Tina Louise: Ginger Grant, "the Movie Star"

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

Tina Blacker was born to a Jewish family (she was the only Jewish cast member of Gilligan's Island) on February 11, 1934. The surname name “Louise" was reputedly added by Tina herself. During her senior year in high school, she mentioned to her drama teacher that she was "the only girl in class without a middle name.” She chose the name “Louise" and it stuck. “It's entirely my name. To me it means joy. Nobody in any family can be hurt if anything happens to this name because it's my name only,” she says.

After high school, Tina attended Miami University in Ohio. By the age of 17, Tina had began studying acting, singing and dancing. By the late Fifties, Tina was quickly becoming a fast-rising young actress/sex symbol.

She possessed a great natural beauty and charisma, had wonderful comedic timing, and had an amazing amount of sex appeal. She displayed her versatility in 1957, when she recorded an album It's Time for Tina.

In this period, she had also appeared in several broadway shows, most notably Li'l Abner. It was in Li'l Abner that she played the role of femme fatale Appassionata Von Climax. (in the play, the sexy Apassionata is hired to vamp Li'l Abner. Hmmmm......sound familiar, Gilligan's Island fans?) Although Tina didn't realize it at the time, her character Apassionata was to be the template for her later role as Ginger Grant.

Tina's image as a guy magnet was pushed even farther when she and another upcoming starlet named Jayne Mansfield both posed for the 1958 Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue. To further her sex symbol image, Tina did a pictorial layout for Playboy magazine in May of '58.

But Tina also landed her first movie role in 1958 in God's Llittle Acre. This role was a dramatic one, not the usual "girly eye candy" gig for Tina. By now, Tina seemed to have wanted more serious roles, trying to slightly distance herself from her sex symbol image (she turned down the movie Li'l Abner in 1959).

She did the Italian epic Garibaldi in 1960 and became a member of the prestigious Actor's Studio, studying with famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg. She did a few more serious films, but in 1964, she played an ultra-sexy beach bunny in For Those Who Think Young- featuring another actor named Bob Denver.

According to Tina, in 1964, the president of CBS promised her "a starring role for TV.”  A new series called Gilligan's Island was being cast. The role on the show of movie actress Ginger Grant was originally offered to Tina's old acquaintance, Jayne Mansfield, but Jayne said no. So Tina, assuming this was the "starring role" she had been promised, agreed to take on the Ginger role. (The role of Ginger had been played by Kit Smythe in the pilot for Gilligan's Island in 1963).

Ginger was originally written as "a wise-cracking Lucille Ball type,” but when Tina was cast, it was quickly changed to a Marilyn Monroe-type sex goddess.

One has no idea when exactly Tina became disenchanted with her Ginger Grant character and the show Gilligan's Island itself. It is more than likely she did, indeed, expect to have "the starring role" in the show, and ended up as one of the seven castaways (with Bob Denver obviously the show's star in the title role).

Stories abound of the closeness of the other six cast members, laughing together on the set, while Tina sat alone in her dressing room. A close bond developed between the others, while Tina never really became a part of the clique.

Another factor was actually Tina's desire to portray Ginger as a man-hungry sexpot. This led to several disagreements with the show's star.

Tina's Ginger Grant character was television's first "vamp.” But according to Bob Denver in his memoir Gilligan, Maynard and Me (1993), sometimes she took her role a little too seriously. Bob said she eagerly and avidly tried to "vamp" him in any episode she could. And according to Bob it got pretty hot and heavy.

She also "vamped" pretty much every male cast member and every male guest star too, in other episodes. Bob did not like this overt sexuality and thought Gilligan's Island was more a show for kids.

Rumors also persist that Tina and her closest friend and hut-mate on the show, Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann, did not get along. Tina later claimed they were just "two different people" and Dawn was "all about pleasing everybody" and that she was never that way.

According to CBS, in the famous “Ginger or Mary Ann?" question, Mary Ann was always the winner, hands down. CBS said Dawn always had the bigger fan base, and that she received more fan mail than Tina, from women, children, teenagers, and men, whereas Tina's fan mail came from "men, and men only.” Even Bob Denver said he preferred Mary Ann and said Ginger "just scared the boys,”

Still, a certain affinity did exist between the seven cast members. In 1966, when Tina married talk show host Les Crane, all the cast members were invited and attended the wedding. Once, in a gesture of friendship, Tina ordered both she and Dawn a set of mink eyelashes from New York.

Gilligan's Island was cancelled after three seasons in 1967. Soon afterward, Tina made a slew of TV appearances in the late '60's through the '90's (most notably a role in Dallas as JR’s paramour Julie Grey) and appeared in over a dozen movies, most notably the Dean Martin Matt Helm spy spoof The Wrecking Crew (1968) and The Stepford Wives (1975).

She also routinely complained about Gilligan's Island and how it had "ruined" her acting career. Tina never joined the other cast members in any of the three 1980's Gilligan's Island reunion films or in the Dawn Wells-produced TV movie Surviving Gilligan's Island (2001).

She did, however, make appearances with her fellow ex-castaways on a few TV interview shows, a 1990 episode of Roseanne, and was even present at the TV Land Awards show in 2004 in a segment honoring Gilligan's Island.

Tina Louise has written three books; Sundays, a brief but touching memoir of her days growing up, as well as two children's books. She gave birth to a daughter, Caprice, in 1970 and divorced Les Crane in 1974,

In examining Tina Louise's acting career, I guess the biggest unexplained paradox is this: in the 50's, she built up a great career as a bombshell and sex symbol. Then, by the early sixties, she had tried to eschew this image by taking on more "serious" projects. Fine, I think we can all understand an actress wanting this for herself. But this raises the questions: Why did she take the role of the bikini bunny in the 1964 film For Those Who Think Young? And much more importantly, why (according to Bob Denver) was it she who relished and really pushed for Ginger's overtly sexy image during the three seasons of Gilligan's Island?

Oh well, I guess while I ponder these questions, Ii can only say this, in conclusion: Tina Louise is universally beloved for her wonderful, hilarious (and often brilliant) role as Ginger Grant on my all-time favorite TV show Gilligan's Island.

I only hope that by now, she, at the age of 81 as of today, has come to grips with the legacy and immortality of “Ginger Grant-the movie star" and the great joy she has given to her countless fans (both men and women) the world over.

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A local mortgage broker used to claim that he had a child with Tina Louise. This article inspired me to do a bit of research.

It was much easier to lie before the Internet.
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