July 12, 2011

USA: Sherwood Schwartz had a long and fruitful run in radio and television

LOS ANGELES, California / The Los Angeles Times / Entertainment / July 12, 2011

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Appreciation: Sherwood Schwartz, 1916-2011

Sherwood Schwartz, who died Tuesday at the age of 94, had a long and fruitful run in radio and television before he created "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch," the shows that earned him a place in the history of TV and the life of the people. To not know these series — to not understand the expression "three-hour tour" or what it means to prefer a Ginger to a Mary Ann, or the deep wells of frustration contained in the phrase "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" — or to be able to sing their theme songs, each co-written by Schwartz, is to be in some small but real way culturally illiterate.

These shows crown a career that began in radio, in 1938, when Schwartz backed into a job writing for "The Bob Hope Show," on which his brother Al was working (Al Schwartz later wrote for "Gilligan" and "The Brady Bunch"); he continued on radio with "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" before moving into television with "I Married Joan" (a sort of "I Love Lucy"-light that costarred future "Gilligan" player Jim Backus), "The Red Skelton Show," for which he won an Emmy, and "My Favorite Martian."

Then came "Gilligan." There is something brilliantly strange and reductive about "Gilligan's Island," which premiered in 1964 and was the first series to bear Schwartz's name as creator. With its cast of symbolic characters — the Skipper, the Professor, the Movie Star, the Millionaire and His Wife — trapped together in a small, inescapable space, it might with a subtle shift of emphasis become a play by Ionesco or Sartre. (It is impossible to think long about "Lost" without running aground on "Gilligan's Island.") There is nothing vaguely real about this much-visited uncharted desert isle; its seven stranded castaways are as fixed as if it were commedia dell'arte, and so completely did the actors fill up their roles that, for most of them, there was nowhere to go afterward.

Schwartz receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles Credit: Nick Ut/AP

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