Before launching into 2015, we at Murray’s Review are reviewing our 2014 notebooks for stories we didn’t have time to cover this year.
We all (or those of us of a certain age) know the story of “Gilligan’s Island,” which ran on U.S. TV from 1964 to 1967.
A chartered boat tour in the Hawaiian islands, given by a blustery captain and his hapless first mate on the S. S. Minnow, ran into a typhoon and was shipwrecked on an uncharted island. The tour group consisted of a millionaire couple, a sexy female movie star, a farm girl and a science professor. The show followed their efforts to live on the island while trying to be rescued from it. Hilarity ensues.
But there was more to it than that, according to a new book on sitcoms. In Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community, Saul Austerlitz writes that Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, wanted to find a scenario that would force disparate characters together and unable to leave. “All my shows, actually, are how do people learn to get along with each other?” he quotes Schwartz as saying.
Schwartz, born in 1916 in Passaic, N.J., wanted to become a doctor, but he was barred from entering by the quota system applied to Jews at the time, according to an excerpt from the book, published earlier this year in Tablet magazine.
Perhaps Schwartz’s professional experience, losing out on a medical career because of blind prejudice, helped to inspire his interest in impromptu societies that must embrace tolerance and cooperation in order to flourish. -Saul Austerlitz
A graduate in premed from NYU, Schwartz figured that getting another degree might improve his chances of medical school admission, so he went to Los Angeles, where his brother was a Hollywood writer, to attend USC. According to his 2011 obituary in the New York Times, he earned a master’s degree in biological sciences but never used it. He joined his brother in writing jokes for Bob Hope’s radio show and then moved on to writing for other radio programmes and later, TV series including “I Married Joan,” “The Red Skelton Show” and “My Favorite Martian.”
“Perhaps Schwartz’s professional experience, losing out on a medical career because of blind prejudice, helped to inspire his interest in impromptu societies that must embrace tolerance and cooperation in order to flourish,” Austerlitz suggests in the book.
That was true of his second major series – “The Brady Bunch” (1969 to 1974) in which a widower with three sons marries a widow with three daughters. The idea came from a Los Angeles Times article Schwartz read that said 30% of marriages at that time included children from previous relationships.
Despite the scope for discord, “The Brady Bunch” was a “fantasy offering an effortless ideal of social harmony between strangers,” Austerlitz wrote. It “gestures at the post–’Leave It to Beaver’ complexities of American domestic life, but its plot hook notwithstanding, the series prefers to recreate the cozy, unthreatening atmosphere of the 1950s sitcom, newly outfitted in shag carpeting and sideburns.”
“Gilligan’s Island” did well in syndication and spin-off movies, causing one critic to note, “Everyone hated it except the audience.”
In a 1996 interview cited in the New York Times, Schwartz said that he had always planned the series as a social statement, the message being, “It’s one world, and we all have to learn to live with each other.”
“Whatever their reputation among the boob-tube-hating elite, Schwartz saw his series as societies in miniature, parables about tolerance and compromise,” Austerlitz said.
Medicine’s loss may have been Hollywood’s gain and ours, but who knows what Sherwood Schwartz might have achieved in medicine.~TM