Gilligan (Gilligan's Island)

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Willy Gilligan
Gilligan's Island character
Bob Denver as Gilligan.jpg
First appearance"Marooned"
Gilligan's Island (pilot, 1963)
Last appearance"Gilligan's Army"
Gilligan's Planet (1982)
Created bySherwood Schwartz
Portrayed byBob Denver
Nickname(s)Little buddy
OccupationFirst mate

Gilligan is a fictional character played by Bob Denver on the 1960s TV show Gilligan's Island and its many sequels. Gilligan, affectionately called "Little Buddy" by the Skipper, is the bumbling, dimwitted, accident-prone first mate of the SS Minnow. None of the show's episodes ever specified Gilligan's full name or clearly indicated whether Gilligan is the character's first name or his last. Sherwood Schwartz revealed on The Fox Late Show in 1988 during a cast reunion that Gilligan's name was Willy Gilligan ( Gilligan wears a trademark red shirt, pale trousers, white sneakers, and white navy cap.

During a storm, he throws an anchor overboard without a rope attached, which leaves the Minnow shipwrecked on an "uncharted desert isle" with its seven passengers and crew, establishing the underlying premise of the franchise. The enduring popularity of the series has made him a cultural icon.


Gilligan served in the United States Navy with Jonas Grumby (the Skipper) during an unspecified war and saved him from being struck and killed by a runaway depth charge. Upon retirement, Grumby, described as "an old salt in these waters", used his savings to buy the Minnow, and as the Minnow's captain (or "Skipper" as he was nearly invariably addressed), Grumby hired his "little buddy", Gilligan, as first mate.

Gilligan's past and family are fleetingly mentioned during the series. Such characters include: an older brother from whom he swiped his ever-present red shirt, his Uncle Ramsey (who was the guide for "The Lost Battalion" in World War One), a sister whose best friend was broken up by her boyfriend,[1] his cousin Rudolph, his father (who wore glasses and a mustache and was short), his grandmother, whose advice he imparts to Ginger during the episode "Don't Bug The Mosquitoes", Aunt Sarah, who had a "sneaky disease", and an Uncle John who was apparently illiterate. He once mentioned he was born in Pennsylvania, but no city was specified.[2] He sometimes mentioned his childhood friends Skinny Mulligan, Fatso Flanagan, and Billy Maguire, possibly implying that he came from a predominantly Irish-American neighborhood. Among his possessions are comic books, a boy scout book, a diary, a "Manny Moose" watch, and his high school ring.


The character of Gilligan is noted for physical comedy, often with his friend the Skipper in the role of a straight man. Continuing gags of the show include Gilligan's seduction by Ginger, eating Mary Ann's coconut cream pies, joking about the Skipper's weight, and inadvertently undermining any attempts and efforts of the castaways to get off the island. He often interjected discussions with pointless anecdotes about his childhood or with seemingly useless advice. Though he was often chided by the Skipper for interrupting, on more than one occasion, Gilligan's seemingly random nonsense actually triggered the Professor to remember a useful fact or suggest a course of action. In some episodes, he attempts to make an important suggestion, but is interrupted by the Skipper or another castaway, who tells him to be quiet until the discussion is practically over, when he is able to tell them. Examples of this include the episode where he discovered waterproof glue that turned out to be temporary and that the ship will sink. His warning was ignored until the point when the boat's boards came undone. Another time when a butterfly collector came to the island and refused to signal until he got what he came for, the castaways are arguing amongst themselves about the collector's recalcitrance and ignoring Gilligan, until he gets in the last word by saying he stole the man's flare gun.

Despite his bumbling nature, Gilligan has an innate innocence of character that causes the others to forgive his mistakes. He occasionally saves the others when an escape plan goes awry. He performs virtually all manual labor on the island, mostly without complaint; the Skipper notes that Gilligan can "run as fast as a rabbit [and] climb a tree like a monkey". Gilligan often acts as the Howells' servant; duties include golf caddy, chauffeur for the castaways' pedal-powered car, and waiter at the "Howell Private Country Club".

Gilligan also makes several discoveries, but they often have disastrous results, and he is usually faced with big decisions. Often, Thurston Howell III attempts to bribe him with money, or Ginger with seduction or fake crying. Examples include whom to give the last orange on the island, or whom to give hot water from a hole in the ground (which the Professor later discovered to be an active volcano). On one occasion, Gilligan found seeds which gave people the psychic|ability to read minds, but when the seeds proved to have disastrous results, he gathered up the bush and all the seeds on the island and burned them.

Despite frequently ruining plans to get off the island, his fellow castaways (the Skipper included) ultimately harbor affection for him. When Gilligan was bitten by a potentially fatal insect and showed all the symptoms following the bite, everyone tried to find a cure, only to get bitten themselves (although the insect was later found to be harmless). Upon hearing this, Ginger and Mary Ann burst into tears, and the Skipper attempts to cheer them up by having them envision everyone getting off the island. This temporarily works, until Mary Ann says, "Except for Gilligan", before Ginger and she start crying again.

