CHRISTMAS ON "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND"
- Classic TV Holiday Memories -
By George A. Haloulakos
This month's GNN Blog pays tribute to perhaps the most unique episode from the classic TV series "Gilligan's Island" (1964-1967). Believe it or not, there really was a Christmas show for the famous situation comedy program, but you would never know it by casually browsing the titles in the episode log. It was the twelfth episode in the first season and was aired December 19, 1964. The name of the Christmas episode --"Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk" -- refers to incidents that occurred in the series pilot, and this is one of the major characteristics that makes this such a special holiday themed program.
With "Jingle Bells" playing as the episode opens, the castaways are shown celebrating Christmas by decorating a palm tree! Gilligan wishes they could be rescued, and it seems this holiday wish will come true when a radio report indicates that a US Navy destroyer has spotted castaways that it believes may be the castaways from the SS Minnow! In their joy of anticipated rescue, our favorite castaways reminisce about the troubles they encountered during their first few days on the island. It is here that the audience is treated to a re-cut program that combines footage from the official pilot "Two on a Raft" and nearly every single Gilligan-and-Skipper (Bob Denver and Alan Hale) scene from the unaired pilot "Marooned." The significance of this fusion of the two pilot episodes is that it features several panoramic, long range shots of the beach that shows full length views of the SS Minnow and the castaways sitting on the sand as well as on the boat itself! A portion of this scene was shown up close in the closing credits for the first season, with the Minnow partially visible in the background and the castaways sitting together nearby. But this Christmas episode provides deeper context with this extensive footage that provides full length shots of the boat as well as Gilligan casting his fishing line along the beach in front of the crashing surf, all of which was not shown in either the second or third season.
Another fun bit of trivia is that in the opening scenes when Gilligan and Skipper wake up after the Minnow was beached, original cast members from "Marooned" can be seen in the background. But these cast members (playing the roles of the Professor, Bunny and the original Ginger), while shown briefly in this sequence, were not seen afterward because they were replaced by Russell Johnson, Dawn Wells (playing the Mary Ann character instead of Bunny) and Tina Louise! As the castaways think about those first few days following their shipwreck, we are treated to watching Gilligan cast the radio and transmitter out to sea and learning how the radio was later recovered, but the transmitter ultimately destroyed. This sequence of events (which involve birds and fish) is the basis for the name of this episode, which gives no hint of a Christmas theme!
After waiting a while, the crew and passengers of the SS Minnow learn from a news update that the US Navy had rescued other castaways that had been stranded for eleven years on a different island! On Christmas Eve, the disappointed and tired castaways are shown gathered around a campfire as they realize they will not be home for Christmas. All of the group is present except the Skipper, who is out gathering more wood for the fire. In these final moments of the episode the castaways are visited by the REAL Santa Claus (who looks like the Skipper and appropriately is played by Alan Hale). Santa Claus reminds the group to be grateful for what they have: they are not lost at sea, but on an island with food and water, plus he reminds them about the deep friendships they have formed since being marooned. As the castaways' spirits are visibly lifted, Santa disappears and the real Skipper returns from gathering firewood in the opposite direction. There is only a brief moment to ponder the true identity of their midnight visitor as everyone is filled with good cheer and heartily wishing each other Merry Christmas as the sound of Santa's sleigh bells along with a repeated chorus of "Merry Christmas" (ostensibly Santa and his elves) is heard flying over the island! This is truly a magical ending for it evokes feelings of mercy, grace, renewal and gratitude.
With that in mind, we wish everyone in our wonderful GNN audience a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! If you have any special memories of holiday themed episodes from your favorite TV shows, please post them on the GNN FACEBOOK page (and please "like" us when doing so) or send them to us via the GNN g-mail address.