Good Narrative Principles

Another True Story (from the archives of Gilligan’s Island)


IMG_1667This story takes place back in a time when the lyrics to theme songs for television shows always explained the show’s premise, as if Americans might forget the basic facts of their favorite programs from one week to the next.

Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island) liked to lunch with Alan Hale Jr. (The Skipper) who was kind and didn’t mind talking recipes and family mischief. She never felt that he was mentally undressing her while detailing, for instance, the secret ingredients in his cherished Kansas Chicken & Dumplings dish. And that was a relief. But on this one day, Alan was out sick.

While Bob Denver (Gilligan) was fun, there was always a tumult of energy swirling round him and so Dawn parked her salad and Tab next to the mysterious Russell Johnson (The Professor), who generally preferred the company of the crew to the cast.

Dawn suffered from both shyness and ambition — a tough combination. Her husband kept telling her that thanks to Gilligan’s Island her future was set, but Dawn saw things otherwise. She wanted more than anything a life in musical theater. She had always imagined that she’d be in front of an appreciative audience belting out OK-LA-HO-MA in a flouncy gingham dress. Absolutely, her name would long be associated with gingham, but it was a cute tied blouse number that exposed her midriff to the world every week.

Russell, ever the pragmatist, understood the value of the gig. And while he liked to say he couldn’t fix a hole in a boat, he enjoyed playing the ingenious inventor who had attended MIT. Unlike Dawn, his ambition was perfectly in sync with the show. After being gunned down in the Pacific, an adventure that earned him a Purple Heart, it was all gravy. So you’d think he’d be relaxed about the theme song referring to him and Mary Ann as “all the rest” but it got under his skin and irritated him like a bad case of hives.

As Dawn picked through a sad iceberg salad and nibbled on Melba Toast, Russell broached the subject of rewording the theme song to include both of them. Dawn’s eyes lit up. In front of the cast and crew, she stood up. All eyes fell on her. Then, without preamble, she sang the final verse. In lieu of “all the rest” she sang “Mary Ann and the Professor” which, she had to admit, didn’t quite scan. Bob Denver was the first to break the long cricket-like silence that greeted her impromptu performance. He applauded with such gusto that everyone felt free to join in, including the writers.

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