Tina Louise: So Much More than Ginger

By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell

Tina Louise, the sultry “Movie Star” from the 60s TV hit Gilligan’s Island, is a multi-faceted actress and woman. Among her many passions: wellness and books.

One look around her sleek, New York City sky-high apartment and you’ll see books on the coffee tables and on shelves lining the walls. A large bust of Buddha bathes in the sunlight that streams through her windows.

“Before my daughter Caprice was born, someone came into my house and stole my Tang Dynasty Buddha. Caprice replaced it for me one year for Christmas.”

A poster hangs in a very prominent place in her apartment, ensuring she’ll see it often. She lives her life by its quote, and recites it to me by heart: “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future and not to anticipate trouble, but to live in the present moment, wisely and earnestly. Buddha 568 BC.”

Tina is an ardent supporter of childhood literacy. Her official title is Academic Advocate, and she volunteers at a local school for Learning Leaders, a non-profit that provides tutors to New York City school children. “In 1995, when Giuliani was mayor, the front page news was about how low the reading levels were among children. I had to help. I took a course in 1996 and they assigned a school—a public school not far from where I lived. It was just before Christmas when I walked in and there was an amazing lady, Mary Noonan, another volunteer who’d been a teacher. We had our own little classroom. We were five ladies and we’d each take two children twice a week. I don’t talk much about it. I want it to be my private thing.”

Private because she does it for very personal reasons. “Nobody ever read to me as a child. And I loved reading to my own daughter so much. And when she left for college, she took so many books with her. I was so touched.”

Her daughter, bestselling author Caprice Crane, has written four highly acclaimed novels and is working on her fifth—a young adult novel coming out next year. Her first was Stupid and Contagious; her current, With a Little Luck. Caprice has written for the updated versions of TV’s 90210 and Melrose Place. “She went to NYU and lives in the building across the street from me,” notes Tina. “She is very bright, very funny and has a very big heart!”

Caprice isn’t the only published author in the family. Tina has written three books, “Sunday was my first. It’s about my first eight years. It’s a memoir. Writing it was a very powerful, very moving experience. I needed to express all that. And it was very empowering. I felt a lot stronger after I wrote it because it was about things I never talked about. Things I covered up.

“My second is a children’s book, When I Grow Up. I got that idea from the children I worked with. I worked with a lot of little boys and I saw how they loved animals. I asked permission of the teacher to ask the children what they wanted to be when they grow up. When I asked my reading partner, young Jeremy, he seemed overwhelmed. So I asked him and the other children to write down three things they’d want to be when they grow up. I took their answers and went to the children’s library to do research and found out what the animals could do. Then I put it all together—their answers and what animals can do. So for instance, ‘if a spider can make a web, when I grow up, I can be an architect!’

“My third book came out in 2008—What Does a Bee Do? I was watching 60 Minutes and saw a farmer talking about Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. He talked about how the honey bees were dying. That’s when I became enlightened to the fact that bees are responsible for growing all of our fruits, vegetables and nuts. So I said to the group of children I was working with, ‘What do bees do?’ and they all said, ‘They sting!’ And I said, ‘Oh no!’ and told them how we depend on the honey bees.

“I’m working on my next book with a wonderful agent named Loretta Barrett. It will include a little bit of everything I believe would be helpful to other people because I’m a health nut and I work out. I’ll probably call it Tina’s State of Mind.” (She laughs.)

Tina, who requests “no numbers please” before age is even brought into the conversation, maintains her trim figure by working out every day. The gym, like the elementary school at which she volunteers, is her sanctuary. They are also among the places she comes across the people she chooses to guide. “I mentor people if they cross my path and would like my help. A young girl crossed my path recently while I was having lunch at the gym. We went to the health food store together and exercised together, but  she was unhappy because she hadn’t found a job. I told her, ‘You can’t cry about this. There comes a time for all things. You have to get ready for your time. Don’t cry or eat the wrong things because you didn’t get what you wanted at the moment. You have to be ready for it when it comes.”

An admirer of Joel Osteen, Tina has every one of his books. “We all have to feed our spirit in the morning one way or another, with some kind of reading material. Joel Osteen is such a positive person.  In one of his books, he quotes Abraham Lincoln who said, ‘Most people are as happy as they decide to be.’ So happiness is a decision you make—a choice. And I choose to read Joel every day.”

She met Osteen at a dinner given in his honor at the National Arts Club. “There is no movie star I’d be more excited to meet than him. I’ve gotten so much from him, from his books. Reading and re-reading his books have been such a blessing to me right from the start.”

Tina started college, but chose not to finish. “The boys were too fast and I didn’t like the typing classes. So I asked my mom if I could leave and I told her I wanted to study acting.” Her mother had a summer home in Connecticut, and enrolled her in an apprentice program at the famed White Barn Theater.  From there, she was cast in the chorus of a Broadway musical revue. “Then I got a job at Macy’s selling stretch socks.”

Her big break came when she was cast in Broadway’s Li’l Abner. Her performance landed her the role of Griselda Walden in God’s Little Acre, to this day her favorite movie.

She lived and worked in Rome for a time, and her glamorous image was reinforced by pictorials that appeared in Playboy Magazine in the late 50s. “They said they’d do a 15-page story on me. They followed me all over—to Cannes and to the Appia Antica. They took sexy pictures, but they never did the story. I was not happy about that.”

She came back to the states and began studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York. After several more films, Tina returned to Broadway to star with Carol Burnett in Fade in, Fade Out. About a year into the role, “I got a call from Ethel Weiner, the casting director at CBS. She said, ‘Tina, do you think you could play a Marilyn Monroe-Lucille Ball type of character? Because there’s a show that’s going on on Saturday nights to replace The Defenders, and you’re going to have a very prominent part. You’re going to play the movie star.’ I said, ‘Yes, I can do that.’ They were replacing the girl in the pilot. So I left the Broadway show to do Gilligan’s Island.”

