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How The JFK Assassination Influenced Gilligan's Island

"Gilligan's Island" is a beloved sitcom that aired on CBS for three seasons in the 1960s, becoming popular and growing a devoted fanbase in syndication in the following decades. Featuring an ensemble cast, the show followed seven castaways trying to survive on the island where their boat, the S.S. Minnow, had wrecked. Gilligan (played by Bob Denver) was the inept first mate of the yacht captained by The Skipper (played by Alan Hale Jr.). They were joined on their ill-fated voyage by a millionaire and his wife, a movie star, a professor, and a wholesome farm girl.  

"Gilligan's Island" spawned a catchy theme song, an animated remake, and a handful of reunion specials, but there are still some facts about the show only the most diehard fans might know. Now sit right back and you'll hear a tale you probably didn't know about the connection between the sitcom and President John F. Kennedy's assassination. 

The connection happened during the pilot's filming

The pilot episode of "Gilligan's Island" looked quite a bit different from the comedy series viewers now know. Filmed in November 1963, that episode featured a different cast than the series ordered to television. Joining Gilligan, The Skipper, and millionaire couple Mr. and Mrs. Howell (played by Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer) were three different characters and actors, according to Retro Tube. The original cast of characters included two secretaries and a high school teacher instead of a movie star, a farm girl, and a professor (per MeTV). Titled "Marooned," that episode was not released until 1992, and it even featured a different theme song written by composer John Williams, now world-renowned for composing such themes as those featured in "Jaws," "Star Wars," and "Superman: The Movie."

The pilot episode was filmed in Hawaii to give the show a more genuine atmosphere, and on one of the last days of filming, the cast and crew learned that on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy had been assassinated. 

That's why the opening credits show the flag at half-mast

Following the president's death, his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, ordered the American flag flown at half-mast for mourning. Filming for the pilot, which was filmed in Kauai, Hawaii, captured scenes that would also be used in the "Gilligan's Island" opening credits of the whole show once it was ordered to television. One such scene shows boats in the harbor as the S.S. Minnow departs, one with an American flag at half-mast in the background. 

According to MeTV, that wasn't the only connection between "Gilligan's Island" and President Kennedy. A fictional novel published in 2003 titled "Gilligan's Wake" crafted a back story for The Skipper — also known as Jonas Grumby — that revealed he served on a PT boat in the Navy alongside John F. Kennedy. While the backstory was never mentioned on the show, it illustrates the impact Kennedy's assassination had on those associated with "Gilligan's Island."