Monday, December 05, 2016

The Two Faces of Gilligan

"Members of the jury, friends and relatives: The case before us is one of crime and murder. Therefore, I caution you to withhold judgment until all the facts are in. Therefore, we must assume Dr. Gilligan is innocent until proven guilty. Now, where is the filthy killer?"

Judge/Mr. Howell (Jim Backus)

I have mentioned here before that my favorite Gilligan's Island episodes were the ones in which the castaways got to play characters in spoofs of familiar fairy tales and movies.

I have heard that the episode that first aired on this night in 1966, "And Then There Were None," is Dawn Wells' favorite from the series. Wells, of course, played Mary Ann in the series, but the spoofs gave her the opportunity to get some variety.

It was as Mary Ann, though, that Wells got the episode off and running.

See, in this episode, the castaways started disappearing, one by one. Mary Ann disappeared while she and Gilligan (Bob Denver) were doing the laundry. That led to speculation that she had been taken by islanders looking for wives. Then Ginger (Tina Louise) vanished during a search of the island for Mary Ann.

The Professor (Russell Johnson) hit on the idea of dressing up Gilligan in women's clothes as bait while the Professor and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) were close by to catch the natives before they could do anything. Nothing happened — except that Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer) also went missing.

The men went running to the lagoon, hoping to save the women, but they found nothing when they got there, and some assumed the islanders had already gone.

But then the Professor concluded he had been wrong. There were no signs of invaders anywhere in the lagoon — no footprints in the sand, no tracks left by the islanders' canoes. The Professor deduced there never had been any invaders on the island.

And that left the unpleasant option that one of the men had succumbed to island madness, snapping under the stress and becoming a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde who abducted and then killed the women.

Gilligan, of course, was very susceptible to all kinds of things, and he began worrying that he was the Jekyll/Hyde the Professor had warned them about because he had been alone with each of the women shortly before they disappeared.

But the Skipper pointed out that he had been with Gilligan and Ginger before she disappeared, and Gilligan relaxed enough to fall asleep. But each of the men disappeared, too, leaving only Gilligan. He went looking for them and stumbled near the fallen clothesline, struck his head and was knocked out. His dreams picked up where his conscious mind left off, and he dreamed about being a Jekyll/Hyde on trial in Victorian England.

And thus a spoof on that story — but it was really a spoof of all sorts of characters, both real and fictional. There were more literary/historical references in that episode than in any other single episode in the series — and possibly any such spoof episode in any other series in TV history.

Mr. Howell (Jim Backus) played the presiding judge, a character based on the famous "hanging judge" of the 19th century. Mrs. Howell's character was clearly Mary Poppins — and she was Dr. Gilligan's defense attorney. Mary Ann was a Cockney flower girl straight out of "My Fair Lady."

Ginger's character, the Lady in Red, was based on John Dillinger's — how shall I put this? — companion.

Dr. Gilligan himself indulged in a bit of literary referencing, you might say. At one point he held a lily, sniffed it and recited poetry, which was a reference to 19th–century author Oscar Wilde. (That reference may have been a bit obscure for anyone who didn't study literature in college — neither did I, for that matter, but I have done quite a bit of reading in my life.)

The title of the episode was taken directly from one of my favorite Agatha Christie books, "And Then There Were None."

The Skipper played a court bailiff, and the Professor played the prosecuting attorney. Apparently there was a bit of nepotism involved in the Professor's character's job. He called the judge Uncle Tony. He also said Dr. Gilligan was "Frankenstein, Bluebeard and Jack the Ripper, all rolled into one."

On the witness stand the Lady in Red proved that the mere mention of food turned Dr. Gilligan into a werewolf–like Mr. Hyde.

Gilligan regained consciousness. Tangled in the clothesline, he stumbled on and fell through a trap door, the very one that each of his fellow castaways had fallen through. Dangling from the clothesline, Gilligan had, without knowing it, provided his friends with a means to escape the pit.

I have heard it said that the moral of the story is, "When your imagination runs wild, don't go along for the ride." I don't know if that was the message of the episode, but it's still good advice.

On the other hand, perhaps the episode was a cautionary tale, warning against being obsessive about food.