‘Gilligan’s Island’: Natalie Schafer’s Contract Forbid Close-Ups

In September 1964, the CBS Network introduced their newest sitcom Gilligan’s Island. The classic TV series follows seven castaways stranded on a desert island. Millionaire Thurston Howell (Jim Backus) and Lovey Howell (Natalie Schafer) were among the castaways. While filming the series, Schafer forbid any close-ups of her face. Read on to find the reason for the contract demand.

'Gilligan's Island' actor Natalie Schafer wearing a dress, long gloves, pearl necklace, and feather boa standing in front of a bamboo hut.
Natalie Schafer I CBS via Getty Images

‘Gilligan’s Island’ star Natalie Schafer didn’t want her real age revealed

As with many actors, Schafer was secretive about her age. Aside from the producers, no one else on the Gilligan’s Island set knew her real age. Schafer and the crew went to great lengths to keep fans from seeing how old she was.

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According to IMDB.com, Schafer’s contract demanded no close-ups or physical movements. Many fans believed Schafer and Backus were the same age; however, Schafer was 12 years older than her TV husband. Schafer remained tight-lipped about her age until her death on April 10, 1991. The actor was 90 at the time of her death, and it was only then when she allowed her real age to be revealed in her obituary.

Natalie Schafer never thought the show would be a success

Schafer was already an established actor with various Broadway, TV, and film roles under her belt. When Sherwood Schwartz was casting for Gilligan’s Island, he offered Schafer the role of Lovey. Schafer accepted the role only because of the trip to Hawaii to film the pilot.

The actor believed the show would never make it to the airwaves but was happy to receive a free vacation. To Schafer’s surprise, Gilligan’s Island pilot was picked up. Upon hearing the news, Schafer reportedly burst into tears, but they weren’t joyful ones. Schafer’s new role meant staying in Los Angeles instead of moving to New York as she desired.

Lovey Howell became Natalie Schafer’s most famous role

Gilligan’s Island became a hit despite Schafer’s misgivings, and her character was popular with viewers. Lovey and Thurston continued to live a luxurious lifestyle on the island in their bamboo hut. As with the other castaways, the couple came prepared with luggage filled with money, fancy clothes, and jewelry.

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Although Lovey and Thurston were rich, they never looked down on their fellow castaways. The Howells treated Gilligan (Bob Denver) like a son, and Lovey had a special bond with Ginger (Tina Louise) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells). The couple loved to hold extravagant parties on the island but refused to do any manual labor.

Schafer portrayed Lovey until the show’s cancellation in 1967. She later reprised her role in three Gilligan’s Island films and two animated series.