The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island

The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island is a 1981 made-for-television comedy film. It is the third of three movies that reunited the cast of the 1964–1967 sitcom Gilligan's Island. The film aired on NBC on May 15, 1981.

The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's island
The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.jpg
Title card
  • Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Sports
Written bySherwood Schwartz
Al Schwartz
David P. Harmon
Gordon Mitchell
Directed byPeter Baldwin
StarringBob Denver
Alan Hale, Jr.
Dawn Wells
Jim Backus
Natalie Schafer
Russell Johnson
Constance Forslund
Theme music composerGerald Fried
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producerSherwood Schwartz
ProducersHap Weyman
Lloyd J. Schwartz
CinematographyK.C. Smith
EditorsAlbert J.J. Zuniga
Beryl Gelfond
Running time94 minutes
Production companyMCA/Universal Television
DistributorNBCUniversal Television Distribution
Warner Bros. Television Distribution
Original networkNBC
Picture formatColor (Technicolor)
Audio formatMono
Original releaseMay 15, 1981 (1981-05-15)
Preceded byThe Castaways on Gilligan's Island
Followed byGilligan's Planet


The former castaways own and operate a vacation resort called "The Castaways", located on the formerly-deserted island and which was introduced in the previous film, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island. Thurston Howell III has some business in the mainland; his son, Thurston Howell IV, came to the island and runs the hotel business while his father is working. The Harlem Globetrotters, a traveling troupe of merry basketball players, are on a plane ride over the Pacific Ocean when it suffers engine trouble, and is forced to make an emergency landing onto Gilligan's Island. The Castaways heard about the news on Mr. Howell's private TV. After a brief time stranded in the jungle, they are discovered by Gilligan and the Skipper, and welcomed to The Castaways. The Castaways play basketball against the Globetrotters and are soundly defeated. While the castaways did not intend to have serious game, the Globetrotters believe the group has little athletic ability.

Meanwhile, J.J. Pierson, a corporate raider and Thurston Howell III's worst rival, plans to swindle Gilligan and the others into signing over the island resort ownership to him, knowing that the island contains "supremium", an ore which provides huge sources of energy. After numerous devious acts, Pierson tricks most of the castaways into signing. Gilligan and the Skipper uncover the conspiracy before Thurston Howell IV signs. Mr. Howell forces Pierson to agree to tear up the fraudulent contracts if the Globetrotters play his team, the New Invincibles, which has robot players. Notable sports broadcasters Chick Hearn and Stu Nahan appear as part of the basketball game scene, with Hearn calling the play-by-play action of the climactic showdown.

The Globetrotters have no idea how to defeat a team of robots. The Professor is also at a loss on how to defeat them until Gilligan unknowingly remarks that the Globetrotters have not done any tricks, causing the Professor to give a halftime pep talk to the Globetrotters that the New Invincibles would be caught off-guard. The Globetrotters start scoring against the New Invincibles, but when injuries sideline a couple of the players, the team will forfeit unless they can find replacements. They recruit Gilligan and the Skipper to serve as substitute players. Moments before the game expires, Gilligan makes the winning shot. Pierson then remarks the outcome of the game does not matter, for while everyone was watching the game he ordered the supremium removed from the mine and loaded onto his boat. The Professor warns that supremium is a very unstable element outside of its natural surroundings. J.J. Pierson realizes this too late as the supremium explodes and sinks his yacht, leaving him penniless. As everyone celebrates, Thurston Howell III returns from his business trip. The elder Howell commends the Harlem Globetrotters for saving the island and the castaways for their teamwork, and gives thanks to the younger Howell for proving himself an adept manager of the resort.


The Harlem GlobetrottersEdit


NBC executives brought the idea to have the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders appear in a Gilligan's Island special to original series creator Sherwood Schwartz. Schwartz liked the idea and agreed to produce a two-hour TV-movie based on this premise. Before the script was completed, NBC informed Schwartz the cheerleaders would not be available and asked him to rewrite the script with the Harlem Globetrotters instead, which Schwartz agreed to do.[1]

At the time of filming Jim Backus was unable to reprise his role, due to ill health from Parkinson's disease. Sherwood Schwartz refused to recast Thurston Howell III with another actor, feeling it would hurt Backus too much, so instead, he rewrote the script, writing out Thurston Howell III by having him tend to business in the mainland United States, and adding a new character, Thurston Howell IV, the son of the Howells (played by David Ruprecht) to manage the island resort (although this contradicted the original series, where the Howells were childless). Schwartz was impressed with Ruprecht's performance in maintaining a Howell-like persona without being an imitation of Backus. Toward the end of filming, Backus insisted that he felt well enough to make a cameo appearance and was written in as having returned from his business trip, from which he arrives at the end of the movie. Sherwood Schwartz and Dawn Wells both recalled how emotional it was on set that day as Backus filmed his short scene. He was weakened and very shaky as he said his lines, but he still dominated his character as before; after he finished his scene, he asked Dawn "Was I funny?". Wells assured him that he was, although it broke her heart to see how weakened he had become, not to be able to tell. As Backus left the set with his longtime wife, Henny, and his caretaker, there was an emotional round of applause for him, from the cast and crew, many of whom were in tears. Backus, also in tears, stopped, and responded to the applause by blowing kisses to everybody before leaving. He was credited alongside the main cast in the opening scene as "Thurston Howell III", and Ruprecht was credited at the end of the opening with "and introducing David Ruprecht as Thurston Howell IV".

Neither of the previous actresses who played Ginger agreed to reprise their role in this film. Bob Denver's wife, Dreama, having previously appeared in an episode as a cavewoman, appeared as Lucinda, Mrs. Howell's overly-punctual secretary.

This was the final performance together of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, the husband-and-wife team best known for their starring roles in Mission: Impossible and Space: 1999. They divorced in 1993.

Like the original sitcom, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island featured a laugh track.


The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island aired on NBC on May 15, 1981 from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. It received a 26 share in the ratings which was not an improvement on the previous TV-movie The Castaways on Gilligan's Island. Sherwood Schwartz was surprised and disappointed that the ratings were not higher. He lamented that he would likely never get the opportunity to produce another spin-off special that he had conceived, Murder on Gilligan's Island, which would've involved a group of famous detectives investigating the apparent murder of one of the castaways.[2]


  1. ^ Schwartz, Sherwood (April 15, 1994). Inside Gilligan's Island: A Three-Hour Tour Through The Making of A Television Classic. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 240–241. ISBN 0-312-10482-0.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Sherwood (April 15, 1994). Inside Gilligan's Island: A Three-Hour Tour Through The Making of A Television Classic. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 243. ISBN 0-312-10482-0.

External linksEdit