Sunday, February 9, 2014

I Still Pick Ginger

I've been on the losing side of a popular culture question for the last 20 or so years (and I don't care).  Whenever people ask "Ginger or Mary Ann," in terms of who they prefer from the 1960s sitcom "Gilligan's Island," the answer has usually been Mary Ann.  The reasons given is that these people consider her more natural, more down-to-earth, more pleasant, less self-centered, and more accessible.  It helps that Dawn Wells, the actress who plays Mary Ann, continually fuels the debate by discussing the series at more length than does the actress who played Ginger on the series, Tina Louise.  Louise, as I've written about before, has sometimes been her worst enemy by her efforts to distance herself from the show, such as turning down the reunion TV movies that were made in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and by giving pat answers whenever she is asked about the show in interviews.  Louise often says, in response to questions asking her what it was like working on the series, "Oh, it was fun.  I had a lot of fun."  Louise's inability to be more detailed and articulate about her memories of working on the show helps fuel the resentment people feel towards her because it comes across as condescending and elitist that she can't be more embracing and appreciative of the series she is still best known for.  That being said, however, I still pick Ginger over Mary Ann.

I've admitted in the past on this blog that Tina Louise is my favorite actress, that I appreciate her overall career and range as an actress, and that she has done enough interesting work in films and television (and has worked with directors as diverse as Anthony Mann, Michael Curtiz, Andre de Toth, Roberto Rossellini, Richard Brooks, and Robert Altman) that "Gilligan's Island" should be considered the most high-profile credit out of a long and eclectic career, but it's not the only thing she has appeared in.  That being said, I also recognize her shortcomings as an individual, especially having dealt with her several times back in the 1990s in the course of interviewing her about her career for a book project about 1960s-era actresses.  Even though, overall, I liked her, Louise was a bit defensive at times, could objectively be described as "high maintenance," and didn't hesitate to let her perspectives and opinions be known.  That being said, she was also exceedingly bright and witty and insightful about her career, her colleagues, and about issues and current events that interested and concerned her.  (I recall how she spoke highly about Jim Backus, Alan Hale and Natalie Schafer, how she liked Dawn Wells and wouldn't allow any criticism to be made about her, how she wished Bob Denver would stop criticizing her but that she held no personal animosity towards him because she respected his talents, and how Russell Johnson was a loving and devoted parent and how devastated he was when his son died from AIDS.)  She didn't make things easy, but she was ultimately cooperative in the end and she never intentionally messed with me or played games with me.  She simply wants to be an active participant in the creative process of anything she's involved in.

The other thing I realized about Tina Louise is that it isn't that she necessarily dislikes talking about "Gilligan's Island," because I found that she wasn't exactly dying to talk about her other film and TV roles.  I presumed incorrectly that she would brighten up at being asked about "God's Little Acre" or "The Stepford Wives" or "Dallas" and I found that she wasn't any more enthusiastic talking about those projects than she was talking about "Gilligan's Island."  I ultimately concluded that she doesn't want to spend her entire life talking only about the past, because she prefers to focus on the present.  I recall how she said that she believes that the best time of your life is right now, and not the past.  As such, she doesn't want to spend her life dwelling on events from decades ago, which is one reason why, she admitted to me, she rarely grants interviews.  I can see why this would turn people off to her, because there were times she frustrated me, but at the end of the day I do feel she's an intelligent and good person.  I acknowledge that there are those whose experiences with Louise may have been different than mine, and who would beg to differ with my opinion, and I grant them that perspective.  However, what makes me respect her in the end was that I found that she was a woman of her word.  In my opinion, if she agrees to help you, she helps you all the way, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

Having dealt with her made me realize the extent to which her iconic performance as movie star Ginger Grant was miles away from who Tina Louise actually is as an individual.  There's an understandable assumption that Louise was simply "playing herself" when she played Ginger on the series.  But I've found that anyone who has actually dealt with, or worked with, Tina Louise recognizes that that was a genuine acting performance and not just an instance of an actor phoning it in.  Growing up as a kid, I always enjoyed Louise as Ginger.  Ginger wasn't deep, was consumed with herself and her career, spent far too much time gazing in the mirror concerned about her appearance, and rarely expressed interest in anything besides show business.  At the same time, she also turned out to be friendly and loyal to the other castaways, participated in the domestic chores around the island as much as Mary Ann did, and was willing to do whatever needed to be done to help get the castaways rescued, or to help save them from unfriendly visitors who were threatening her safety and the safety of her friends.  The character of Ginger Grant had good and bad qualities of superficiality and self-absorption mixed with moments of kindness and sincerity.  Despite the cartoonish framework of the series, Ginger Grant still comes across as a human being because the good and the bad, as I just mentioned, are all there, are all on display, and maybe it's because she isn't all good or all bad that the character evokes such a divisive reaction from people.

While I was growing up, even though I definitely preferred Ginger over Mary Ann because she was more colorful and vibrant, I never had anything against Dawn Wells or Mary Ann.  In fact, upon viewing episodes of "Gilligan's Island" again in order to write this article, I was reminded of how appealing and radiant Wells was as Mary Ann.  I really haven't watched the show much in the last 20 years--I had reached a saturation point where I was so familiar with it that I started feeling contemptuous towards it--but watching the series with fresh eyes allows me to appreciate how skillfully made the show was, and how good all the actors were on it.  It's really too bad that there has to be a "Ginger vs. Mary Ann" debate because, on-screen, the whole cast worked well together as a cohesive whole.  I think "Gilligan's Island" wouldn't have worked if only Tina Louise as Ginger, or only Dawn Wells as Mary Ann, were on it to the exclusion of the other individual because their combined presence complemented one another beautifully.  In fact, I never really liked the whole "Ginger vs. Mary Ann" debate because I thought it was dumb and divisive.  Even though I preferred Ginger, having such a debate inherently suggests that you can't like both and that you have to pick one at the expense of the other.  Just to be clear, if I say I pick Ginger, it doesn't mean to suggest that I don't like Mary Ann or Dawn Wells' effective performance as the character.  I just find Ginger a more interesting personality.

