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Sherwood Schwartz dies at 94; 'Gilligan's Island' and 'Brady Bunch' creator

Comedy writer and producer Sherwood Schwartz also wrote the memorable theme song lyrics for the wacky tale of a shipwrecked 'three-hour tour' and the story of the marriage between a 'lovely lady' with three daughters and 'a man named Brady' with three sons.

July 13, 2011|By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
  • "Gilligan's Island" creator Sherwood Schwartz, center wearing a tie, with director Jack Arnold and the cast of the television show.
"Gilligan's Island" creator Sherwood Schwartz, center… (Ken Howard )

Sherwood Schwartz, the comedy writer and producer who created "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch," which have remained two of the most enduringly popular TV series in worldwide syndication, died Tuesday morning. He was 94.

Schwartz, who began his more than six-decade career by writing gags for Bob Hope's radio show in 1939, died of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his son Lloyd.

Schwartz once said he created "Gilligan's Island," which aired on CBS from 1964 to 1967, as an escape from his seven years on "The Red Skelton Show," for which he served as head writer and won an Emmy in 1961.

There was nothing quite as escapist as the wacky tale of seven people on a small charter boat, the SS Minnow, who set out on a "three-hour tour" and wound up shipwrecked on an uncharted South Pacific Island.

Starring Bob Denver in the title role of the boat's bumbling crew member, "Gilligan's Island" famously featured the exasperated skipper (Alan Hale Jr.), the millionaire and his wife (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer), the professor (Russell Johnson), the naïve country girl (Dawn Wells) and the sexy movie star (Tina Louise).

Schwartz also wrote the lyrics for the show's memorable theme song:

"Sit right back and you'll hear a tale,

A tale of a fateful trip.

It started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailing man,

The skipper brave and sure,

Five passengers set sail that day

For a three-hour tour."

Critics had a field day lambasting Schwartz's shipwreck saga when it debuted.

"It is impossible that a more inept, moronic or humorless show has ever appeared on the home tube," wrote UPI's Rick DuBrow.

"It is difficult for me to believe that 'Gilligan's Island' was written, directed and filmed by adults," wrote Terrence O'Flaherty of the San Francisco Chronicle.

It is "quite possibly the most preposterous situation comedy of the season," wrote Jack Gould of the New York Times.

But the show's very preposterousness struck a chord with millions of viewers.

For all its crude sight gags, low-brow humor and pratfalls, Schwartz viewed "Gilligan's Island" as something more: It is, he proclaimed, "my version of a social microcosm, where seven people from various backgrounds had to learn to live together."

In a 1965 TV Guide interview, Schwartz said he was not disheartened by the negative reviews — "only a bit angry with the lack of understanding of what was being attempted. Here are the same men who are forever saying: 'For heaven's sake, won't somebody give us something other than the wife and the husband and the two children?' "

Four years later, Schwartz served up his own version of that television staple: the family sitcom.

The story of the marriage between a "lovely lady" with three daughters and "a man named Brady" with three sons, "The Brady Bunch" became TV's first sitcom to feature a blended family. And its theme song featured lyrics again written by Schwartz.

The series, starring Robert Reed and Florence Henderson as Mike and Carol Brady, aired on ABC from 1969 to 1974. The Brady kids were played by Maureen McCormick, Barry Williams, Eve Plumb, Susan Olsen, Christopher Knight and Mike Lookinland. Ann B. Davis played Alice, the housekeeper.

Like "Gilligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch" was dismissed by the critics, and it never did as well as Schwartz's gang of castaways in the ratings. But the idyllic suburban tale of Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Mike, Carol and Alice took on a life of its own in endless syndicated reruns around the world, watched by succeeding generations.

"The Brady Bunch" also begat a 1972-74 Saturday morning animated series ("The Brady Kids"), a 1977 comedy-variety series ("The Brady Bunch Hour"), a 1981 TV movie ("The Brady Girls Get Married"), a 1981 sitcom ("The Brady Brides"), a 1988 TV movie ("A Very Brady Christmas") and a 1990 hourlong dramatic series ("The Bradys.")

There was even a stage production in the early 1990s, "The Real Live Brady Bunch," which re-created episodes word-for-word, as well as "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995), a hit spoof starring Shelley Long and Gary Cole that was followed by "A Very Brady Sequel" with Long and Cole (1996); and "The Brady Bunch in the White House," a 2002 TV movie.

"Gilligan's Island" likewise continued to air in reruns around the world and spawned two animated series, three TV movies and a 1992 stage musical, "Gilligan: The Musical," for which Schwartz and his collaborator son, Lloyd, wrote the book.

Schwartz, who practically made a career out of the two shows, put little stock in what the critics had to say about his creations.

"I honestly think I could sit down and write a show tonight that the critics would love, and I know it would be canceled within four weeks," Schwartz said in a 1990 interview with The Times. "I know what the critics love. We write and produce for people, not for critics."

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