If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
What's It Gonna Be, Boy? Mary Ann...or Ginger?
For those who grew up watching Gilligan's Island on prime time TV, the names and faces of the seven castaways stuck on that mango-ridden, plastic-leafed island somewhere in the Pacific were as familiar as those of our own friends and family members. I have no qualms about admitting that, at its peak in the mid-60s, I was absolutely ga-ga over Gilligan's Island and, more specifically, "The Professor" played by Russell Johnson, who was not only brainy, but handsome. Of course, considering that the rest of the male population on the island was comprised of characters played by the very talented, but not so handsome Alan Hale, Jim Backus, and Bob Denver, it's not like we're looking at a lot of options here. However, when it came to women, well, that was another ball of wax completely. You had Natalie Schafer (Oh, Lovey....), of course, who was no doubt quite fetching in her day...wait a minute...let's take a look just to be sure...
Okay, yup, I guess she was, although, even young, she definitely had that "Mrs. Howell" thing going on. But that brings us to the other two women with whom she was stuck on that island. You know who I'm talking about. Mary Ann and Ginger. If "Are you a rocker or a mod?" was the number one question for Brit teen-agers in the mid-60s, "Who do you like better? Mary Ann or Ginger?" had to be the question of equal standing for American adolescent boys. That was the G-rated version of it, of course. It got a lot cruder at times, but we don't need to go there at the moment. Suffice it to say that both characters (and the actresses who played them) had their fans, and the choice a boy made as to which one he would rather...uh...date said a lot about what kind of woman he liked.
This is hardly the first time that someone has plunged into the not exactly life-and-death issue of Ginger versus Mary Ann. And not being a psychologist (or even smart enough to be one), I'm not going to wade in too deep. This is a blog devoted to shallowness, after all. But I think the question bears some examination nonetheless, especially with trailers for Tim Burton's film adaptation of Dark Shadows all over the place. What the hell do I mean, you ask. Well, think about it. In the last few decades there have been film adaptations of some pretty iconic 1960s sitcoms, such as Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies, and that old warhorse, The Brady Bunch. But no one's touched Gilligan's Island. Why? Because of Ginger and Mary Ann, of course.
As played by Dawn Wells, Mary Ann was a sweet country gal who preferred gingham over sequins and was never happier than when she was whipping up one of her coconut pies for her fellow castaways. (How she managed to do that without an oven we'll never know.) Sherwood Shwartz, creator of Gilligan's Island, has said that he was thinking of Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz) when he conceived the character of Mary Ann, which is why he made her a native of Winfield, Kansas and had her parade around the set in gingham halter tops and pigtails when she was wearing those pre-Daisy Duke cut-offs. Innocent and unaffected, supportive and (mostly) selfless, Mary Ann was, without question, the resident "girl next door" of the island, and despite her obvious but never mentioned crush on Gilligan (Bob Denver), the absolute antithesis of her hut-mate, Ginger Grant, not to mention the only castaway who didn't really seem to have any reason to be on a passenger aboard the S.S. Minnow on that doomed three-hour cruise. I mean, where'd she come up with the money, for God's sake? She was barely even twenty (watch "The Postman Cometh" episode), and as far as I can tell, she didn't even have a job before ending up stranded on the island. But her innocence made her sexy, if unconsciously so, and it's a given that more than one adolescent boy utilized the image of Mary Ann in her gingham halter top and cut-offs for extra-curricular purposes.
And then there's Ginger Grant, "the movie star", played by Tina Louise, the statuesque red-haired siren who went on the same ill-fated three-hour cruise schlepping enough clothes to last three years. (Which they kind of did, given that the show was canceled after its third season.) As originally conceived by Shwartz, the character of Ginger was supposed to be a secretary, which she was as played by actress Kim Reid in the series pilot. But by the time the first episode of the show aired on September 26, 1964, Reid had been replaced by the voluptuous and infinitely more seductive Tina Louise, and the idea of a secretarial pool had morphed into memories of the private pools in the backyards of the Hollywood mansions where a movie star like Ginger Grant no doubt spent much of her free time. Despite her glittery persona (and gowns), Ginger's movie star status always came off as somewhat overblown. A chronic name-dropper (she listed Carey Grant, Gregory Peck, and Walter Pigeon among her many acquaintances back in Hollywood), she was equally prone to referencing the movies in which she had appeared, but with titles like Dracula's Women, The Hula Girl and the Fullback, Sing A Song Of Sing Sing, and The Bird People Meet The Chicken Pluckers, she could hardly have been an A-list actress. But she was glamorous nonetheless, a fact which did not go unnoticed by The Skipper (Alan Hale), who always seemed to have a little thing for her, just as Mary Ann had one for Gilligan. From what I can tell, Ginger didn't reciprocate his feelings, saving her unspoken passion for The Professor (Russell Johnson) and, more subtly, for Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) with whom she invariably sided during island conflicts, presumably because he had more money than any of the other castaways.
