Alan Hale Jr: 16 Facts About the Skipper from 'Gilligan's Island'

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Looking at the cast of Gilligan's Island — Alan Hale Jr among them — it's impossible to view these actors as anything other than their on screen characters, which in their careers became evident in the form of typecasting. That being said, most of them accepted the situation with resignation, one hated it (Tina Louise) and, as he frequently did in life, Hale just kept pushing forward.

Part of that, suggests Lloyd Schwartz, son of Gilligan creator Sherwood Schwartz, had to do with the fact that the actor's father was the very successful Alan Hale Sr, whose shadow was always there and part of the reason his son was determined to make it or fail on his own.

“Alan did a few failed series and some other things,” Schwartz says, “but he was always Alan Hale, Jr. In fact, if you look at photos, they look very, very similar to each other, but he didn’t have the notoriety that Alan Hale Sr. did until he got Gilligan’s Island. He adored the character of the Skipper. And not just because he was a very loving guy; it gave him an identity and he never took that hat off once he became the Skipper. He had a restaurant in later years and he would greet customers wearing the hat, and visit hospitals as the Skipper. Like I said, he suddenly had an identity.”

He was born Alan Hale MacKahan on March 8, 1921 in Los Angeles, eventually taking the stage name Alan Hale Jr and, as you'll see below, his journey from childhood to Gilligan's Island is a fascinating one.

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1. Alan Hale Jr comes from a showbiz family

Alan Hale and wife Gretchen in 1936
Alan Hale disembarks from the 'SS Normandie' at Southampton with his wife Gretchen, 1936
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Both of Alan Hale Jr's parents were actors, his mother Gretchen Hartman was mostly a silent film star who appeared in 67 movies, as well as a stage performer. His father, Alan Hale Sr, was a character actor who has 235 films to his credit.

2. He wanted to be a fireman

Despite his parents' vocation, Alan didn't have much interest in acting when he was very young, preferring to someday become a fireman, with a brief fascination with the sciences. However, as he explained it, by the time he had turned 8, he had taken to performing.

3. He Began acting on Broadway at age 10

Caught Wet Playbill, 1931
Caught Wet Playbill, 1931

Things were already happening for Alan Hale Jr by the time he was 10 and made his Broadway debut in the show Caught Wet, which would be followed by four more between 1934 and 1940, as well as one in 1952. In between — from 1941 to 1943 — he had uncredited roles in several films.

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4. Alan Hale Jr had a co-starring role in It Happened on Fifth Avenue

Alan Hale Jr as Santa Claus in 1953
Santa Claus (Alan Hale, Junior) with kids at a party in 1953
Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

After being featured in 1946's It Happened on Fifth Avenue, the Valley Times of North Hollywood wrote a story about him in which they reflected on the journey he'd been on: "[The film] follows a series of minor parts, each more important than the one before. Had young Hale been the sort of son willing to bask in the glory of a famous father, his 'break' could have well come much sooner. He refused his father's offer of a good agent and he even turned down help in the form of dramatic instruction. The only thing he did was retain his name, and that was his birthright.

"It wasn't until war came along," they added, "that the youngster got his first chance to act — and do it on his own. It was in army training films. But Uncle Sam needed young and healthy men and Hale joined up with the Coast Guard for three years."

5. He loved performing in B-Pictures

The actor in 1954's Rogue Cop
Alan Hale Jr fighting with Robert Taylor in a scene from the film Rogue Cop, 1954
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Lower budget and quickly-produced movies were considered B-movies at the time, and it was the type of film that Alan Hale Jr enjoyed being a part of. In 1975 he remembered, "My grandfather had come West to stay for two weeks and stayed for 14 years. He told me, 'You've got two eyes and two ears, so use them.' As a result, I cut my schooling short to go to work, because I needed the experience, because in those days there weren't as many dramatic classes. The B-Pictures were our training ground. They were the backbone of our business. There was nothing like the days of B-Pictures."

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6. Film work was steady for him

Clint Eastwood and Alan Hale Jr in Hang 'Em High, 1968
Clint Eastwood and Alan Hale Jr in Hang 'Em High, 1968
©United Artists/courtesy

Alan Hale Jr appeared in 37 movies between 1947's The Spirit of West Point and opposite Clint Eastwood 1968's Hang 'Em High, but these were not jobs that were paying a lot of money. As a result, he tried all kinds of things to generate cash, working as an orange grower, landlord, owner of a service station and ice cream parlor, while also investing in a used car lot and selling portable picnic tables.

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7. Selling vacuums taught him acting

Alan Hale Jr in 1946
Alan Hale Jr, 1946
©Warner Bros/IMDb

He was also spending time as a vacuum cleaner salesman, which proved to be more enlightening than anyone might have expected. "That was the way to really learn acting," he explained at the time. "You're meeting people every moment and you must know how to understand them and to sell them. It's more than entertaining, it's eatin' money for you. I sold these vacuum cleaners for over three years and I don't regret a minute of it."