When I read articles written by men expressing why they prefer Mary Ann over Ginger, it's usually because they cite her domestic qualities, and her generally compliant and submissive nature.  In fact, one recent article that compares Ginger vs. Mary Ann, written in the wake of Russell Johnson's death, really incensed me because of the underlying sexism and condescension of the writer, who can't distinguish between Tina Louise and the character of Ginger, and often writes dismissively of the two of them as if they were one and the same.  (I'm not hyperlinking to that piece, as I normally would, because I don't want to direct more traffic to that guy's article.)  In the provincial mentality of such passive and wimpy misogynists, Mary Ann doesn't threaten or challenge their sensibilities, whereas the character of Ginger does.  I remember the first article I ever read written by a guy who preferred Mary Ann generally cited the notion that he felt Ginger was too self-absorbed to ever be concerned about his needs and wants.  I got the distinct impression that he preferred Mary Ann because he felt she would be someone who would generally be at his beck and call.  If anything, I would wager that the purportedly earthy Mary Ann is even more of an unrealistic fantasy figure than the glamorous, mercurial Ginger.  Even if they tried, it's not likely that any man would be able to find an individual who is as compliant, complacent, submissive, and subservient as Mary Ann was.  As such, I'm not sure why some people have such an extreme perspective on Ginger.  I think her character is a kind of a Rorschach Test of people's perceptions and opinions about women.  People react differently to her based on their own experiences and sensibilities.  Even though she definitely is consumed with her career and physical appearance, as I mentioned before she participates equally in the domestic chores as Mary Ann does and, as I also highlighted, actively participates in any efforts to perpetuate a rescue, save her friends, or help maintain peace and status quo on the island.  I think the men who don't like Ginger simply don't have the self-confidence or maturity to deal with a woman with complexity. 

In the episode "Diamonds are an Ape's Best Friend," which aired February 27, 1965, after being persuaded by Mr. Howell with promises that he'll produce a movie with her as the star (and after Mary Ann flat out refused to help) Ginger tries to tempt a gorilla, who has been holding Mrs. Howell hostage, out of his cave so that the men can capture him.  In the episode "The Matchmaker," which aired March 20, 1965, Ginger helps Gilligan and the Skipper develop a plan to reunite the bickering Howells by recreating the circumstances of the night Mr. Howell proposed marriage to Mrs. Howell.  In "Quick Before it Sinks," which aired October 28, 1965, when the castaways are under the assumption that the island is sinking, Ginger suggests building an Ark like Noah did so that the castaways can survive.  In "Erika Tiffany Smith to the Rescue," which aired December 30, 1965, Ginger gives both the Skipper and the Professor advice on how to woo and romance a wealthy heiress (Zsa Zsa Gabor) who has landed on the island.  (In contrast, when the Professor expresses concern to Mary Ann, after Erika Tiffany Smith accepts his marriage proposal, as to whether they will end up living in his academic, or her high society, world all Mary Ann can do is patly remark, "Gee, it would be nice if you both would live in the same one!")  In "Ship Ahoax," which aired February 24, 1966, Ginger pretends to be a psychic predicting that a rescue is imminent in order to help prevent the castaways from going crazy and fighting with one another out of boredom and anxiety.  In "The Postman Cometh," which aired January 20, 1966, after the castaways get word that a man they believe Mary Ann is in love with has gotten married to another woman, Ginger suggests that Gilligan, the Skipper and the Professor romance Mary Ann to help her forget her sweetheart and, as such, personally gives the Professor tips on how to woo Mary Ann by acting like Cary Grant.  In "Love Me, Love My Skipper," which aired February 3, 1966, after the castaways inadvertently cause the Howells to bicker and break up by refusing invitations to attend their cotillion when they mistakenly believe the Howells refused to invite the Skipper, Ginger concocts a scheme using gentle manipulation and subterfuge to help reunite them.  In "Forward March," which aired February 17, 1966, when the castaways are attacked by unseen aggressors using explosive weaponry, Ginger immediately volunteers to act as a spy by approaching the men and announcing "Mata Hari reporting for duty."  When the Professor dismisses Ginger's offer of assistance by condescendingly informing her, "This is neither the time nor the place for a woman," Ginger retorts, "Forget that I'm a woman.  I'm a secret agent trying to capture the enemy." 

In "Mr. and Mrs. ???," which aired April 21, 1966, when the Howells learn that their marriage may not have been legal, Ginger suggests that the Skipper, being the de-facto legal authority on the island, should remarry them.  Later in the episode, when the Howells bicker and refuse to reconcile, Ginger convinces Mr. Howell that the way to win back Mrs. Howell's affections is to make her jealous.  In "Voodoo," which aired October 10, 1966, Ginger offers to perform a native dance in the hope that it will lift the curse that a witch doctor has placed on the Professor that has turned him into a zombie.  In "Court-Martial," which aired January 9, 1967, when the Skipper attempts to commit suicide after learning that the Maritime Board has ruled he is responsible for the shipwreck, both Ginger and, later, Mary Ann save the Skipper's life by preventing him from committing suicide by throwing himself off a cliff.  Later, Ginger suggests reenacting the shipwreck in an effort to gather evidence to exonerate him.  In "The Hunter," which aired January 16, 1967, Ginger attempts to seduce and drug big game hunter Jonathan Kincaid (Rory Calhoun) with a tranquilizer in order to try and steal his rifle so that he won't hunt Gilligan for sport.  In "The Second Ginger Grant," which aired March 6, 1967, after Mary Ann has hit her head and wakes up believing she's Ginger, the real Ginger pretends she is Mary Ann for awhile in order to allow the real Mary Ann time to snap out of her delusional fantasy.  In "Slave Girl," which aired March 20, 1967, Ginger performs an elaborate dance with veils in an attempt to buy Gilligan enough time to sleep off a drug which has left him in a death-like trance before natives can set fire to his body as part of their funeral rite.  In "Bang! Bang! Bang!," which aired April 10, 1967, Ginger stands in as a dental assistant while the Professor fills Gilligan's teeth with a resin made of plastic explosives.  Later, upon realizing the explosive nature of the plastics that Gilligan has found, she continues assisting the Professor in trying to extract the deadly material out of Gilligan's teeth.