All this brings us to the relationship between the two women. Apparently strangers prior to the cruise, once on the island, they ended up sharing a hut and becoming friends. Granted (pun intended), Ginger could be a bit self-absorbed at times, but the easy-going Mary Ann never seem to mind as she went about the business of making pies and other mango and coconut-based desserts. But herein lies the problem which I am convinced has kept anyone from trying to make the TV series into a feature film. Never mind that the advance of technology had made the idea of seven people remaining marooned on an island indefinitely highly unlikely (hell, it was pretty damn unlikely back in 1964). Yes, I know Tom Hank made it work in The Castaway, but no one knew that he was even alive. All kinds of people knew that the crew and passengers of the S.S. Minnow were alive. That island was a tropical Grand Central Station with everyone and his brother showing up to partake of the castaways' hospitality and then, for whatever reason, leaving them there and not telling anyone. Remember the Mosquitoes? And then there was the Hollywood producer and Ginger's homely cousin, Eva Grubb, as well as the Russian cosmonauts and the pretty boy method actor practicing for an upcoming role as a jungle man. The list goes on. Need I say more?
When it comes to making a good movie, the chemistry between characters is everything, and there's just no way that that the relationship between Mary Ann and Ginger would work in a full-length film, even as a parody. For one thing, it would be next to impossible these days to make a movie in which there were no love scenes. One of the two women, and probably both, would have to become involved with one of the three available men, which means that Ginger would probably end up with the Professor, while Mary Ann made her feelings known to Gilligan. The glitch is, the whole M.O. between Mary Ann and Ginger is that they're "the girls" on the island who are always trying to hold their own against "the boys." If you have them running in and out of the men's huts on bootie calls all the time, their solidarity goes out the window. The island dynamic goes from girls against boys to couples enforced retreat. And what about the poor Skipper? He would very likely end up the odd man out, turning him from the affable guy that we all know and love into a disgruntled, resentful loner who would probably start hitting Gilligan with something harder than his captain's cap. Besides that, Gilligan and the Professor both seemed almost pathologically asexual, and although I can imagine the Professor eventually falling sway to Ginger's advances, the thought of dopey Gilligan in the arms of a lustful Mary Ann is just...well...icky. Some characters should never be depicted having sex. Gilligan and Mary Ann are two of them.
This brings us back to the question with which we began this post: "Which one do guys prefer? Mary Ann or Ginger?" According to Wikipedia, in a variety of polls taken over the years (including one carried out by the producers of the show), Mary Ann has consistently beat out Ginger as the island girl that male viewers would most like to take home. Maybe it's simply because homespun Mary Ann seems more accessible than Ginger, who looks like the embodiment of the term "high maintenance." It bears noting that, in real life, Dawn Wells remained close to Bob Denver even after the show ended, so close, in fact, that when Denver was arrested after a box containing marijuana was mailed to his house in 1998, he at first told police that his friend, Dawn Wells had sent it, although he later recanted the statement and told the court that it must have come from "a crazy fan."
In 2007, Wells had another marijuana-based run-in with the law, when she was stopped by the cops after she swerved her car across the road and was found to be in possession of marijuana. She was sentenced to seven months unsupervised probation. As for her post-Gilligan's Island career, the former gingham-clad country girl has made a name for herself as the author of several cookbooks and as the owner of Wishing Wells, an Idaho-based company that manufactures "clothing for people with limited mobility." Very Mary Ann-ish, wouldn't you say? Except for the marijuana part. But, at 74, Wells is hardly in the same league as...say...Lindsay Lohan. And if we can forgive Lohan, we sure as hell can do the same for the woman who gave us Mary Ann.
And what about Tina Louise, the actress who gave us Ginger Grant, and according to some fellow cast members as well as the show producers, gave headaches to a lot of people around her as well? Following the cancellation of Gilligan's Island, Louise did a number of films (Stepford Wives, Johnny Suede) before marrying TV announcer Les Crane with whom she has a daughter. Now based in New York, the former "movie star" has been involved with children's literacy work and, in 2006, published her first novel, Stupid and Contagious (did she get the title from the Nirvana song, I wonder?).
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At 71, (yes, Mary Ann was actually older than Ginger!), Louise doesn't talk much about her role as Ginger Grant anymore, but in more than one interview following Gilligan's Island's demise, the hot-headed redhead made a point of saying that she regretted having been on the show because it stereotyped her as an actress and ruined her career. And where Wells remained friends with Denver until his death in 2005, Louise went in the other direction, feuding with him after he gave an interview in which he portrayed Louise as a sex-hungry, self-promoting bitch who could be heard having uncensored physical contact with her boyfriend in her dressing room during lunch. Louise dismissed the comment, saying "I need more than half an hour, honey."
So, there you have it, my take on one of the great, ongoing pop culture questions. Interesting, though, that only three of the show's cast members are still alive. Russell Johnson, and, as fate would have it, Dawn Wells and Tina Louise. Let's just hope they don't all end up taking the same "Golden Years" cruise any time soon.