Jim Backus was more than just Thurston Howell III
Backus had a talent for comedy, but he also had a lot of experience as a dramatic actor.
As one of the most popular shows on television in the sixties, Gilligan's Island was able to tell an entertaining, compelling story in each episode, all within the confines of a singular island. Moreover, because each episode was typically spent with the same cast of characters, viewers quickly became attached to the actors that graced our screens.
One of those actors was Jim Backus, better known as Thurston Howell III. While the aristocratic character took deep pride in his name and personality, Backus himself didn't want the role to limit him. Backus, who also voiced Mr. Magoo, played Thurston Howell III for the three years that Gilligan's Island remained on the air, though the character stayed in audiences' memories long after the show was canceled.
In an interview with the Herald and Review, Backus confessed, "I get really bothered with people who think that the only things I've done are Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island." He continued, "I'm a dramatic actor too, and I've done over eighty non-comic movies."
Backus cited an example, a production of the play Our Town that he starred in. He commented, "In one scene, I cry over my dead wife. How can that be funny?"
While Backus tended to favor more dramatic roles, he understood that his success in comedy was a double-edged sword. He said, "I feel sometimes that I've painted myself into a corner. I want to do some pictures, good, solid, dramatic parts."
At the time, Backus also had success in commercials, receiving a sizeable check for a TV ad spot. Backus said of commercials, "They're the best thing in the world because of what we call 'F-Y' money. That means that an actor who does them gets paid enough to tell people with bad scripts to...er, well, take them away."
So while the financial perks of genres like comedy were good, Backus made certain that while viewers might have loved him as Thurston Howell III, it wasn't the only role they remembered him for.