‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star, Natalie Schafer, Only Took The Role For The Free Trip to Hawaii

Gilligan’s Island first aired in 1964. The show’s pilot, which was filmed in Hawaii, was so believable that viewers were concerned that a shipwrecked crew was actually stuck on a deserted island. For three seasons, fans tuned in to see what antics Gilligan and his pals would get into. Years later, the show is still a cultural sensation, but not all the actors were sure it would be a hit right away. Natalie Schafer agreed to portray Lovey Howell for an unconventional reason.

Natalie Schafer didn’t expect Gilligan’s Island to be successful

Schafer may have been best known for portraying Lovey Howell on Gilligan’s Island, but the series was far from her dream role. Before signing up to portray Thurston Howell III’s sophisticated wife, Schafer made a name for herself on Broadway. She appeared in 17 plays before she appeared in the TV series.

 Ginger (Tina Louise), Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), and  Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schaefer) in 'Gilligan's Island'
Ginger (Tina Louise), Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), and Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schaefer) in ‘Gilligan’s Island’ | Bettmann/Getty Images

After appearing in several films, the show’s creators approached Schafer about the series. Reportedly, she thought the show was silly and believed it wouldn’t make it past the pilot, still, she agreed to take on the job. That’s not what happened, though.

Schafer only agreed to take the job for a free trip

If Schafer didn’t think the show was going to be successful, why did she agree to take on the role of Mrs. Howell in the first place? Simply put, she was interested in taking a free trip. According to CBS, Schafer agreed to portray Mrs. Howell because the pilot was being filmed in Hawaii. She wanted to make a trip to the islands, and filming the pilot was an easy way to get there.

Part of the cast of 'Gilligan's Island'
Cast members of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ | CBS via Getty Images

Schafer eventually settled into the role, but apparently, she never imagined the series would run for three full seasons and become a pop culture sensation. Her portrayal of Mrs. Howell led to a ton of guest roles following the end of the show. Schafer died at the age of 90 in 1991.

Schafer wasn’t the only Hollywood star who didn’t foresee the show going anywhere

While Schafer was more than happy to take the role for the free trip to Hawaii, other stars approached about the show disliked it so much that the free island getaway couldn’t persuade them to sign up. Jerry Van Dyke passed on the sitcom because he thought it was too silly to succeed. Instead, Van Dyke signed on to My Mother the Car.

Jerry Van Dyke posing next to the 1928 Porter automobile from 'My Mother the Car'
Jerry Van Dyke | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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My Mother the Car was a sitcom with an even sillier premise than Gilligan’s Island. In the series, Van Dyke portrayed Dave Crabtree, a man who finds that his mother has been reincarnated as an antique car. She communicates with him through the car’s radio. The show only lasted a single season, airing from September 1965 until April 1966. According to IMDbTV Guide considered the series the second worst television show in history, just behind The Jerry Springer Show.