Jerry Van Dyke Passed On the Lead In ‘Gilligan’s Island’ For a Show That Flopped

Gilligan’s Island is one of pop culture’s most iconic tv shows, a series that ran for only three seasons on television but remains hugely popular in reruns with fans of all ages. The series made stars out of actors like Bob Denver and Tina Louise, and to this day, those actors remain best known for their work in the series. At the time of its premiere, few expected Gilligan’s Island to be so popular — and for that reason, several performers passed on starring roles in the series, including Jerry Van Dyke, a well-known television star. 

When did ‘Gilligan’s Island’ premiere on TV?

The cast of 'Gilligan's Island'
The cast of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ | CBS via Getty Images

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Gilligan’s Island first hit television in 1964. The series told the humorous tale of a “three-hour tour” gone wrong, as a tour boat capsizes on a deserted island following a terrible storm at sea.

In the wake of the disaster, the stranded passengers, including Gilligan, Skipper, the professor, Mary Anne, Ginger Grant, and Thurston Howell and his wife, are left to sort out life on the island, dealing with a wide variety of humorous situations.

Gilligan’s Island ran for three years, and although the series received great ratings during its run, it became even more popular in syndication. After it went off the air in 1967, most of the cast ultimately returned for a series of reunion movies.

These days, Gilligan’s Island remains a firm favorite with many viewers, from those who watched it when it originally aired to young fans who discovered it for the first time in rerun form. 

Who was Jerry Van Dyke?

For fans of the show, it seems impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role of the bumbling, lovable Gilligan. Still, prior to the debut of Gilligan’s Island, showrunners were on the hunt for the perfect person for the role. They thought that they had found the perfect candidate in Jerry Van Dyke, the younger brother of the iconic television and film star, Dick Van Dyke. 

Jerry Van Dyke was born in 1931 and, like his older brother, was drawn to the entertainment industry. He began his career in stand-up comedy, performing in nightclubs as a young man before landing early appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

By the mid-1960s, Van Dyke was a popular television star, and showrunners approached him to portray the character of Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island. Van Dyke turned the role down, reportedly because he hated the script, calling it “the worst thing I’d ever read.”

Is Jerry Van Dyke still alive?

Rather than play Gilligan, Van Dyke accepted a leading role in another ’60s sitcom, titled My Mother the Car. Although Van Dyke later claimed that the script for My Mother the Car was excellent, and worlds ahead of the one he read for Gilligan’s Island, the series itself turned out to be one of television’s biggest bombs.

In fact, it lasted a mere 30 episodes and was canceled after one season. Van Dyke later described his experience of working on the show as a “nightmare,” he was able to move on to greener pastures, and in 1989, he began a long-running appearance on the TV series Coach.

For the remainder of his career, Van Dyke continued to work in television, appearing on shows and in commercials. In early 2018, Van Dyke passed away from heart failure. His death was a blow to the Hollywood community, bringing an end to a successful career that was marked by a series of very high highs and some rather epic lows.