These are just a few examples, but I think they demonstrate how Ginger was indeed a "team player" on the island and how she doesn't deserve her reputation as someone self-centered and uncooperative.  She contributes to the well-being of herself and the other castaways on the island as much as Mary Ann does.  There's a perception that Mary Ann does the chores on the island without ever complaining, but in the episode "Not Guilty," which aired January 6, 1966, Mary Ann openly complains about having to clean the Howell's hut.  As she whines to Ginger, "Oh Ginger, I don't see why we have to make up the Howell's hut everyday," Ginger responds, "Oh, we don't have to, Mary Ann.  But I like be helpful and thoughtful and considerate.  I mean, after all when we get off the island, Mr. Howell owns a movie studio!"  Even though one might argue that Ginger is only selfishly doing chores because of what she might eventually get out of it, I prefer the fact that she isn't anyone's Trilby or slave and actually expects something in return for her efforts.  Mary Ann's complacency and complaining over cleaning the Howell's hut is less appealing to me because it demonstrates her submissiveness and how she doesn't take proactive measures on the island to protect herself and the others, or even protect her own self interests.  If she were more assertive, she'd complain to the Howells and refuse to clean their hut, instead of allowing herself to be a martyr.  As much as I like Mary Ann, and think that Dawn Wells makes her a sympathetic character, Mary Ann is a character who rarely has the imagination to think outside the box or does much outside her domestic duties and chores on the island.

In contrast, I always felt that Ginger was someone who was willing and able to do what was necessary for the good of the others.  The examples I just cited from various episodes help to affirm that.  I also like the way Ginger often makes suggestions to the castaways on how to resolve the immediate crisis based on plots of movies she has starred in.  It might seem a limited perspective for her to make suggestions based on her movies, but I think it demonstrates how Ginger is simply applying her own life experience and skills to help everyone surmount the challenges they are facing.  The fact that she might occasionally act in a selfish or self-centered manner does not undermine her positive traits.  Like the Howells, Ginger has her flaws, but her good qualities overshadow her shortcomings.  Nevertheless, I like the fact that, in a show set in the 1960s, when the Women's Movement hadn't yet taken shape, Ginger has a strong sense of her own needs and desires as a worldly career woman, but is also still capable of executing practical duties and chores when necessary for the good of the whole community.  Interestingly in Joey Green's excellent 1988 book "The Unofficial Gilligan's Island Handbook," co-star Jim Backus opines, in response to the question as to who was the leader on the island, that Ginger was the one who was really running the show.  Backus refers to how a person like Ginger, who came from Hollywood and Broadway, would naturally have to develop survival instincts and figure a way out of difficult situations.  Whether or not you agree with Backus, this demonstrates that at least one major participant in the series saw Ginger in a substantive light.

There are people who don't like Ginger and think of her as being promiscuous and a "bimbo," but I always disagreed with that because I don't think she gives herself away easily to just any man.  There's a certain misogyny that suggests that any woman who is sexually confident, or is clearly a sexual individual, is inherently shallow and superficial and I have never bought into that theory.  It's such a prudish and puritanical perspective.  If Ginger is seen trying to seduce someone on the show, as I mentioned before, it's usually to help herself or her fellow castaways achieve their goals.  Her sexual identity as a femme fatale affirms that she's not primarily concerned about sexually pleasing the men she seduces so much as pleasing herself, or gaining what she needs.  Yet, at the same time, I get the impression that Ginger has had enough experience with men that she knows how to handle herself so that she never gets victimized, nor do I ever get the impression that she ever unwittingly puts herself in a situation where she could be taken advantage of.  I always got the feeling that Ginger knew how to take care of herself.  Having a worldly, sexually confident and arguably assertive female character on television in the 1960s was kind of daring and impressive for that time.  I would make the argument that Ginger is the sort of glamorous and sexually confident woman that Camille Paglia would feel exemplifies her theory of "pro-sex feminism," a woman who doesn't feel she has to forgo her sex appeal in order to make an impact in the world.  It's one of the reasons why Ginger has always intrigued me more than the complacent and compliant Mary Ann.  I wish Mary Ann would have taken a more proactive role on the show and on the island.  A telling moment from Mary Ann takes place during "The Hunter" episode.  While Jonathan Kincaid is busy hunting Gilligan, the other castaways are held captive in a cave.  As the others try to think of ways to help Gilligan, and after Ginger tried to drug Kincaid the night before, Mary Ann tellingly says "Oh I can't just sit still!  I've never felt so useless in my entire life!"  Mary Ann wants to help, but her imagination is rarely broad enough to allow her to proactively develop a solution to the situation.

Another assumption that people have about Ginger is that they believe she isn't very bright and only has a limited knowledge of the world based on what she has experienced in show business.  This is partly due to the fact that Tina Louise herself has said that the original concept of Ginger was as a sardonic, Eve Arden-ish character and that she helped influence the character to be more Marilyn Monroe/Lucille Ball-like in the end.  As such, the perception is that Louise always played the role with a breathy, breathless diction and delivery, inspired by Marilyn Monroe, which demonstrated a lack of intelligence or substance on the part of the character.  Creator and Producer Sherwood Schwartz himself said that he felt that Tina Louise "couldn't" play the original concept of Ginger in a wise and sardonic manner and I disagree.  Watching the episodes again, it's only part of the time that Tina Louise truly resorts to playing Ginger in a breathy, Monroe-ish, sex-kittenish manner.  The moments when she resorts to playing her as such include episodes like "All About Eva," which aired December 12, 1966, where a mousy woman comes on the island in order to get away from all men.  The castaways perform a makeover on her and she turns out to be a Ginger look-alike.  In this episode, Louise affects the Monroe-ish breathy delivery with more emphasis than usual in order to strike more of a contrast with the bitter, hardened Eva Grubb lookalike character.  Otherwise, Louise, more often than I remembered, plays Ginger using a deeper than expected speaking voice that is closer to her regular speaking voice than people expect it to be, and proves how, at times, Ginger still had that Eve Arden-like wit and wisdom expressing a wry view of the circumstances surrounding her.

