Jim Backus: Gilligan was ''way ahead of Batman''

The Millionaire stood up for Gilligan's Island

Stranded on that island, everybody had different levels of authority that they brought over from their past lives. The Skipper had nautical know-how, so he was useful in figuring out what to do. The professor was smart with technology, so he could build all sorts of inventions to try for rescue. But, the person who had the most life experience was undoubtedly Thurston Howell III, the Millionaire. Sure, his money meant he had very little perspective, but he was old! He'd seen a lot! And an island of castaways needs its elders.

Jim Backus, the actor who played Thurston Howell III, was already familiar to viewers. Or, at the very least, Backus' voice might have rang some bells. He voiced Mr. Magoo in the same-named cartoons, beginning in 1949. In addition, Backus famously played James Dean's father in the teenage drama Rebel Without a Cause.

So just like the Millionaire brought experience and scruples with him to Gilligan's Island, Backus brought with him the audience's trust and his impressive résumé as a veteran actor.

Backus would become a de facto spokesperson for the Gilligan's Island cast and crew on more than one occasion. While Bob Denver was undoubtedly the star, Backus, as an actor, had weathered many a Hollywood storm, and was an effective pundit in advocating for the show, and selling it to the audience.

In March of 1966, the show was still airing its second season. The critical consensus contrasted wildly with the show's popularity. While audiences loved tuning in for Gilligan's mishaps, critics lambasted the show for being juvenile and inconsequential.

Luckily, Jim Backus was able to come to the rescue, defending Gilligan's Island to the New York Times News Service.

"Gilligan's Island was way ahead of Batman," said Backus.

"It's a put-on, a spoof. We were doing camp before the word became popular. But the critics reviewed it as though it were Playhouse 90. They weren't really reviews, they were character assassinations.

"Originally, nobody but the kids watched and, after the reviews, we were in great danger of being taken off the air. But then finally dear old dad, who was sitting there with his martini and not allowed by the kids to watch anything else, started laughing too. By sheer exposure, Gilligan's Island got an audience."

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5 Comments

daDoctah 15 days ago
Any time people start talking about the moral lessons of the original Star Trek, and how it showed people of different backgrounds all working together for the common good, I remind them that Gilligan's Island did the same thing three years earlier, and managed not to hit viewers over the head with the message in the process.
TVFF 18 days ago
Gilligan's Island was my support system when I was growing up. Watching it every day after school it allowed me to escape, laugh, and become connected to the characters who sometimes bickered, but actually loved each other despite their differences. The critics were foolish and wrongheaded.
McGillahooala 20 days ago
Big Gilligan’s Island fan. Also like him on I Married Joan. Now that you can find virtually anything on Roku and other apps, I’ve seen a couple episodes of the Jim Backus show. Its not my favorite and I think it was canceled during the first season but something to watch in a pinch.
Runeshaper 20 days ago
Gilligan's Island was a good show. I prefer Batman, but I enjoyed Gilligan's Island.
JeffPaul76 20 days ago
I was a big fan of "Gilligan's Island", and sad when it was canceled. Same for "Batman". I don't like the Michael Keaton "Batman" movies.
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