Natalie Schafer: ''I didn't even want to be in 'Gilligan.'''

''I cried when I got the role.''

Typecasting was an issue that plagued a lot of careers after Gilligan's Island. Gilligan himself, Bob Denver, said he was "100 percent" typecast following Gilligan's enormous popularity. It didn't help that the show's characters were broad "types." It's hard to imagine Jim Backus as anything but a millionaire. Tina Louise, as Ginger, was such a believable movie star, that she never got a bigger role. 

Those actors were in good company, as Natalie Schafer, Gilligan's Lovey Howell, shared their struggle. In a 1989 interview with the St. Louis Dispatch, Schafer detailed how the role limited her acting workload.

"Most of the young executives and casting agents don't see past my role in Gilligan," she said. "I was on stage for years before the show and I can still do drama but they don't see it that way."

Schafer had a point. Between 1927 and 1959, Schafer appeared in 17 different Broadway plays. She also had an extensive filmography, racking up dozens of supporting role credits before ever getting marooned on that three-hour tour.

While Bob Denver reportedly didn't mind the way he was typecast after Gilligan's Island, Schafer didn't share his outlook. Instead, she made her displeasure clear: Natalie Schafer was capable of more serious work and would've preferred it to Gilligan's Island.

"I didn't even want to be in Gilligan when I tested," she said.

"I cried when I got the role."

Despite the issues with typecasting, Schafer continued to work sporadically in film and television throughout the rest of her life. While she may not have had the roles she wanted, she was able to find some joy in doing voice work.

"I love doing voice-overs for film and commercials because you don't have to hold your stomach in," she said.

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14 Comments

sagafrat69 7 months ago
I saw NS on an episode of "Mannix" in a dramatic role and I didn't see Mrs. Howell at all. "Gilligan's Island" is one of the greatest comedies ever made because there's no show really like it. Everything jelled between cast and crew for those three years. I'm sure before her death she realized that she'll be remembered forever being on this show. The show picks up young viewers every year. Not such a bad legacy. Dawn Wells and her were very close. She left her estate to Wells before her passing.
Runeshaper 7 months ago
Natalie Schafer was a very talented actress.
MrsPhilHarris 7 months ago
Interesting. I’ve seen her in some old movies and she seemed to be playing the same part or variations of the same. Rich woman, snooty rich woman, wife of rich man and all the time with the same mid-Atlantic voice. I never saw much variation.
Zip 7 months ago
I remember hearing that she cried in Russell Johnson's book, and Sherwood Schwartz's book at well. Natalie had some company over(forgot who it was) when the phone call came and she broke out in tears. Her company asked if someone had died, and Natalie said, "Worse. The pilot sold."
She was a great Mrs. Howell though.
Snickers 7 months ago
I just don't understand if she didn't want to be on the show why do a screen test and cry when she got the part? If she didn't want the part all she had to do is say no thanks and walk away.
justjeff Snickers 7 months ago
One word, three letters...EGO!
CoreyC justjeff 7 months ago
Natalie Schafer was an aging celebrity by the 1960's whose only role people possibly heard of was the Charm School teacher in I Love Lucy before Gilligan's Island.
Zip Snickers 7 months ago
According to the books I read, she never thought the pilot would sell so she thought, "Oh well, a free trip to Hawaii."
LoveMETV22 Snickers 7 months ago
There was an article earlier this year that has additional information on her landing the role:

https://www.metv.com/stories/natalie-schafer-thought-gilligans-island-first-script-was-awful

There are a few articles on different websites that discuss her role on the series, not all portrayed negatively.

Snickers LoveMETV22 7 months ago
Seems like she went in with a negative view about the series to me.
CoreyC 7 months ago
If you didn't want the role Natalie nobody twisted your arm to do the role.
Snickers CoreyC 7 months ago
I agree. Why take the role if you didn't want to do it? She had money so WTF?
Rjones1956 CoreyC 7 months ago
Dead people can't read your comment
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