In "Castaway Pictures Presents," which aired November 6, 1965, while the castaways are trying to make a silent movie that they hope to send on a raft to the mainland in the hope someone will see it and rescue them, Mr. Howell directs the Professor and Ginger in a love scene.  When the Professor refuses to kiss Ginger because "Kissing on the mouth is far from sanitary, it can lead to all sorts of bacterial transfer," an annoyed Ginger retorts, "You certainly make a kiss sound romantic, like germ warfare!"  In "Don't Bug the Mosquitos," which aired December 9, 1965, when Gilligan asks Ginger how was the rock band he and the men put together, Ginger wryly remarks, "Gilligan, that act couldn't get booked on Devil's Island."  In the aforementioned "Erica Tiffany Smith to the Rescue," when the Skipper seeks romantic advice from Ginger and prefaces by stating, "Ginger, I've got a problem, I've got a real problem.  I mean, you're a girl, right?," a non-plussed Ginger responds with "Well, if you're not sure about that, you have got a problem."  When the Skipper tells Ginger that he's brought Erica a fan, some water, and a chair, as well as taken her for a walk, and asks Ginger, how he's doing so far to woo Mrs. Tiffany Smith, Ginger sagely comments, "Perfect, if you want a job as her butler."  Later, in the same episode, when Ginger is offering romantic lessons to the Professor, and he gives her a passionless kiss on the lips, a deflated Ginger opines, "That wouldn't have even satisfied your mother!"  In "The Postman Cometh," while Ginger gives the Professor tips on how to woo Mary Ann by pretending to be Cary Grant, after the Professor fails to muster up enough charm he self-deprecatingly remarks, "Oh, that wasn't much like Cary Grant, was it?" to which Ginger sardonically replies, "That wasn't even much like General Grant!"  In the aforementioned "The Hunter" episode, while the tense castaways express concern for Gilligan's safety, Mary Ann reminds the others not to give up hope and to believe that Gilligan's still alive and will stay that way, a sanguine Ginger opines, "You're not Mary Ann, you're Mary Poppins!"  In the aforementioned "Bang! Bang! Bang!," after the castaways learn that the plastic that the Professor used to fill Gilligan's teeth are explosive, Mary Ann tells Ginger that she's prepared a special meal for him to eat where he doesn't have to chew hard.  Ginger reminds Mary Ann that, "Yeah, but what you give him the simplest meal can mean a big blow-out!"

Despite suggestions to the contrary, I think Ginger does prove to be at times a sardonic, wry, and witty Eve Arden type of character and not just a vacuous Marilyn Monroe parody.  Louise delivers these lines with almost the same aplomb as Arden herself.  In the end, due to the contributions of both Tina Louise, as well as the writers, producers and directors of the show, Ginger Grant does indeed prove to be a combination of Eve Arden's wit, Marilyn Monroe's sex appeal, and Lucille Ball's comedic physical comedy and timing.  The reason why the actresses who replaced Tina Louise in the various reunion TV movies often came off as a pale imitation is that they generally only focused on the Marilyn Monroe aspect of the character and disregarded the Arden and Ball qualities that Louise invested in the role.  Because Ginger has more aspects to her personality than is often given credit, I think she is also more self-aware than people expect her to be.  In the first season episode "X Marks the Spot," which aired January 30, 1965, the castaways face imminent danger after learning that the United States Air Force has targeted their island to test a new missile.  As they await their presumed fate, the Professor stumbles across a self-reflective Ginger sitting by herself and contemplating the regrets she has about her life.  In probably her most serious scene on the series, Ginger tells the Professor, "I was just thinking what a waste my life's been.  I mean, so I was an actress?  So what?  I never really did anything for anyone."  The Professor attempts to reassure Ginger by reminding her that "you entertained people."  But Ginger dismisses that example by stating, "Oh, that was just for the moment.  I mean, really do something important.  Like being a nurse.  Although, I was a nurse.  For one day, I was Ben Casey's nurse.  And you know something, Professor?  In that one hour, we saved six people!  And if it hadn't been for the commercials, we would've saved eight!"  In this scene, Ginger acknowledges her short comings as an individual and recognizes places where she can improve.  Over the course of the series, however, she does redeem herself by rising to the occasion when needed and helping her fellow castaways.

In watching the show again, another misconception that people may have about the series is that the role of Ginger Grant rarely allowed Tina Louise an opportunity to challenge herself as an actress.  Louise herself has perpetuated that notion due to her comments through the years about how the show, and the character, proved to be limiting and one-dimensional.  In response, people who don't know about the diversity of Tina Louise's career, and who resent her complaining about the series, try to demean her by stating that the series was the sum and whole of her entire career.  Anyone who has glanced at her credits on IMDB or her Broadway roles in IBDB can clearly see that Tina Louise enjoyed a long and prolific career, with some bumps along the way, but that she nevertheless still had opportunities to play meaty and challenging roles.  In fact, one of the things Louise told me that she feels people have gotten wrong about her is that she feels resentful that she didn't get to have a diverse career.  When I spoke with her, she expressed the opinion that she did have a good career, one that she is proud of, and that as an actress she did indeed feel fulfilled even if she might have complained about the "Gilligan's Island" typecasting in interviews.  However, watching the show again after all these years, I think the truth about Tina Louise with regards to the series is somewhere in the middle and somewhat more complex.  It wasn't the only good part she ever got, despite what her detractors may claim, but it also wasn't the limiting role that Louise herself occasionally alleges.  One would never know from just her work on-screen that Louise was ever unhappy or dissatisfied with appearing on the series, because of the joy and happiness she brought to the role in every episode.  (As a point of contrast, check out Robert Foxworth's work on "Falcon Crest."  I know it's apples and oranges comparing the two performances on the two shows but, even though Foxworth's Chase Gioberti is supposed to be the "hero" of "Falcon Crest," the audience rarely feels sympathy for him because it becomes apparent after awhile that Foxworth is unable to hide his contempt for both the character and the show in his performance.  He always seems irritated on-screen, whereas Tina Louise's performance as Ginger on "Gilligan's Island" never betrays a hint of the mixed feelings she had for the show and the character.)

