A salute today to television savant Sherwood Schwartz (1916-2011), whose birthday it is. Best known today (and always, really) for his two pillar franchises Gilligan’s Island (1964-67) and The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), the truth is that there is more, so much more, to the life and career of good Dr. Schwartz, and I’ve been itching to tell about it for years. Entire tributes here about G.I. and B.B. here are inevitable, BTW. The shows loomed so large in my childhood, and are indeed in my very DNA! But today, the BIG picture is on the Double S.
Training for a career in science, Schwartz got lured into comedy writing by his older brother Al, a writer for Bob Hope’s radio show. Bitten by the bug, Schwartz resolved to serve humanity a funner way. As will surprise no one familiar with his work, Schwartz cut his comedy teeth writing for the likes of Ozzie and Harriet, I Married Joan (surely where he first met Jim Backus), Red Skelton, The Alan Young Show, and My Favorite Martian. The family-friendliness and essential simplicity that can be said to permanently characterize his work can be said to have found its foundation here.
Gilligan Island’s hit like a tidal wave in 1964 and pretty much set him up in life. Savagely panned by critics, widely reviled as a new low for the Vast Wasteland, Schwartz was quick to point out his larger ambitions for the show. And, friends, I am here to tell you they are evident, for those with eyes to see. The influence of Aristophanes is obvious — both Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Brunch have Lysistrata-inspired episodes! Even a child can see the influence of Laurel and Hardy on Skipper and Gilligan. And Schwartz expounded at length on the use of symbolic archetype on the show. But, la! Let’s hold it for the full essay.
In 1966, he launched his second show, It’s About Time, a sit-com in which astronauts played by Frank Aletter and Jack Mullaney go back in time and meet cave people played by Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca! At last! A milieu in which Ross can say “Ooh! Ooh!” and they will be actual lines! Despite the fact that It’s About Time recycled sets, props and soundtrack music from Gilligan’s Island, lightning did not strike twice. The show was cancelled after one season. As if to punish him, Gilligan’s Island was cancelled at the same time.
In 1969, he hit it big again with The Brady Bunch. But that wasn’t his last show,wise guys. There was Dusty’s Trail or The Wackiest Wagon Trail in the West (1973) which we blogged about here. There was Big John, Little John (1976), which we blogged about here.
And then, the recycling truly begins. There was The New Adventures of Gilligan (1974-77, animated), Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978), The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979), The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981), and Gilligan’s Planet (1982, animated), and also The Brady Kids (1972-1974, animated), The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976), The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), The Brady Brides (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988), and The Bradys (1990).
Oh, and you just think that’s all. In 1981 and 1982 he helmed a series starring Barbara Eden based on the popular 1978 movie Harper Valley PTA (itself based on the 1968 hit country song). And tried to sell two more pilots: Scamps (1982) and The Invisible Woman (1983), both of them featuring Bob Denver!
Schwartz was 94 when he passed away in 2011. Today he would be 101! Sa-lute!