Thursday, November 13, 2003

Heavens to Gimbels!

Okay, this item has a very tenuous connection to OTR, so indulge me.

Warner Home Entertainment has just announced that they'll be releasing Gilligan's Island: The Complete First Season to DVD on February 10, 2004 (great, the same day the Abbott & Costello DVD will be out, too). Yes, I can hear your contemptuous hoots and laughter all the way from here, but I ignore your derisive jeers because--in the words of author Andrew J. Edelstein, author of The Pop Sixties, "Gilligan's Island was an LSD trip without LSD." So that makes it A-OK in my book. Besides, TV snob Bart Andrews (who has penned a number of TV-related books, most dealing with his obsession with I Love Lucy) has repeatedly dissed Gilligan's Island in the past and that kind of ticks me off. (He also disses Hogan's Heroes, too. Bart—they're sitcoms...not documentaries.)

Anyway, to tie to this old-time radio, I will point out that the character of Thurston Howell III was played by Jim Backus, who played a similar snooty playboy with the monniker of Hubert Updyke III on radio's The Alan Young Show. Comedy writer (and Gilligan creator) Sherwood Schwartz relates in a wonderful book called The Laugh Crafters: Comedy Writing in Radio and TV's Golden Age written by Jordan R. Young that the Howell character was "Hubert Updike's father, really."

As soon as I thought of Thurston Howell, I could not get Jim Backus out of my mind. I had also worked with him on I Married Joan. He had a great voice--I knew he could be that character. I called Jim and said, "How would you like to be in this show?" He said, "Great. Send over the script." I said, "No. If I send the script over, you won't want to do it." His availability had happened so suddenly, I didn't have time to flesh out his part as well as I wanted to. Finally when he got the [pilot] script, he said, "My part is shorter than the wine list on an airplane."

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