Actually, when viewing the 98 episodes of the series as a whole, the Ginger Grant role on "Gilligan's Island" allowed Tina Louise an opportunity to sing, dance and act in both comedic and occasionally dramatic vignettes.  She got to play mousey, bitter characters like Eva Grubb, or the shrill, nasty, evil stepsister in Mrs. Howell's Cinderella dream fantasy in the "Lovey's Secret Admirer" episode from January 23, 1967.  She got to play elderly, physically frail women in the dream sequences of both "V for Vitamins," which aired April 14, 1967, as well as "Meet the Meteor," which aired April 28, 1967.  In the classic "The Producer" episode from October 6, 1966, Tina Louise got to play an Italian peasant woman, Marilyn Monroe, and Ophelia during the episode's famous musical version of "Hamlet."  In "Up at Bat," which aired September 12, 1966, Louise got to play a sinister female vampire during Gilligan's dream sequence where he believes he has become a vampire.  Even playing just plain Ginger Grant herself, Louise had opportunities to shine.  She's particularly good in "Angel on the Island," which aired December 12, 1964, and the aforementioned "The Producer" episode, where she expresses Ginger's sadness and dismay at being marooned on the island while her life and career passes her by.  In the latter episode, Ginger explains to Gilligan and the Skipper that she won't return to the mainland because she was insulted by producer Harold Hecuba (Phil Silvers) when she tried to impress him with her acting, "I asked him for a part in his movie, and he laughed at me."  When the Skipper tries to persuade her that she doesn't need Hecuba and that she'll return to an adoring public who hasn't forgotten her, she responds, "No, I'll return to find that I'm an unknown!  A has-been!  I'm going to spend the rest of my life alone on this island!"  In so doing, Ginger proves to be the one character who acknowledges the emotional toll that being shipwrecked on the island has had upon her.  While it might not have been the type of role or project that Louise may have wanted at the time, in the end it actually allowed her to do more than people often realize or acknowledge. 

I think the reason why people seem to prefer Mary Ann over Ginger in recent years, and why there appears to be resentment towards Tina Louise, lies in large part with the TV movie "Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History" (2001), which Dawn Wells produced and appeared in along with Bob Denver and Russell Johnson.  An admittedly entertaining docu-drama that purports to tell the "behind the scenes" drama on the set of "Gilligan's Island," "Surviving Gilligan's Island" is partly remembered for its dramatization of Tina Louise as a high-maintenance diva who accepted her role on the series because she had been misled to believe she would be the lead, was uncooperative and competitive, particularly with Dawn Wells, and wasn't friendly with the rest of the cast.  Kristen Dalton, who played Tina Louise in the film, rarely attempts to scratch the surface with the character, and portrays Louise, in scenes where she is not in character as Ginger, with a light, breathy, Marilyn Monroe-ish voice that anyone who has done their research and seen her other film and TV roles would realize is not her natural speaking voice.  The mediocre Dalton (who gave the worst performance in Martin Scorsese's 2006 film "The Departed") was clearly lazy and it shows in her shallow, one-dimensional performance.  I spoke with Tina Louise on the phone around the time it originally aired.  She was concerned about the movie, and said she was surprised that Dawn Wells portrayed her in a negative light and never asked her to participate in it, because she always liked Wells and considered her a friend.  However, since the movie aired a few weeks after 9/11, and because she lives in Manhattan and volunteers as a literacy advocate at a local public school, she decided to put things into the larger perspective and ended up talking about a child she was working with who was traumatized because of what had happened in his hometown on 9/11 and how she and the other teachers and volunteers were working with the children to help comfort them and make them feel more secure.  She was trying not to dwell on the past and was busy focusing on the present. 

While there's certainly enough evidence to suggest that Tina Louise may not have been easy to work with on "Gilligan's Island," I couldn't help but feel that the "Surviving Gilligan's Island" TV movie presented a one-sided perspective on Louise, particularly because of what it excluded in terms of depicting her relationships with the cast and crew members.  Director Leslie H. Martinson, a personal friend of mine who directed Tina Louise in the film "For Those Who Think Young" (1964) and on "Dallas," told me how he often saw Louise at the annual holiday party that Jim Backus and his wife hosted, which suggests that Louise and Backus remained on good terms.  In her "Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook," Dawn Wells writes about the time Tina Louise asked for her assistance in learning how to cook a Thanksgiving meal for her family after she had gotten married to TV talk show host Les Crane in 1966.  Wells and her mother took Louise shopping for groceries the week before Thanksgiving and prepared a full Thanksgiving meal, with Louise writing down the recipes on notecards.  Wells mentions in her cookbook how, years later, Louise's daughter Caprice Crane told her how her mother kept her notes and recipes and continued referring to them in order to prepare Thanksgiving dinner every year.  It's been years since I read it (and I don't have a copy of it handy for me to double-check), but I seem to recall that, in his memoir, "Forgive Us, Our Digressions," Jim Backus discusses how, when Louise married Les Crane, she asked the "Gilligan's Island" cast to walk her down the aisle and give her away in the ceremony.  When Backus' book was published in 1988, Louise appeared at his book signing to lend moral support. 

In his foreward to the book "Television Sitcoms: An Episode Guide to 153 Sitcoms in Syndication," Alan Hale writes how he spent time with Tina Louise and her daughter at the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving parade after they had appeared, along with other cast members, on "Good Morning America" the day before to salute the series.  In his book "Inside Gilligan's Island," creator and executive producer Sherwood Schwartz discusses an anecdote Tina Louise shared with him about dining in a restaurant and having a woman approach her and tell her that her husband, who was dying of cancer, would watch taped episodes of her on "Gilligan's Island" and that that brought him comfort before he died.  Schwartz explains how Louise realized, for the first time, the full extent of the impact the show had upon the public after she met that woman.  Louise appeared with the entire cast of the show in 1988 on the Fox talk show "The Late Show" to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the creation of the show.  That same week, she also appeared with her co-stars at the dedication of a "Gilligan's Island"-themed waiting room at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.  In a podcast interview last year with Mark Thompson, Louise's daughter Caprice Crane recalls how her mother always invited Natalie Schafer whenever she was throwing a party at her house and, because Schafer didn't drive, Louise arranged for a car to pick her up and bring her back from these parties.  These are just a few examples, but I think they help demonstrate the extent to which the "Surviving Gilligan's Island" TV movie may not have presented the full perspective with regards to Tina Louise and her relationship with the series and its personnel both during the series, and in the years afterwards.

It's too bad that Dawn Wells made these creative decisions, and chose to exclude Tina Louise from participating in "Surviving Gilligan's Island," because in so doing the movie missed an opportunity to present a broad and balanced perspective.  While I agree that Tina Louise has often been her worst enemy because she turned down the reunion movies, and gets prickly when people try to interview her about the show, I also think she doesn't deserve being portrayed in a completely unsympathetic light.  I actually believe that both Tina Louise and Dawn Wells are equally to blame for fanning the flames of any purported rivalry between them.  Louise has given people plenty of ammunition to criticize her efforts to disassociate herself from the show.  For instance, even though I don't necessarily think that she "owes" anybody anything and has the right to make her own decisions, I think she should have at least done the first reunion movie--1978's "Rescue from Gilligan's Island"--for old time's sake and also to prevent people from criticizing her.  (I have no issues with her turning down 1979's "The Castaways on Gilligan's Island" and 1981's "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island" because they were indeed wretched and did little to foster any good will towards the original series.)  Moreover, I do agree that Louise should have chosen her words more carefully in countless interviews discussing the series in order to avoid any appearances or perceptions of disparaging it.

