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.

Watch Gilligan's Island on MeTV!

Sundays 3 & 3:30 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

12 Comments

genie12 7 months ago
Jim Bacus was also in a two episode Brady Bunch
LoveMETV22 7 months ago
[image=https://weigel-comments.s3.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/DGoNk-1699455667-userupload.png]
MrsPhilHarris 7 months ago
He did radio too such as The Alan Young Show, Jack Benny and others. I can always tell it’s him, since he always seemed to have that mid-Atlantic accent.
ncadams27 MrsPhilHarris 7 months ago
It was the character he played in the radio version of The Alan Young Shoe, wealthy playboy Hubert Updike, that was the basis for his Thurston Howell III character.
MrsPhilHarris ncadams27 7 months ago
I did not know that but I. A understand that. Whenever I’ve heard the character I think of a young Thurston Howell III.
TheKodakKid MrsPhilHarris 7 months ago
Would it help to tie it together by knowing that one of the writers for the Allan Young radio show was named Schwartz?
MrsPhilHarris TheKodakKid 7 months ago
I did not know Sherwood Schwartz wrote for The Alan Young Show. Very interesting.
justjeff 7 months ago
His comic roles on TV also included starring in "The Jim Backus Show" and playing Joan Davis' husband on "I Married Joan"...
CoreyC 7 months ago
Jim Backus was great as James Dean's father in Rebel Without A Cause, the rich plane owner in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World.
MrsPhilHarris CoreyC 7 months ago
I love his character in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Runeshaper 7 months ago
Jim Backus was a solid actor all around.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?