Tina Louise: Ginger Snaps

Today I am going to give the mighty Tina Louise three birthday presents. One, this post! Two, I’m going to say that her birth year is XXXX. And three, I’m scarcely going to mention her best known TV credit, even though her performance on that show ranks with The Avengers’ Diana Rigg in terms of catapulting me into puberty. Yet Louise did so much else over the course of half a century, and she might have had a broader ranging career if she weren’t so closely identified with that one role.

She’s a native New Yorker; her mother was a model (no surprise there). Her real last name is Blacker. While she studied serious acting with Sanford Meisner, Tina Louise is a triple threat, which most people sadly know only through occasional musical numbers on That Show We Haven’t Mentioned Yet. She started out as a chorus girl and ensemble player in the Broadway musicals Two’s Company (1952-53) and John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1953-54). She was a supernumerary in the original production of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955-56). Then came a good role in Li’l Abner (1956-58).

In 1957 she recorded and released her record album It’s Time for Tina. The following year her film debut, God’s Little Acre, with Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Buddy Hackett, and Jack Lord. Other movies Included The Trap (1959), The Hangman (1959), Day of the Outlaw (1959), Garibaldi (1961), For Those Who Think Young (1964), and others. Her last Broadway show was Fade In – Fade Out (1964-65), with Carol Burnett, Jack Cassidy, and Lou Jacobi. As you can see, she had a dozen years worth of cool credits by this point.

It was then she took the role of Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island, which had been turned down by Jayne Mansfield, with whom Louise had performed in Rock Hunter. The lore (possibly apocryphal) is that she was told she would be the star of the sitcom, and only learned later that it was an ensemble piece. The show only lasted 3 years (1964-67), but it cast a shadow over her future casting — she was now inextricably linked with her popular character. (This despite the fact that she sat out all the reunions, her role played by a series of Fake Gingers).

But contrary to popular misconception her non-Gilligan career did survive. Believe me, every time she has ever been in something, this guy has paid attention. So she valiantly landed parts in the after-years. These credits include the Matt Helm movie The Wrecking Crew (1968); How to Commit Marriage (1969) with Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason; the Robert Mitchum western The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969); The Happy Ending (1969), with Jeanne Simmons, John Forsythe, Shirley Jones and Lloyd Bridges; The Stepford Wives (1975), Death Scream (1975), SST: Death Flight (1977), Robert Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs (1987), and dozens of others.

I saw her in person once! At a Michael Dukakis rally. I wonder if she regrets that gig as much as she does Gilligan’s Island!