Meanwhile Wells herself deserves criticism for continuing to perpetuate the rivalry by producing "Surviving Gilligan's Island" and choosing to exclude Louise from participating and, thus, preventing her from offering her own perspective to that film; missing no opportunity in interviews to take shots at Tina Louise (after Dawn Wells' 2007 arrest in Idaho where she was charged with reckless driving and being found in possession of marijuana, she told "Entertainment Tonight" she had heard from Barbara Eden, who offered moral support, but that she hadn't "heard from Ginger," which could be presumptuous of Wells to expect since this occurred after portraying Louise in a negative light in "Surviving Gilligan's Island"); as well as constantly reminding people that Mary Ann frequently wins the most votes in the "Ginger vs. Mary Ann" debate because Ginger is allegedly less substantial than Mary Ann due to her glamorous and, purportedly promiscuous, image (an assumption which I've attempted to refute in this discussion).  In a recent interview, Wells immodestly states that her character was "the moral compass of the show" (completely overlooking how Russell Johnson's Professor really filled that role) and that the reason why men prefer Mary Ann over Ginger is purportedly because "Ginger is a one-night stand while Mary Ann is for a lifetime.  Mary Ann is the one you would marry or be your best friend or go to the prom with you, while Ginger would be exciting but you'd have to take her to expensive places and buy her a martini...Mary Ann's for the long haul."  In so doing, I'm afraid Dawn Wells overrates her contribution to the show at the expense of undermining the importance of her colleagues, namely Tina Louise.  I always feel like Wells demeans herself when she does it, and that it makes her come across as passive-aggressive.  Whereas Louise doesn't seem particularly concerned about winning this popularity contest, Wells eagerly cultivates followers on Twitter and Facebook who tell her all the time what she wants to hear--that she's the better one.  (The so-called "good girl" ought to know that she doesn't need to keep reminding the world that she's a "good girl" because, if she truly were, then she would understand that we would have already realized it.)  For all of her complaining about being typecast by "Gilligan's Island" in interviews she has made since the late 1960s (which I agree she overdid to her detriment), Tina Louise never made it personal attack against the people she worked with, and often spoke positively about them, whereas Dawn Wells has indeed made it a personal issue in her negative characterization of Tina Louise, as well as the Ginger Grant character, through the years.  As much as I like Dawn Wells' performance as Mary Ann and think she is a talented actress and a smart woman, I wish she would stop playing up the differences between her and Tina Louise, as well as stop giving interviews where she refers to Tina Louise as "Ginger" and Russell Johnson as "the Professor" because it seems to suggest that Wells is living so much in the past that she has lost the ability to distinguish between the characters on the show and the actors who portrayed them.  In my opinion, Wells is behaving the same as someone who still criticizes an office co-worker decades after leaving a particular job.

Even though it appears I have indeed taken sides in the "Ginger vs. Mary Ann" debate because of the case I have made that Ginger Grant, and the actress who portrayed her Tina Louise, are more substantial than they are usually given credit for, I still think it's a bad and stupid issue to debate because all it does is taint a charming and entertaining show from all of our childhoods with competitiveness, negativity and pettiness.  It's clear that Tina Louise and Dawn Wells are both intelligent, accomplished, and substantial individuals who have each done a lot to contribute constructively to the world and that is what they, and we, should spend our times focusing on.  In addition to her numerous film and TV credits, Louise has raised a daughter, Caprice Crane (who is an accomplished screenwriter and novelist who graduated NYU and who has risen above the stereotypes of children who were raised in Hollywood by staying out of trouble and by remaining a contributing member of society), and continues to volunteer in the New York public school system as an education and literacy advocate.  Louise recently completed the horror film "Late Phases" (2014), set to premiere next month at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and is about to start filming the independently-made drama "Tapestry" (2014), starring Stephen Baldwin and Burt Young, this month.  Wells, in the meantime, has built a long career for herself on the stage and runs a company making clothing for people of limited mobility and has run a film actors boot camp for aspiring actors to learn about the craft of working in the film industry.  They both deserve to be commended and recognized for, not only their long and prolific careers, but also for having created such iconic TV characters who still resonate with us today.  Hopefully, at some point, the debate between which one of them people prefer can be moot so that we can appreciate both Ginger and Mary Ann, and the fine work that Tina Louise and Dawn Wells did in portraying them, when discussing or watching "Gilligan's Island."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Taking Bruce Broughton's side in the "Alone Yet Not Alone" Song Nomination Controversy

Undoubtedly my favorite entertainment news story of the week is the rescission of the Academy Award ® song nomination for the independently produced, Christian-themed movie "Alone, Yet Not Alone" (2013) by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences due to the emails that its composer, the esteemed Bruce Broughton and a former member of the Academy's Board of Governors, sent to 70 out of the approximately 239 members of the Academy's music branch bringing the song to their attention and asking them to consider it.  When the nominations came out on January 16th, I remember thinking "Good for them, a small independent movie up against much bigger movies and songs," even though I haven't seen the film and I further admit the movie itself does not sound like my cup of tea.  As the days followed after the nomination, I became more and more intrigued by the level of vitriol directed at the song's nomination, as well as reports that an unnamed composer, miffed that the song he or she had composed for another film was not nominated, hired a private investigator to look into the matter.  When news came out this week that the Academy Board of Governors rescinded the nomination due to Broughton's email campaign, I figured it was due to the fact that he had violated a specific rule with the Academy.  But thanks to Scott Feinberg's excellent and articulate editorial in the Hollywood Reporter, which affirms that Broughton didn't violate any specific rule that the Academy can cite, and that major studios are much more pushy and opportunistic about promoting its products during awards season, I have to side with Broughton's supporters who feel that the rescission was done in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner compared to other instances where the penalty issued was a comparative slap on the wrist--such as the one where a producer of "The Hurt Locker" (2009) emailed Academy voters urging them to vote for, as opposed to merely asking them to consider, his movie instead of "Avatar" (2009) and as a result got his tickets to the Award ceremony revoked.

