Jerry Van Dyke chose My Mother the Car over Gilligan’s Island and The Andy Griffith Show
Can you picture Van Dyke as Gilligan or Barney's replacement?
In the early 1960s, Jerry Van Dyke’s showbiz career was just beginning to take off. He did comedy bits on The Ed Sullivan Show and appeared in the 1963 John Wayne film McLintock!
He also guest-starred as Rob Petrie’s brother Stacey on four episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show between 1962–65. Jerry never reached the same level of fame as his older brother but he did get the chance to lead his own show.
Television producer Sherwood Schwartz was casting his new comedy about castaways on a deserted island. Jerry Van Dyke was offered the lead but turned it down. In fact, he refused the role even in the face of pressure from his agency. The show was, of course, Gilligan’s Island and eventually starred Bob Denver as Gilligan – even if Schwartz had his initial doubts about Denver.
But Jerry Van Dyke never had any regrets about passing on the part, stating in a 2013 interview that he wouldn't want to be known as Gilligan for the for rest of his life.
A year after Gilligan’s Island premiered in 1964, Jerry had another opportunity to star in a now-classic series. When Don Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show toward the end of its fifth season, Jerry Van Dyke guest starred as a carnival musician who becomes a temporary deputy. It was the finale of season five and seemed like a good time to add a new character to replace Barney Fife. Though there were definite discussions (Jerry Van Dyke and Andy Griffith knew each other well and shared the same manager), an official offer to be a part of The Andy Griffith Show was never extended.
Jerry wouldn't have taken it anyway; filling the iconic shoes of Don Knotts was just too daunting a task. Plus, Jerry landed his very own show. My Mother the Car debuted in September 1965 and lasted just one season. Jerry Van Dyke starred as Dave Crabtree, a lawyer whose mother gets reincarnated as an antique car. Despite its ridiculous premise, the show had real talent behind the scenes.
Producers Allan Burns and Chris Hayward had just created The Munsters and Burns would go on to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Prolific film and TV producer-writer-director James L. Brooks even got his start in Hollywood writing two episodes of the show!
With that kind of talent involved, and absurd concepts being the norm at the time, it’s not hard to see why Jerry Van Dyke thought My Mother the Car was a good opportunity. Alas, history has proven otherwise.