Last ‘Gilligan’s’ castaway, actress Tina Louise, reveals sexiest costar
Anyone who’s ever watched an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” no doubt wondered if the castaways would’ve hooked up with each other.
For Tina Louise — the actress who played flame-haired Hollywood bombshell Ginger Grant — there was only one sexy choice among the Skipper, the Professor, the millionaire and Gilligan.
“It’s Jim,” she said of actor Jim Backus, who played married millionaire Thurston Howell III. “Jim was hilarious. Humor, hon. He was so funny and he used to go to the psychiatrist every day and tell me the news of the day … But just in general, he had a great sense of humor. He was adorable.
“I think the Professor read too many books,” she added. “[Gilligan] was just very nervous and scared to death and talked so fast. He was so shy.”
Louise is the last surviving castaway from the classic CBS sitcom about seven shipwrecked strangers that debuted 57 years ago, on Sept. 26, 1964.
Today, she lives on the island of Manhattan, in the Turtle Bay neighborhood, and enjoys reading (“My favorite place is Barnes & Noble!”) and walks in the Katharine Hepburn Garden near the United Nations. She’s also ready to meet the right man.
“I’m open. I’m open. I’m open to life,” Louise told The Post. “These days, I’m still not going out very far. If I go out with a friend, it’s once in two weeks.”
She declined to give her age. “Don’t number me. Who needs it?” she said. “Numbers are not what you look like or how you live your life … Buddha said, ‘Live in the present moment. Wisely and earnestly.’”
So if she were stuck on a tropical island in real life, what kind of guy might she want to be there with — George Clooney? Brad Pitt?
“He’d be funny, have a good heart and money wouldn’t matter if we were stuck on an Island,” she said. “I like John Oliver. I like his dimples. I like him. He’s terrific. Bright. Cute. Funny.” Louise added of the “Last Week Tonight” host, “You have to enjoy each other’s company and have something to talk about. That’s important.”
Also on her deserted island wish list: “a large bag of raw almonds — I live in the health store — albums by Frank Sinatra. No contest. I’d want to hear Frank all day.”
A native New Yorker, Louise was born Tina Blacker in 1934. By the time she was 4 years old, her parents had divorced and Louise, an only child, was raised by her fashion model mother. (Her father was a candy store owner in Brooklyn and, later, an accountant.) Legend has it, the name Louise was added during her senior year of high school when she mentioned to her drama teacher that she was the only girl in the class without a middle name and he suggested it.
While studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre and the legendary Actors Studio in Manhattan, she also began modeling and working as a nightclub singer. Louise made her Broadway acting debut in the 1952 Bette Davis musical revue “Two’s Company” — and appeared in Playboy magazine in the late 1950s. (Proving she was much more of a Ginger than a Mary Ann.)
It was while performing with Carol Burnett in the 1964 Broadway musical comedy “Fade Out-Fade In” that she landed the “Gilligan” role. Originally, the character was a secretary, played by actress Kit Smythe in the pilot. When producers decided to turn her into a va-va-voom starlet, Louise was cast.
She said she played breathy-voiced Ginger as “part Marilyn [Monroe], part Lucy [Ball],” and had a rocky start on the sitcom. At first, she was turned off by the “snarky” scripts, but after a month or so, the show found its footing and grew more “light and funny and charming. I always had fun with the show. Ginger flirted. Flirting is fun! Flirting is good.”
While little was revealed during the show’s run about the characters’ lives back at home, it was known that Ginger had been on an episode of the show “Ben Casey,” in a number of films and was set to star as Cleopatra on Broadway when the shipwreck happened. All of this at a time when sexism and casting-couch harassment were rampant in Hollywood.
“‘Ginger would have led the [#MeToo] pack,” Louise said. “She would have gotten a group together … I would have liked to have played that scene. With a lot of women, they hold everything inside. Or have in the past. It’s very positive to get it out, about things that may have been hidden and make you feel uncomfortable.”