What does concern me is how the rescission of this song nomination seems to be another issue fueling the religious vs. secular ideological culture war that continues to divide this country, with both sides using this issue to further their own agenda.  The LA Times' esteemed Steven Zeitchik and Glenn Whipp have written effectively on this aspect of the controversy.  As mentioned earlier, there were people on the internet representing a secular perspective who appeared opposed to the nomination due to the Christian and Conservative pedigree of the filmmakers, and who appear to support the rescission of the nomination without any genuine insight or understanding of the inconsistency with which the Academy applies and enforces its rules just because they are biased against the film's religious content.  Because the central storyline of the film concerns two young women kidnapped by Native Americans, there were even people who attacked the film as racist based on what they have seen in the trailer even though it doesn't appear that these detractors have actually seen the entire movie, just the trailer.  (Update 2/5/2014 EST; 10:37 AM:  In one recent instance, a secular detractor, who expresses a very shallow, one-dimensional understanding of the nuances of Bruce Broughton's actions and the Academy's inconsistent enforcement of its rules, and clearly has no understanding of how major studios shamelessly promote their films for awards, argues that the film is racist, and says that they have seen "much of the movie", but not necessarily all of it.  The fact that this individual admits they have not seen the whole film calls into question how much of the film they actually have watched, and whether they are basing their opinion on the trailer or other excerpts taken out of context.  In this example, it's apparent that the secular bias of this commentator has shaped their entire argument against the song and the movie.)  If the secular detractors have seen the whole film, and still feel it's racist, then they are welcome to that opinion.  I haven't seen the film, either, and it's entirely possible that I would think the movie is indeed racist and offensive after I see it.  But basing a conclusion on watching a trailer, or portions of the actual film, makes about as much sense as drawing conclusions about a book based on looking at its book jacket, or reading a few excerpts out of context.  What I don't like about this is that people have always argued for years, whenever a Christian or conservative group protests a movie they don't like despite never having seen it--such as Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988)--the logical and reasoned response is to always say "Please see it first before drawing your conclusions."  Having self-respecting film writers or bloggers criticize or condemn a Christian Conservative movie sight unseen undermines our ability to defend movies like "The Last Temptation of Christ" from such reactionary opinion.

Concurrently, I do not agree with some Christian Conservative supporters of the movie who feel that the rescission of the nomination is another sign of how Hollywood is filled with "Godless" people and that this shows how the entertainment industry is out to destroy their perspective and demean their way of life.  I didn't particularly care for pastor Joni Eareckson Tada, who performed the song in-question, telling the LA Times, "If it was for reasons connected with a faith-based message, it shouldn’t surprise us that Hollywood would shun Jesus...Jesus has been shunned by much weedier characters" because the statement has such a condescendingly reductive, generalized tone to it.  As I've mentioned on this blog before, I've interviewed actors and actresses and other entertainment industry personnel through the years.  I know many people in show business who do believe in God and are Conservative, just as I know people in show business who are liberal and secular and fit the common assumption and stereotype.  I've learned how people working in the industry reflect many different perspectives and points of view and I dislike it whenever I hear someone who has no contact with anyone in the industry making such generalizations, and generalized comments, about people they know nothing about.  I feel that way whenever I meet people here in Washington, D.C. and its surrounding areas who express such opinions.  If they are basing it on actual personally gained knowledge and facts, that's one thing, but it's not fair to dismiss an entire industry of people just because it fits with your own personal agenda and viewpoint.  As such, I've bristled at the online comments left by people who have complained about the rescission of the "Alone Yet Not Alone" song nomination to the effect of "Gays and lesbians get their point of view, but we don't" or "This would never have happened to a movie with a Muslim theme!"  Politically, I'm a centrist and I have a Protestant perspective, yet I admit I haven't been to church in years and I don't proselytize to others, because I think people deserve to come to their perspective on their own.  I also admit I had my doubts about whether I still believed in God after witnessing my father suffer and pass away from lung cancer.  At the end of the day, though, I still believe in God and I believe in the right to practice your beliefs (whether its atheism, agnosticism, or an organized faith) without criticism, but I also believe that having some (but not necessarily all) Christians espouse opinions demeaning gays or Muslims, in defense of this song and this film, only serve to further divide our country and help give secular detractors more fuel to their arguments.

I don't think the movie should be defended or criticized on the basis of its Christian Conservative content or pedigree, but merely on the basis of whether or not Bruce Broughton's email violated a hard and fast rule of the Academy.  Moreover, I do not believe there was a Christian Conservative conspiracy to help the song garner its unexpected, surprise nomination through shady means, any more than I believe that there's a liberal, secular conspiracy in Hollywood to rescind the nomination because of the movie's religious element.  As such, the only persons or entities whose side I'm on in this controversy is Bruce Broughton and his collaborator Dennis Spiegel and that's it.  I feel that their professional reputation and integrity have been sullied by the Academy's rescission and those who call Broughton a "cheater" should be prepared to cite what specific rule with the Academy he broke, and also be able to rationally and persuasively argue how it applies in this instance, especially in light of the millions of dollars and promotional activities that major studios undertake to promote their wares.  The people accusing Broughton of underhandedness appear to have not thoroughly researched the matter, or have chosen to be willfully ignorant of what the Academy's rules are just because it fits with their argument and agenda.  (One person attacking Broughton online even mocks him for having won 10 Emmy Awards, as if to imply that composing music for television was somehow a sign of inferiority!)  Moreover, I don't believe that knowledge of Broughton's former position on the Academy Board of Governors could have given his song that much weight with voters in the Music Branch compared to the millions of dollars and overt campaigning that was spent on behalf of the other, more famous songs from the major studios, especially since Broughton doesn't even reference his former role with the Board of Governors in the email.  I also believe Broughton when he says that the 70 individuals he emailed came from his personal rolodex of names and contacts he has accumulated throughout his career and did not come from some Academy database list.  (If he did have a list of names from the Academy music branch database, why did he only email 70 individuals?  Why not email all 239 Academy music branch members?)  I also don't believe that Broughton's participation in this film necessarily demonstrates his political or religious ideologies, as his many detractors appear to have alleged in their criticism against him, because I am sure that he has worked many times for filmmakers throughout his career who represent a more secular, liberal perspective.  I think Mr. Broughton as simply an artist who was hired to help compose the song and believed it was a good song and that was that. 

