different occasions.
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: Her education included UCLA, University of Miami in Ohio, the N.Y. Neighborhood Playhouse, and the Actors Studio. "Debutante of the Year" in '53, she made lots of TV appearances (including "Studio One," "The Phil Silvers Show," and "The Real McCoys") in the '50s. She also worked on Broadway in Two's Company with Bette Davis and in Li'l Abner as Appassionata Von Climax (the role later played in the movie by Stella Stevens). Tina also worked as a nightclub singer during this time. Poised for stardom, she won a '59 Golden Globe as the Most Promising Newcomer. After the '60s, she got more roles on popular TV shows ("The Love Boat," "CHiPs," a recurring role as Julie Grey on "Dallas," "Knight Rider," and "Married ... with Children"). She was also featured in almost two-dozen post-'60s movies, usually unspectacular movies for TV. In '97 Tina wrote a book about her childhood called Sunday, and she now works to promote literacy in grade schools, volunteering twice a week as a reading tutor in New York City. Late in the '90s she told the E! channel: "Acting is not really the center for me anymore. I don't know where my life will take me at this point. Not that I won't, but I'm sort of open to a lot of different experiences." One she wasn't open to was having anything to do with a certain show about some year-2000 castaways; here's what she at the New York opening of The Price of Air:
"In the last week of the 'Survivor' series, the network wanted to do a 'Gilligan's Island' reunion theme show to play up the deserted island angle. So I finally had to watch one of the 'Survivor' episodes. I thought it was unbelievably stupid. ... So I called up the producers and told them, 'There is no way I am getting up at five in the morning to get my hair done and then do a live morning talk show at six about this stupid show, and they were shocked."
TALENT: The most notable acting award she's won was the '59 Golden Globe as the Most Promising Newcomer. Not much acting was required of anyone on the slapsticky "Gilligan's Island," though they did succeed in making some aspects of the island believable: The lagoon, for instance, was only four feet deep, but it served as a realistic entry point for boats, space capsules, and swimming adventures. As for Tina, she was a convincing sex symbol a la Marilyn Monroe, and she was believable when she acted frightened or affectionate or sympathetic. She also sang on the show with The Honeybees (she, Lovey, and Mary Ann performed as the Honeybees in one episode to try to influence the Mosquitos, a rock group that had washed ashore). Singing was probably her most under-utilized talent, because Tina had already made a record in '57 called Time for Tina, in which she sang Cole Porter songs. In the year 2001 another talent emerged -- painting. Starting in December of 2001, Manhattan's Stendahl Gallery is running a one-woman exhibition of Tina's work, which is priced at $2500-$7500. Tina told newspaper reporters that she has been influenced by such artists as Sam Francis, Jim Dine, Miro, and Joan Mitchell.
HER '60s LOOK: As a castaway Tina did a masterful Marilyn impression. She lured her prey with the same limp-lidded bedroom eyes, and she had the seductive, quivering half-smile that Marilyn perfected. While she didn't quite have the famous figure of Marilyn (few did), Tina always looked delicious no matter which gown or bathing suit or play-acting costume she was wearing. Censors mandated that Dawn Wells couldn't show her bellybutton, and Tina could reveal only limited cleavage. But still, Tina was curvy enough to be a featured femme in Playboy in October '60, November/December '61, January/December '62, December '65, November '66, and January '67. In her prime, her measurements were given as 37.5--24--37.
LIFESTYLE: "I admit back in Hollywood I used to date some swingers," Ginger Grant once said on "Gilligan's Island," "but they didn't swing from trees!" According to her interview in Pinup magazine, Tina sometimes had a playful attitude about her sexy image when she was a castaway:
"In one episode Tina was to take a shower in a makeshift stall ... since the bamboo shower door would hide her from the shoulders down and wouldn't show anything but her head, shoulders, legs and feet, Tina announced she would be shooting this scene in the nude. Word got around the set and by the time they were ready to shoot the scene the catwalks above the set were filled with electricians, carpenters, and every grip that suddenly felt they had a job to do above the infamous shower scene. Tina arrived in a sarong-type bathing suit and entered the shower never looking up at the gawking men. While some 45 workers gazed down, Tina removed her bathing suit only to reveal another bathing suit underneath. She then flashed a smile at the men and made a shame-on-you gesture. As the men scurried down from the catwalks, the rest of the cast and crew were howling with laughter."
Back in the real world, Tina was married in '66 to Les Crane, a late-night talk-show host, and they had one daughter. The couple divorced in '70. Tina has gone on to the best starring role of all: "The best movie you'll ever be in is your own life," she said in an interview, "because that's what really matters in the end."
EXTRAS: Her father owned a candy store, her mom was a former model ... when Tina was in For Those Who Think Young in '64, Bob Denver and Nancy Sinatra were also in the cast ... debuting on September 26th of '64, the show initially ran on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. after "The Jackie Gleason Show" ... after one month it was in the top twenty of the ratings, and at the end of the first season it was tied with "The Munsters" (featuring Pat Priest) at #18 in the ratings ... for the second season the show was moved to Thursdays, and it finished at #19 in the ratings ... for the third season the show was moved to Monday nights at 7:30 against "The Monkees," and it finally fell out of the top twenty ... guest stars included Don Rickles, Phil Silvers, a young Kurt Russell, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Bob Denver's son Patrick in the episode about Jack and the Beanstalk, and Jim Backus's wife Henny, who played a native girl ... an animated series "The New Adventures of Gilligan" ran 1974-'77, but not with Tina's voice ... that series was followed by a one-season cartoon in '82 called "Gilligan's Planet" which placed the castaways on a remote planet trying to get back to Earth, but if the professor couldn't fix a simple boat, how was he supposed to fix a rocket ship? ... Rescue from Gilligan's Island in '78 was a sucessful two-hour movie, but Tina wasn't in it: "They weren't too good in their TV movies of the week in coming up with the cash," she told an interviewer, "I'm very expensive." The producers offered her $50K, she wanted double that, so they gave the part to Judith Baldwin ... Tina said at the time that she wanted to break away from the role, but The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows corroborates the story about the money ... that book adds that Gilligan was the character's last name, and that Bob Denver and series creator Sherwood Schwartz discussed a first name for Gilligan -- it would've been Willie, but was never used ... other character names on "Gilligan's Island" were Skipper Jonas Grumby, Thurston Howell III, Lovey Howell (some sources say Eunice was her first name) plus Professor Roy Hinkley and Mary Ann Summers ... two other TV movies that Tina passed on were The Castaways on Gilligan's Island in '79 and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island in '81 ... creator Sherwood Schwartz is said to be working on a full-length movie based on the show, and also a new TV show using a multi-racial cast ... in May '98 Tina told People that she's constantly asked, "Are you from "Gilligan's Island?," with her reply, "No, I'm from Manhattan" ... about the series and its affect on her career: "I don't really feel the series stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. Life is really a period of passages. You're going to arrive where you're going to arrive. The right things are going to find you one way or another" ... the Pinup interview was graciously faxed to us by Tina Louise fan Lester Isa.
Tina and her castaway cohort Dawn Wells both have bios and photos in the new book Swingin' Chicks of the '60s, published by Cedco Publishing: http://www.cedco.com.
Click on the linkage in the Table o' Contents on the left to select another Swingin' Chick of the '60s, baby.