Jim Backus: Gilligan was ''way ahead of Batman''
The Millionaire stood up for Gilligan's Island
Stranded on that island, everybody had different levels of authority that they brought over from their past lives. The Skipper had nautical know-how, so he was useful in figuring out what to do. The professor was smart with technology, so he could build all sorts of inventions to try for rescue. But, the person who had the most life experience was undoubtedly Thurston Howell III, the Millionaire. Sure, his money meant he had very little perspective, but he was old! He'd seen a lot! And an island of castaways needs its elders.
Jim Backus, the actor who played Thurston Howell III, was already familiar to viewers. Or, at the very least, Backus' voice might have rang some bells. He voiced Mr. Magoo in the same-named cartoons, beginning in 1949. In addition, Backus famously played James Dean's father in the teenage drama Rebel Without a Cause.
So just like the Millionaire brought experience and scruples with him to Gilligan's Island, Backus brought with him the audience's trust and his impressive résumé as a veteran actor.
Backus would become a de facto spokesperson for the Gilligan's Island cast and crew on more than one occasion. While Bob Denver was undoubtedly the star, Backus, as an actor, had weathered many a Hollywood storm, and was an effective pundit in advocating for the show, and selling it to the audience.
In March of 1966, the show was still airing its second season. The critical consensus contrasted wildly with the show's popularity. While audiences loved tuning in for Gilligan's mishaps, critics lambasted the show for being juvenile and inconsequential.
Luckily, Jim Backus was able to come to the rescue, defending Gilligan's Island to the New York Times News Service.
"Gilligan's Island was way ahead of Batman," said Backus.
"It's a put-on, a spoof. We were doing camp before the word became popular. But the critics reviewed it as though it were Playhouse 90. They weren't really reviews, they were character assassinations.
"Originally, nobody but the kids watched and, after the reviews, we were in great danger of being taken off the air. But then finally dear old dad, who was sitting there with his martini and not allowed by the kids to watch anything else, started laughing too. By sheer exposure, Gilligan's Island got an audience."