I've had a bad opinion about the Academy for years, ever since I started hearing anecdotes first-hand from "working class" actors and actresses I personally know who said that they had their membership with the Academy rescinded for weird reasons, such as not paying their dues on time (in one instance that I heard about, it was a day late).  In another instance, one actor told me that they never received their renewal notice in the mail and, when they called the membership office to pay over the phone with their credit card, they were told that the Academy sent out a letter to its membership asking them to contact the Academy if they wanted to remain a member.  Purportedly, because the Academy claimed that they never heard back from this performer, they dropped this individual from their roster, even though this actor swore to me that they never received such a "opt in" letter and would have responded immediately had they known.  As a result, these people are no longer members of the Academy and will have to start from scratch in order to apply to try to get in again, which is going to be difficult because, based on what I've heard, the Academy's standards about who they are inviting in appears to have become, in my opinion, more stringent and elitist.  Of course, I am only hearing this story from those who have alleged it has happened to them, and I have no proof about it other than what I was personally told.  Nevertheless, I sincerely believe the individuals who told me these stories and it seems odd that the Academy would take such action when, in the legal profession, an attorney has several opportunities to pay their annual dues before their license to practice law would be suspended.  I came away from hearing these stories with the impression that the Academy may be taking such action to try and get rid of its less "esteemed" or older members so that they can make room in their roster to open up its membership to the young and the hip.  Of course, that's just my opinion and I have no inside knowledge as to how they develop and formulate their membership policy.  It's just strange that the Academy would be much more stringent and arbitrary on such matters than the legal profession would be in terms of its dues paying policies.  As such, after hearing these anecdotes, it didn't completely surprise me that the Academy took such inconsistent and arbitrary actions against Mr. Broughton, and didn't allow him to defend himself before issuing their decision.  I have heard enough about the Academy to allow me to form an opinion that they seem to have a tendency, when it suits their purposes, to make things up as they go along and try to rationalize it later.  I think it is interesting that the Academy leadership and organization holds its members to such a strict standard of review, but do not appear to hold themselves to the same exacting standards as well. 

Rather than basing any arguments in support or against the song nomination rescission on religious or ideological grounds, I think the best, most reasoned comments in support of Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel have come from their own colleagues in the industry.  In an online petition asking the Academy to reconsider the rescission, Conrad Pope, an accomplished orchestrator working in the film industry wrote, "Bruce Broughton did nothing inappropriate in my opinion. I am a member of the Music Branch, I received Bruce's email informing me that he had written a song that was eligible for consideration. That was all. When I consider the blandishments proffered by the major studios to 'consider' their submissions, I feel that the Board of Governors is over reacting and committing a grave injustice."  Gael MacGregor, a film music coordinator further explained, "Blockbuster films and big studio productions hire PR mavens to agressively (sic) lobby Academy members durnig (sic) the nominating and voting processes, yet the Academy has chosen to sanction an individual who sent some emails alerting members to the small indie film for which he co-wrote the title song. Hypocrisy in action in this blatant double standard."  Film composer Don Peake, who composed the score for the original "The Hills Have Eyes" (1977) wrote, "I am a member of the music branch. I have received several invitations to elaborate lunches and screenings promoting songs for the voting this year. Bruce has done nothing wrong."  Southern California attorney Randal Billington, who does not appear to be connected to the entertainment industry but is an interested observer, rationally proposed on the petition, "This is simply a request for fairness and openness. It is not a demand that the nomination be reinstated, but simply a request for proof that the other nominees did not promote their own songs in ways similar to the song in question here. If no such proof is available, and this song is on the same footing as the others, then the nomination should be reinstated."

I recognize that there are bigger, more important, more relevant issues out there in the world than whether or not the song from "Alone Yet Not Alone" is competing for the Academy Awards.  I also recognize that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is a non-governmental institution that has a right to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.  However, because of the emotions and religious and ideological issues that this nomination rescission has stirred up, the Academy should at the very least have allowed Bruce Broughton an opportunity to publicly respond to the criticism lodged against him for having sent that email to 70 members of the music branch and be allowed to defend himself before the Board of Governors before they took such drastic actions.  That way, Mr. Broughton would have had his "day in court" and the Board of Governors could have minimized the fallout from this controversy had they allowed him an opportunity to make his case as to why the nomination should not be rescinded.  I hope, in the long run, Mr. Broughton will be able to look back and laugh at this incident and that he will continue to prosper as a film composer for years to come.  The only thing I take comfort in knowing about all of this is that, whoever was the disgruntled, anonymous composer who hired a private investigator to look into this nomination, they won't have their song replace "Alone Yet Not Alone" as the fifth nominee because of the Board of Governor's decision to not put another song in its place.  That disgruntled composer, who didn't even have the guts to publicly accuse Broughton of purportedly cheating, and who I feel helped add fuel to this controversy and helped to influence the Academy Board of Governor's decision, is still left empty-handed at the end of the day and I am glad that it's a Pyrrhic victory for them.

(Update 4:12 PM EST, 2/1/14):  Glenn Whipp of the LA Times just posted a very informative article citing a statement released on Saturday by the Academy alleging that Broughton violated the rules of the Academy because the voting process is supposed to be "anonymous" in the interests of promoting "fairness" and "unbiased" voting.  They cited rule 5.3 of the 86th Academy Award rules that states composer and lyricist credits should be omitted from DVDs of songs sent to voters in the Music Branch.  If this was indeed the reasoning behind the rescission, why not cite it upfront earlier this week?  Moreover, trade paper ads for songs, as I recall, do indeed have the composer and lyricist's names listed on them, not to mention the fact that one can easily look up the names of the composers and lyricists for a song on the internet or IMDB, so forget about promoting anonymity and fairness.  If rule 5.3 is all they can cite to, then Broughton has done no wrong because a rule requiring no names on a DVD featuring songs for voters to review is wholly different than sending an email to members asking them to just consider a song.  Offhand, this statement just sounds like an excuse made up after the fact to justify their actions because of the controversy that erupted and it doesn't change my mind on this issue at all.