10 fantastic facts about 'Fantasy Island'

These facts are just "de plane" truth.

Image: The Everett Collection

"De plane! De plane!" It was a cry we awaited every Saturday night, between the years 1977 and 1984. There was Tattoo atop the bell tower, announcing new guests to Fantasy Island. Palm trees, waterfalls, white sand and white suits.

For Aaron Spelling, the whimsical drama was another hit to his credits. For most of its run, Fantasy Island piggybacked another Spelling series, The Love Boat, which similarly welcomed numerous famous guest stars week after week for romantic romps. The two shows were quite alike, in that a hospitality team cured tourists' problems in tropical locales. Of course, as its name implies, Fantasy Island had a much larger magical element. Though it was never explained, Mr. Rourke (Ricardo Montalbán) and Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) were seemingly supernatural beings.

Was it heaven? Was it hallucination? Whatever the case, it was pure escapism. Forty years after its debut, let's take a trip back to Fantasy Island for some fascinating facts.

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1. The network wanted Orson Welles in the lead role.


ABC pushed hard to have the venerable, if faded star as the show's headliner. At the time, the onetime Citizen Kane prodigy was making art films like F For Fake with his lover Oja Kodar. Despite the network's desire for Orson Welles, Spelling wanted Montalbán and won, obviously. Another legendary Hollywood director, John Huston, was reportedly considered for the role of Roarke.

Image: The Everett Collection

2. The network also wanted to replace Tattoo with "an attractive girl."


Fantasy Island began as two made-for-TV movies, in 1977 and 1978. Filming was underway on a third when the head of ABC, Fred Silverman, called Spelling and asked the film be cut in two halves. He wanted to turn the idea into the series. There was just one catch, coming from a lower-level network suit — they wanted to give Tattoo the boot. "We'd like you to get rid of the little guy," the exec said, according to Spelling's memoir, Aaron Spelling: A Primetime Life. "We'd like to have an attractive, sexy girl for Mr. Rourke." Despite his success with Charlie's Angels, Spelling stuck with his man Villechaize.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

3. The idea for the show was a joke.


Spelling was in a pitch meeting with the network and his big ideas were not going well. That lead to an exasperated joke from the producer. "Aaron was in his office, trying to sell a show to ABC," his wife Candy recalled in an oral history for The Hollywood Reporter, "and I heard him say, 'What would you like me to do? Put some guy on an island and have him grant wishes to people?' He was being sarcastic." He was kidding. Of course, the network loved the idea.

Image: AP Photo / Reed Saxon

4. The opening credits have something in common with 'M*A*S*H.'


The real fantasy island is Kaua'i, Hawaii. At least, that is where you can find the gorgeous waterfalls seen in the opening credits, Wailua Falls. Another memorable opening credits sequence featured a shot on the island — M*A*S*H. A shot of a helicopter flying over a mountain was also shot on Kaua'i.

Image: Sony Pictures Television

5. In Ricardo's mind, Fantasy Island was purgatory.


The backstory of just what Fantasy Island truly is — well, it's never explained in the show. But the lead actor needed some backstory for his character. He had his own beliefs about Mr. Roarke that he carried with him to guide his performance. "He's not the devil… what is he? What is he?" Montalbán mused about his character in an interview late in his life. "Even though the audience didn't realize what I was thinking… I decided this man was an angel who still had a little sin of pride in him… so he is in charge of purgatory, and he has his little cherub to help him."

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Hervé Villechaize was a teenage art prodigy.


The French-born Villechaize was a fascinating but tragic man. "When we contacted Hervé about working in Fantasy Island," Spelling recalled, "he was flat broke and living in a rather cheap transient hotel on Hollywood Boulevard." The actor had previously appeared in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun. Early in life, the Paris native was an art prodigy. He entered the esteemed École des Beaux-Arts at 16. Two years later, he became the youngest artist to have his work shown at the Museum of Paris. He learned English by watching soap operas, so he loved to proclaim.

7. Villechaize also occasionally played Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street


For the most part on Sesame Street, the shaggy green Muppet stayed put inside his garbage can. However, in the late 1970s, the show had Oscar on the move in rare occasion, walking about with his two feet sticking out of the bottom of the trash can. Villechaize was the performer inside the can. There was even a six-episode special in 1978 when Sesame Street traveled to Hawaii.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Montalban and William Shatner never filmed scenes together in 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan'


The popularity of Fantasy Island led to a career revival for Montalbán, who was in his late-50s at the time. Most memorably, the Mexican star reprised his role as Captain Kirk nemesis Khan for 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. William Shatner screaming, "KHA-A-A-A-N" is a classic moment, and a popular meme to this day. However, Shatner and Montalbán never worked together on the set. Khan never leaves his ship, and Kirk never boards it. Their conversations were filmed separately, due to the production schedule demands of Fantasy Island.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. There is no such thing as "Corinthian leather."


Fantasy Island fame also brought commercial opportunities for Montalbán. Notably, he became the spokesman for the Chrysler Cordoba. In the ads, he sat in the interior and praised the "fine Corinthian leather," hitting that second syllable hard in his melodious accent. It became a bit of a catchphrase. There was just one catch — "Corinthian leather" is entire made up. It did not come from Corinth in Greece. It was all marketing mumbo jumbo. The material mostly came from New Jersey.

Image: Chrysler

10. Tattoo was replaced by Mr. Belvedere in the final season.


Late in the series, Villechaize grew demanding behind the scenes, asking for more money, and displayed improper behavior on the set. Though he is heavily associated with the show, the actor was kicked off Fantasy Island for the final year. Replacing him in the sidekick role was Christopher Hewett as "Lawrence." Though it was a bit hard to recognize him without the mustache, Hewett was best known as Mr. Belvedere on the hit sitcom of the same name.

Image: The Everett Collection



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