8. In the 1950s he was drawn to television

As time shifted into the 1950s, Alan Hale Jr decided to give television a go, appearing in nine episodes of The Gene Autry Show and, from 1952 to 1954, he took on the role of a Cold War spy in the series Biff Baker, U.S.A. What he found amazing was that despite the fact that the critics hated it, apparently the audience — based on how the public would greet him on the street — loved it. "I thought I was a flop," he told the Sacramento Bee in 1954. "I went to San Francisco the other day and the reception floored me. You'd have thought I was Marilyn Monroe."

9. Just call him Casey Jones

Alan Hale Jr as Casey Jones in the 1957 to 1958 series of the same name
Alan Hale Jr as Casey Jones in the 1957 to 1958 series of the same name
©Screen Gems

From 1957 to 1958 he played the title character in a Western series set around the pioneering days of the railroads, Casey Jones. After that, he appeared on everything from Gunsmoke to My Favorite Martian and The Andy Griffith Show.

10. How he became the Skipper

Although it would ultimately lead to typecasting, the career of Alan Hale Jr came into its own when producer Sherwood Schwartz cast him as "The Skipper" (real name Jonas Grumby), marooned on a desert island along with Gilligan (Bob Denver), Thurston Howell III and his wife, "Lovey" (respectively Jim Backus and Natalie Schaffner), movie star Ginger Grant (Tina Louise), the Professor (Russell Johnson) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells).

"The Skipper was probably the most difficult role to cast," says Lloyd Schwartz. "Dad was upset, because it was getting down to the wire. He was at a restaurant with my mother and at another table was Alan Hale Jr, who my dad didn't know, but he said, 'That's the guy!' He didn't approach him or anything, but the next day he told the casting director to pursue him.

"It turns out," he continues, "that after that dinner, Alan had flown out to Utah, but they got him to come back and do the test from whatever Western movie he was doing. I think he actually had to hitchhike and had a truck take him to Vegas, and from there he flew in and he tested opposite Bob Denver and that's how he got the part."

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11. Alan's good nature made him the perfect co-star to Bob Denver

Gilligan always remained the Skipper's "little buddy" no matter how much he screwed up, and, says Lloyd, that had entirely to do with the natural pleasantness of Alan Hale Jr: "That was the magic of the casting, because everybody else who had come in had failed the casting, because you had a big guy hitting the little guy and you just wouldn't like him. But with Alan, you still knew Skipper liked Gilligan. Alan was so warm. He’s obviously a very large man and when you went up to him, he kind of embraced you and was always a slap-on-the-back kind of guy and very upbeat about everything."

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12. Alan Hale Jr came up with the phrase 'Little Buddy'

What was interesting is that Alan's referring to Gilligan as "Little Buddy" actually came from the actor. "I saw him guest starring on The Andy Griffith Show," says Schwartz, "where he called Don Knotts Little Buddy, so I guess he brought that over to Gilligan's Island."

13. After 'Gilligan's Island,' Alan Hale Jr went right back to work

An ad for Alan Hale Jr's 1970s restaurant
An ad for Alan Hale Jr's 1970s restaurant

As noted earlier, Alan Hale Jr, like the rest of the Gilligan's Island cast, faced typecasting following the show, but he refused to let it slow him down, immediately going back to making guest appearances and appearing in movies. On top of that, in the mid-1970s he opened the Los Angeles restaurant Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel, and in 1982 opened Alan Hale's Quality and Leisure Travel Office.

14. The Skipper continued to be a part of his life

The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, 1979
The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, 1979

Whether it was giving up to the fact that people associated him with the part or he simply enjoyed the recognition is anyone's guess, but Alan Hale Jr made himself available for a number of Gilligan's Island reunions. First, he voiced the character in the Saturday morning cartoons The New Adventures of Gilligan (1974 to 1975) and Gilligan's Planet (1982).

And then there were a trio of TV movies that brought everybody but Tina Louise back together, 1978's Rescue from Gilligan's Island, 1979's Castaways on Gilligan's Island and 1981's The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.

15. He was genuinely appreciative of the fans

The actor as the Skipper
Alan Hale Jr in 1967
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Alan Hale Jr had a couple of experiences that made him feel truly beloved by the fans. One was while they were filming Rescue from Gilligan's Island and the other when he went to Beirut.

In 1978 he related, "We shot on location in Pasadena and Marina del Rey instead of Honolulu. When we filmed the rescue with the three huts being towed into the marina, I think a lot of people couldn’t believe their eyes. That’s the whole fun of this thing. I know we aren’t going to the Cannes Film Festival, but it was such fun — the license we took, the pure nonsense.  We’re all sentimental slobs and the show became such a personal thing.”

A few years earlier he had taken a trip around the world and when they arrived in Beirut, a young soldier came to the ramp. "He took one look at me," he explained, "and said, 'Skipper, do not come ashore.' I'm always astounded by the instant recognition a long way from home — Japan, Germany, Spain. I was among a hundred people who took a lovely ride up the Rhine River. Before it was over, I was holding a press conference in the fantail of the boat. I guess I'll never be alone."

16. The private life of Alan Hale Jr

Alan Hale Jr in 1967
Actor Alan Hale, Jr. poses for a portrait in 1967
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He was married twice, first to Bettina Reed Doerr from 1943 to 1963, and then to Naimo Grace Ingram from 1964 until his death. The father of 4, he died on January 2, 1990 of thymus cancer at the age of 68.