There have been only a few TV shows with more of an impact on me than Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Both of these programs were available in mass reruns during my family’s humble days before cable (B.C.). They, along with MASH, The Odd Couple, and Star Trek, helped shape my view of the world as a boy. I’ve seen every episode countless times. Even today, I derive a similar pleasure watching them as I do looking at old family pictures.
Last month, we mourned the passing of Sherwood Schwartz, the man who created Gilligan and the Bradys. He was a great uncle of ours—he gave birth to two families we knew intimately and loved despite their faults.
Gilligan’s Island was home to three alpha males: a naval commander, a brilliant intellectual (redundant?), and a millionaire who ran his own destiny; three archetypal women: a refined matron, a stunning movie star, and a kind, resourceful girl-next-door. And then there was Gilligan himself. He was Everyman. Who among us would know how to behave and survive on a tropical island with no phone, no light, and no motorcar? Who among us wouldn’t want to help his friends leave the island and return home but find ourselves lacking in the ability? Do any of us actually identify with the determined and focused Jack Shephard or John Locke from Lost? Well, I didn’t.
I identified with Gilligan. I was the youngest in a family of six, and I felt like everyone else brought something to the table except me. Oh, I don’t want your pity; I just want you to understand what life was like for me. I was the bumbling idiot in our house. My parents always knew what was best. My oldest brother was brilliant, my sister was smart, creative, and funny, and my middle brother was quick-witted and athletic. I didn’t see a place for me. I felt that everyone put up with me because they had no choice.
Let me stop here to say that my family did not see me this way (except maybe my middle brother), and today as adults, this is certainly not true. But 35 years ago that was my reality, and I was Gilligan.
The parallels of my family to the Bradys was unmistakable. There were three Brady boys, and there were likewise three boys in my family. Okay, that’s where the similarities end, but it was a no-brainer for me to identify with Bobby Brady—the youngest of the three. I had dreams as a child that my middle brother would turn into Peter Brady. In fact, I had one just a few weeks ago.
Remember the episode when Peter and Bobby split their bedroom in half (I guess Greg had moved to the attic at that point)? I remember seriously considering that in the room I shared with my brother. The only problem was that his bed was in the half with the door, so there would have been no way for me to get to my bed without going through his territory. Bobby also briefly played the drums, while I managed to stick with it for 30 years.
Did you ever contemplate saving someone’s life and then have them be your slave as repayment? Have you every mindlessly watched television while someone was talking to you, and all you could respond to them was, “Sounds great, Greg”? Did you think that coconut cream pies naturally huge lumps in them to account for the coconut shell? Have you ever, in a time of need, relied on the phrase, “Pulu si Bagumba”? If so, you may have been heavily affected by these shows as well.
Which brings us back to Mr. Schwartz. His idea for Gilligan’s Islandwas to show seven vastly different
people getting along and conducting themselves humanely as a community without the need for any single person to take charge. This was his model for world peace. He really did see the seven castaways as metaphors for the nations of the world getting along.
Did you ever get that from the show?
I’ve seen these episodes over and over, and most of what I got was a lot of reheated Laurel and Hardy gags that I should have been too young to know about. World peace? Really?
Likewise, his selling point for The Brady Bunch was to show the struggles of two separate families coming together as a new family unit. A wonderfully progressive concept for the time, but other than the pilot and the first few episodes, I don’t ever remember any mention of the Brady’s previous lives before Mike and Carol’s wedding. The girls take on the Brady name, and each child calls their parent’s spouse “Mom” or “Dad” from the beginning as if they were family all along. The show just became another family sitcom with many of the same plot devices as any other comedy of the time. No more ground was broken. No insight into the predicament of these two groups somehow forming a family.
Where did these lofty ideals go? Did Mr. Schwartz lose interest in them? Did he lose control of his shows to the networks, which were more concerned with ratings? Did he feel he made his point early on and didn’t know what to do next? Or were his aspirations ultimately beyond the reach of primetime television?
At a time when Americans were consumed with the assassination of national leaders, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War, did they really want to be challenged by a couple of sitcoms? Is it asking too much for just a few simple laughs?
I’m not sure what Sherwood Schwartz was thinking or if he was at all disappointed in the outcome of his shows compared with initial plans, and now we’ll never know. All I know is that he gave me hours of enjoyment as well as the belief that any mechanical device can be run by a makeshift stationary bike. Thanks, Sherwood! Rest in peace.