Friday, 15 July 2011


My obituary of Sherwood Schwartz, who created both Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch, is in today's Guardian, and you can link to it here. I have to admit I was something of a Gilligan fan, though I had and still have, no time for the Bradys, and when I sat down to think about the reasons it led to my over-writing the piece somewhat. What was cut to shorten it were my reflections on Bob Denver--who also starred in Schwartz's neo-Gilligan Dusty's Trail, and in two other pilots that never got bought as series, though the pilot episode of Scamps is available on DVD and The Invisible Woman appeared as a one-off TV movie.

Some of the obits quoted media studies professors on the significance of Gilligan, and Schwartz himself in later years would attribute simple but universal themes to it. But the key, in my mind is Denver. First off, he offered Schwartz the abilities to do much of the goofy slapstick and idicoy that were the attributes of Red Skelton's comedy, but with none of the star's ego, so in that sense he made the perfect focus for the series, which in that sense can often be seen as an extended series of sketches for Denver.

But when I suggest Gilligan as a proto-hippie, I also mentioned his previous TV incarnation as the work-shy beatnik Maynard G Krebs, on The Adventures of Dobie Gillis. And when you consider that Backus brought persona of the hapless father from Rebel Without A Cause (as well as the voice of the nearsighted eccetric millionaire Mr Magoo) to the role of Thurston Howell, you can an intersection of characters that might have appealled to the emerging 'rebellious' generation.

Or it may just have been because there was Tina Louise to gawk at in every episode.

It's also important to remember that the perception of the Sixties as a decade of turmoil is true, it is even truer that the vast 'silent majority' did exist, and the real cultural change wasn't marked until the Seventies, when the Sixties counter-culture became the accepted over-the-counter culture --at which point The Brady Bunch was definitely being presented as an antidote.

It's also informative to look at what other shows were popular during the era, to realise Schwartz's comedies were not all that different from, say, The Beverly Hillbillies or even Hogan's Heroes, and one might look at Norman Lear's redoing of Til Death Do Us Part as All In The Family as the sort of anti-Brady.

The one antidote I left out, sadly, was the constant friction between Robert Reed and Schwartz. Reed's previous best role had been as EG Marshall's younger partner in the issue-oriented drama The Defenders, and Schwartz had apparently promised him the Bradys would address the cutting edge issues of the time, and for some reason Reed had chosen to believe him.

Schwartz frequently worked with his children, and in many shows there are credits for an Elroy Schwartz--in fact it is Elroy who co-wrote the original, long-lost pilot show for Gilligan--and he is described in some references as Sherwood's son. Yet his none of his three sons were named Elroy, and two are credited under their own names, so either this was the third son, Donald, using a pseudonym, or Schwartz (or someone else) using one for their own reasons. A curious little mystery.


Anonymous said...

Elroy is Sherwood's brother.

Michael Carlson said...

A second brother, besides Al, or a pen-name for Al, which seems more likely to me?

Tokin Woman said...

Interesting article, I made similar conclusions at

Hadn't caught the interesting casting of Backus in Gilligan but it bolsters my theory!

Anita O'Day is another who found Skelton unlikable, she preferred Lord Buckley. See

DPSF said...

I know the family. Elroy was the youngest of the 3 brothers.