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Alan Hale Jr., 68; Skipper on TV's 'Gilligan's Island'

January 04, 1990|JOHN H. LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alan Hale Jr., a veteran character actor best remembered as the blundering but likable skipper of a charter boat that for three television seasons during the 1960s was shipwrecked on "Gilligan's Island," has died of cancer.

Hale, who was 68, had been undergoing treatment for cancer of the thymus for about a year before he died Tuesday evening at St. Vincent Medical Center, his wife, Naomi, said.

The actor had been admitted to the medical center about four weeks ago and was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a hospital spokeswoman said. The thymus is a gland-like structure that helps in the body's immune function, she said.

"During the last two weeks, it became quite painful for him," Mrs. Hale said. "He fought very hard until he died. His mind was very clear, it was just that his body couldn't fight back any more."

The son of silent screen stars Gretchen Hartman and Alan Hale Sr., Hale Jr. was born in Los Angeles.

Portly and gregarious, the 6-foot, 2-inch Hale was often mistaken for his father, a successful character actor who had roles in more than 100 feature films. The father's career included appearances as Little John both in the 1922 silent screen version of "Robin Hood" with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as Robin and the same role opposite Errol Flynn in a 1938 sound remake of that epic adventure.

Hale Jr. played supporting roles in more than 70 films, beginning as a youth in 1933 with "Wild Boys of the Road." Before "Gilligan's Island," which ran from 1964 to 1967, he appeared in two other television series--"Casey Jones" and "Biff Baker, U.S.A."

But it was the ill-fated "three-hour tour" on the SS Minnow that launched Hale's most notable character. In the plot, the tour was waylaid by a storm and the Minnow swept away to an uncharted South Pacific Island.

For three full seasons of television production and now nearly three decades of syndicated reruns, Hale's bellowing belly laughs created a lasting impression on two generations of TV viewers.

Since the original series ended, the cast has been reunited for three TV movie reunions in 1978, '79 and '81.

Bob Denver, who played the title role on "Gilligan's Island," said he and Hale performed together four times last year at promotional appearances.

Denver remembered Hale as the lovable, strong man who served as a safety net for the cast's pratfalls.

"He broke his wrist once and didn't tell anyone on the set until a year later because he didn't want to shut down production," Denver said. "Doing physical comedy with some one that secure was great."

After the series, Hale continued to act in movies and on television. His most recent appearances include cameos on "Alf," "Growing Pains," "Murder She Wrote" and "The New Gidget," said his agent, Steve Stevens.

"We were going along like he was going to beat this," Stevens said of his friend's death. "Then, about five weeks ago, he called and told me he was a very sick man. That was the first time he ever made any kind of statement like that."

In the mid-'70s, Hale became co-owner of Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel on La Cienega Boulevard on Los Angeles' Restaurant Row. Hale helped run the business until 1982, when he was "phased out" of the operation, Stevens said. The actor then opened Alan Hale's Quality and Leisure Travel office, where, among other things, he arranged for travelers to take boat cruises.

"Nobody ever saw any change in Alan," Stevens said. "He was such a big man and his energy was always up. Many who were very close to him didn't know he was sick until the end. He was not the kind of man who wanted anyone to make a fuss over him."

Hale's body will be cremated and the ashes scattered at sea. In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be made to the Oncological Society at St. Vincent Medical Center.

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