Louise would not discuss if she ever experienced handsy producers or had to deflect comments that crossed the line.
“I look to the light. I’m so grateful for everything that eventually happened for me. … I don’t think there’s any woman walking in this business who hasn’t had situations. There are people who got into horrible situations and they should speak on that.”
That said, Louise had no issue with men who openly admired her back in the day. “Whistling at women never bothered me. What’s the problem?” she said. “Somebody’s noticing you. It’s not a problem for me.”
The series ran for 98 episodes over three seasons before it was canceled in 1967.
“The writers didn’t want us to get off the Island,” Louise said. “The show was in the Top 10 or 20 when it ended. The [network] president wasn’t happy [with the 1967] schedule. He wanted ‘Gunsmoke’ to come back on. So they took our show off,” she added. “In syndication, it just went on and on and on … and on and on and on.
“When it did end I just got back to what I was doing. Which was more dramatic roles,” she said.
Leaving the glam Ginger on the island, Louise flipped the script playing a heroin addict on a 1974 episode of the hit cop TV series “Kojak” and starred in the sci-fi 1975 movie, “The Stepford Wives.” Later film roles included a co-starring appearance in the Robert Altman comedy “O.C. and Stiggs” (1987) as well as the independently made rockabilly satire “Johnny Suede” (1992) starring Brad Pitt and Catherine Keener. In recent years, Louise starred with Stephen Baldwin in the spiritual drama, “Tapestry.” She is jazzed about an upcoming audition for a role in a “fun piece, a comedy.”
Louise was married to the late radio announcer/TV talk show host Les Crane (“That’s a book and a half!”) for four years — they divorced in 1971 — and they share a daughter, Caprice Crane, a novelist, screenwriter and television writer/producer, who lives in Los Angeles. Louise gushes over her two grandchildren (“My two beautiful babies!”).
In 1996, Louise — who attended PS 6 on East 81st Street as a girl — began reading to New York City public school kids, a passion project she kept up for the next two decades. “Nobody ever read to me,” she said. “It’s really important to empower a child [to learn].” The former starlet performed her labor of love without fanfare. The kids had no clue she was famous. Louise recalled the time a teacher asked the students, “Do you know who this is?” One boy raised his hand and noted she was a “helper.”
“That really touched my heart,” Louise said. “That’s who I wanted to be. The person who helped.”
She authored her first children’s book, “When I Grow Up,” which encourages kids to reach for the stars, in 2007. The actress is now looking for a publisher to record her 1997 memoir “Sunday” as an audio book.
Reading and walking — “to the market, the shoemaker, the hardware store. I go to the gym. I walk everywhere” — are what’s kept her going during the pandemic.
“I started going to Katharine Hepburn Park, and then gradually I would get up to 51st and then go back and then further up and then one day I got very very brave and went all the way up to Central Park. I just wanted to see what was going on,” she explained. “Some people really just stayed home and wouldn’t leave the house. I don’t live in fear. I’ve done everything that you are supposed to do, I’ve taken three [vaccinations].”
Louise said she got “a tremendous amount of fan mail when everybody was really shut in. Really great letters. Just people appreciating the work. I started working when I was 18 years old. My first job was on Broadway. Some people are really aware [of her body of work]. A lot of people just love the series, but my favorite film I did was ‘God’s Little Acre.’ When somebody recognizes you it’s nice.”
In December, she paid tribute to fellow “Gilligan” castmate Dawn Wells, who played fresh-faced, wholesome castaway Mary Ann, following her death. “I’m very sad,” said Louise, who infamously declined to appear in revivals and reboots or discuss the show over the decades since it ended in 1967.
“Dawn was a very wonderful person. I want people to remember her as someone who always had a smile on her face,” said Louise, adding “Nothing is more important than family and she was family. She will always be remembered.”
As for that burning age-old question of Ginger or Mary Ann?
“It’s a game people like to play,” she said. “Half of the country doesn’t agree. What do you want from me?”