Any regrets about leaving Broadway for Ginger Grant? “No regrets. But after a month of playing the part, I realized that instead of the character Ethel Weiner had described, they wanted me to play an Eve Arden type, but very bitchy and tongue-in-cheek. I knew I could do it, but I didn’t think people would welcome someone like that into their living rooms. I went to Jim Aubrey, who was the president of CBS at the time, and I told him I wanted to quit. He put his feet up on the desk and said, ‘Tell me why.’ I said, ‘The viewers are not going to respond to this bitchy person!’ I had just read about Lucille Ball and why everybody loved Lucy. Lucy wasn’t nasty, and that’s not what I signed on for with Ginger. I had a different vision of how I wanted to portray her. So Aubrey released the director and hired Dick Donner, who had a fabulous sense of humor. He just turned it around. The writers started writing for my character. And it was fun to do! And more importantly, it turned into a big hit!”

FROM THE PHILIP MONAGHAN COLLECTION ENTITLED "AT MOMENTS LIKE THESE HE FEELS FARTHEST AWAY.” THIS ONE IS TINA’S FAVORITE—GINGER BARES HER TEETH (#22). SEE THE ENTIRE COLLECTION AT WWW.PHILIPMONAGHANSTUDIO.COM.

Through the years, people have told Tina why they embraced the show in general and her character in particular. “A very talented painter named Philip Monaghan did a whole series of oils that merged Gilligan’s Island with the events of the day. He painted scenes from the show and superimposed the Kennedys, for instance, and scenes from Hitchcock’s The Birds.”  Monaghan’s series of paintings incorporated the poem Gilligan’s Island by the late Tim Dlugos. At turns it is humorous and disconcerting. “I read about him in the New York Times, and Caprice and I went to see his exhibition at NYU. He told me he was very moved by the show. He explained that during that time, the Vietnam War was being fought, and this was an escape from a lot of the social matters. World War II was a respected war, but for the Vietnam veterans—there was no parade for those guys. So our show was a real escape hatch. I’d hear from doctors and nurses who, after seeing patient after patient, would come home and it was so pleasant for them. One woman told me that her husband was dying of cancer, and he’d watch me and he’d get such solace. And I’d get the sense of what we were doing. And I enjoyed it! There’s word out there that I didn’t, but I did!”

What she and her co-stars did not enjoy was the inadequate policy on residuals. They received payment for just the first five runs of each episode. “But it was fun to do, and I had two TV Guide covers from it. Everybody wanted to be Ginger and they still do.”

On being recognized, she recounts one of her favorite moments that happened at the school at which she volunteers. “One day I walked into the science teacher’s room to ask her a question. I was working on my book When I Grow Up. The children started talking to each other and the teacher said, “Quiet! Do you know who this is?” And one little girl said, “Miss Rock, that’s Jeremy’s reading partner.”

Above all else, says Jeremy’s reading partner, “I just care about children and I want them to have what they should have. And certainly they should have good teachers and they should have the books they need.”

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Tina Louise…on the Media

On Books: “My favorites are: Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Ali Wentworth’s Ali in Wonderland, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln, Darrell Hammond’s God, If You’re Not Up there, I’m F*cked, and of course, all of Caprice’s books. I just can’t put them down!”

On Film: “I see lots of movies. I’m a member of the Academy, and I vote. I was disappointed about this year’s (Best Actor) winner. I wanted one of our American actors to win.”

On TV: “The Good Wife and Mad Men. I enjoy CNN, MSNBC (I love Chris Matthews), and I love Bill Maher. I’m also a big fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They are intelligent politically and make such great statements. The two of them make me laugh.

“The thing that fascinates me most is learning. I looked at every one of the Republican debates. It was the best reality show on television. To be able to learn what’s happening all over our world is so exciting to me. I’m really grateful for that. I like to know what’s going on.”

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Gilligan Trivia: The Name Game

Did you know that…
1. …The S.S. Minnow was not named after the fish? Series creator Sherwood Schwartz named it after former FCC Chairman Newton Minow, who in 1961 condemned American TV by calling it a “vast wasteland.”
2. …Ginger Grant’s name is believed to have been derived from the names of two movie stars? They are Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant.
3. …Gilligan’s first name was Willie? Though it was never mentioned on the show, Sherwood Schwartz has stated this fact in interviews.
4. …The Professor’s name was Roy Hinkley and the Skipper’s name was Jonas Grumby? Their names were rarely mentioned.
5. …Mrs. Howell’s first name was not Lovey? It was Eunice (mentioned only once during the series).

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Tina’s Top Two

Tina Louise’s favorite episodes of Gilligan’s Island and why she likes them:

  1. “All About Eva”—“Because I played two roles—Ginger and Eva Grubb. I wore a brown wig as Eva. It worked well because I photograph differently on each side of my face.”
  2. “The Second Ginger”—“Because I sang ‘I Want to Be Loved by You.’”
2 Responses to Tina Louise: So Much More than Ginger
  1. Edward Lozzi
    May 19, 2012 | 2:11 am

    Anyone who has had the personal and fortunate experience of knowing Ms. Louise, is a far better person. Her sense of priorities cuts through all the bullshit in life. She is a nurturer to those who need it and a cheerleader to the unmotivated. She is an intellectual trapped in a movie star’s beauty. Those of us who remain in Los Angeles miss her very much.

  2. Ron
    May 21, 2012 | 6:15 pm

    I Love the episode 22″Forward March”because you sing “It had to be you”.So Good!!

Nov/Dec 2013
Volume 6, Issue 6