As Hollywood gears up a film adaptation of “Gilligan's Island” and fans argue over who the stars should be, one thing you can count on is that if they want the movie to succeed the cast must again become a mismatched, instant family.
In both film and family, it’s the ensemble effect that makes the experience happily memorable, or something you wish you could forget.
I remember the original “Gilligan’s Island” TV show from childhood and the many ways it re-entered my adult life and family scenarios.
As a kid, I watched all 98 episodes of “Gilligan's Island,” which followed the zany misadventures of seven people stranded on a desert island. The castaways included dim-witted Gilligan, the always-exasperated Skipper, the girl-next-door Mary Ann, the Professor, the redheaded bombshell Ginger, and a wealthy couple named the Howells.
As an adult, my husband took me and the kids on a sailboat from New Jersey to Florida. Many times I got through a terrifying storm on the sailboat by singing the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song in order to keep from panicking.
Once we began living aboard, I would frequently repeat this theme song verse under my breath:
"No phone, no lights, no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It’s primitive as can be."
Today. I have a friend Wes Cheney who makes bikes almost entirely out of bamboo at VeloBamboo here in Norfolk, Virginia. Every time I see him cruising down the lane on a bamboo bike the song is stuck in my head for hours.
Over the years, since living aboard, when we sailed to islands and ate some variation of fish and coconut at every meal, I have given “Gilligan’s Island” a lot of thought from the family and parenting perspective.
While each character began the adventure as a part of his or her own family, the moment their shipwrecked the adventure began, they became a new family unit.
In the cruising community of boaters, strangers become family in a heartbeat. We once came ashore in the Dry Tortugas, stranded by a storm, and we shared unique methods of cooking, fishing, and surviving with total strangers who were suddenly family.
In the show, the Skipper and Professor seemed to share the parental roles, although who was “Mom” or “Dad” at any given moment is debatable.
Parenting is a sea of adventure we all hope to survive as we are beset with storms and use our collective ingenuity at a moment’s notice.
In the show’s theme song, their boat, the S.S. Minnow, is a family metaphor.
"The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless crew
The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost."
Perhaps I view Skipper as “Dad” and the Professor as “Mom” because they try to manage an unwieldy bunch through trying times, with often hilarious results.
Gilligan would be the awkward teen son, always wearing the same outfit, trying to make good to the demanding dad.
Mary Ann and Ginger are like sisters who are polar opposites.
The Howells could be seen as the babies of the family, spoiled twins who could be both demanding and lovable.
The precursor to my married life was actually a “Gilligan’s Island” family joke made (constantly) by my late father-in-law.
The first time I met him, he began the conversation not with “Hello” but by saying: “You need to know that my son is brilliant. If I was stranded on a desert island and could choose one person to be there with, who I knew could get us off, it would be Robert.”
Just as I smiled at the glowing praise for the love of my life, Mr. Suhay dropped the other flip-flop, “Of course he’d also be the one who got us stranded in the first place!”
Apparently this had actually happened once during a canoe trip.
The “Gilligan’s Island” song was always whistled by my husband’s father. The song informs us:
"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour."
Whenever he disagreed with my husband’s life choices, my father-in-law whistled the tune for the refrain, “A three hour tour. A three hour tour.”
The man whistled it each and every time I was in a room with him. Apparently I was the “Three hour tour.”
My father-in-law may also have been the only person in America who knew that the actual words to one verse that most people mumble:
"So this is the tale of the castways,
They're here for a long, long time,
They'll have to make the best of things,
It's an uphill climb."
When it comes to parenting and family relationships, it can be an “uphill climb.” However, if you can see the humor and adventure of bamboo bikes and a coconut cream pie in the face it’s worth the trip.