Wednesday, July 27, 2011


The recent death of Sherwood Schwartz, creator of Gilligan’s Island, reminded me of one of the more peculiar books I’ve read in the last decade: Tom Carson’s 2003 Gilligan’s Wake (Picador) a crazy-quilt send-up of Joyce, Kerouac & Salinger which views the 20th Century, with various levels of jaundice, through the eyes of Schwartz’s Seven Stranded Castaways.

Each of the novel’s seven chapters is a monologue by one of the characters: The Skipper recounts his experiences in command of a PT Boat in WWII South Pacific, where he hangs out with McHale, Jack Kennedy & Richard Nixon. Millionaire Thurston Howell gets Alger Hiss his job with the Department of Agriculture. Howell’s wife “Lovey” recalls her decadent early days, sharing morphine addiction with a post-Gatsby Daisy Buchanan. Ginger leaves Alabama to make it big in Hollywood, falls in with the Rat Pack, &, after meeting Sammy Davis, Jr., reneges on her promise to her mother never to have an interracial romance.

The Professor, a veteran of Los Alamos, goes on to be a crony of Roy Cohn & to play a part in just about every piece of covert American nastiness of the postwar period. Meanwhile, wholesome Kansan Mary Anne lands in Paris & winds up in an affair with Jean-Luc Godard, yet somehow finds herself, despite repeated attempts to the contrary, mysteriously & miraculously a perpetual virgin.

As for Gilligan himself, his opening monologue places him first in the identity of Bob Denver’s earlier iconic TV character, Maynard G. Krebs of Dobie Gillis, here a San Francisco Beat-scene poet, protesting the Bay of Pigs with Ferlinghetti, before waking up to find himself sharing a mental ward with Holden Caulfield, Ira Hayes & Edsel Ford. He’s electroshocked into Gilligan-esque infantilism, & there are passages in the subsequent chapters indicating that the exploits of the other castaways are the products of this hapless 20th-Century Everyman’s fried brain.

The book—available on Kindle, by the way—is a stunt, of course, & too clever by half. But there are long stretches of remarkable, even powerful writing in every chapter, each of which has its own idiomatic style. & Mason, in common with millions of Boomer-era kids, understands something that TV snobs could never quite grasp: that for all the undisputed broadness of the acting & plain imbecility of the writing, there’s still something mythic & archetypical about Gilligan’s Island that can’t be dismissed from the imagination.


  1. Gilligan's Island is one of they top 5 (if not higher) most iconic icons (sorry) of the 20th century!

    When assigned a theme paper in 4th grade with the subject what I want to be when I grow up, I penned and illustrated a four page opus on how my greatest ambition was to be a cast away. jw

  2. I didn't know that "castaway" was a viable career goal, or I'd've been right there with you...