Gilligan is occasionally the exception to the rescue ruination, though. In the episode involving both the finding of the S.S. Minnow's life raft and repairing of it, along with the discovery of gold on the island, the Professor warned the castaways to not bring gold on the raft due to weight concerns, but every castaway brought a personal item on with them to smuggle gold, with an alternate excuse as to why (including the Professor and the Skipper), causing the raft to sink in the lagoon and for them to lose both the raft and gold. However, after they all confess to bringing a bag of gold on the raft, they all turn and look at Gilligan, who realizes he was the only one who actually obeyed the Professor's warning, causing him to laugh and say, "That's a switch. Usually I'm the one left holding the bag."

Ultimately, Gilligan's ineptitude ended up rescuing the castaways. In the 1978 film Rescue from Gilligan's Island the group flees certain death when a tsunami hits the island by merging their huts into a makeshift boat. They are now off the island, but still adrift on the high seas. Gilligan lights a fire, which is immediately extinguished and he is scolded by the other castaways for such a harebrained activity. A US Coast Guard helicopter notices the smoke plume and investigates, positively identifying the lost castaways from the SS Minnow and remarks that the using a fire to signal was smart thinking, else they would have remained lost at sea and unnoticed.


Despite an awkward exterior, Gilligan has shown some intelligence. He tenaciously guards his position, particularly when someone tries to use him. Gilligan has also proven his willingness to "step up to the plate" should leadership call – although, if Gilligan does not break the plate, it usually fractures. In the end, a double measure of fortune corrects his missteps. Gilligan, like Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle, and other comic figures of the era, is considered an unlikely or "backdoor" hero, whose good intentions always win out over sheer stupidity.

Cultural impact[edit]

Today, Gilligan is widely recognized as an American popular culture icon; he ranked at 122nd place in the July 2003 list of 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons compiled by VH-1 and People.[3]


Gilligan's full name has been a subject of debate among fans of the series for decades. On the 2004 DVD release of season one, Gilligan's Island — The Complete First Season, a documentary called Before the Three Hour Tour shows that Sherwood Schwartz's original treatment for the series indicated that Gilligan's full name in the failed pilot was to be "Willy Gilligan", but that rendition, with other unfamiliar castaways, was canned and did not air. The documentary also reveals that Schwartz found the name "Gilligan" by flipping through a Los Angeles telephone directory.[4]

Bob Denver, on various television/radio interviews (The Pat Sajak Show, KDKA radio), said that "Gil Egan" was his choice. The actor reasoned that because everyone yelled at the first mate, it ran together as "Gilligan". On the May 18, 1988, episode of the Late Show on Fox, Denver said that Sherwood Schwartz told him Gilligan's first name was Willy.[5]

Despite the creator's choice of first name, no name but "Gilligan" is used in any of the three seasons, animated series, TV movies, or even the aired first episode, which includes the names of the Professor and the Skipper. (In the unaired pilot, Lovey Howell addresses Gilligan as "steward", as in a ship's steward, not "Stewart" as some devotees allege.) In Rescue from Gilligan's Island, the returning castaways' full names are announced, but the writers, heightening the folklore surrounding Gilligan, artfully dodged giving his first name by having a ship's horn blast, then conclude as "Gilligan" was announced. So, just as neither Lt. Columbo nor Dr. R. Quincy is ever officially given a first name on air, neither is Gilligan.

At the end of A Very Brady Sequel, a movie based on The Brady Bunch characters also created by Sherwood Schwartz, Carol Brady reveals that her first husband was a professor lost on a boat. Dr. Whitehead, played by John Hillerman, says, "and my son Gilligan was first mate on that boat."


Gilligan's Animal Friends

Had a Bad Day


The character appeared in three TV movie sequels to Gilligan's Island. In addition, the character (played or voiced by Denver) appeared in the following TV series:


  1. This is a reference to lines from the season two episode "The Postman Cometh". It is unclear there that Gilligan has a sister. In one version of the scene, he refers to "a friend of my sister's" being heartbroken, but in another version of the same scene, he says "a friend of mine's sister".
  2. This happened in the season three episode, "And Then There Were None".
  3. "The 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons Complete Ranked List - re> NEW YORK, July 21 /PRNewswire/". 2003-07-20. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  4. See also Robert M. Jarvis, "Legal Tales from Gilligan's Island", Santa Clara Law Review 39(1): 185–205 (1998), especially footnote 7 (the name "was amusing enough to indicate a comedy series and acceptable enough to avoid burlesque").
  5. "The Late Show". YouTube. Retrieved 17 July 2015.

External links[edit]