Gilligan’s Island aired for three years before being cancelled but in those three years the seven castaways had many wacky adventures while marooned on a deserted island located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but what made their stay somewhat bearable was that they would occasionally encounter a variety of guest stars. In the 19th episode of the first season a young Kurt Russell made a guest appearance as a jungle boy in a nod/rip-off of to Johnny Sheffield who played Boy in the Tarzan series from MGM.
The episode opens with Gilligan (Bob Denver) running into a jungle boy (Kurt Russell), sporting the standard leopard skin loin cloth and swinging on a vine, but when Gilligan runs back to camp to inform The Professor (Russell Johnson) and Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) he is met with disbelief. The Professor states that they’ve explored the island thoroughly and had determined that they are the only humans on the island and suggests that Gilligan may have spotted a monkey, while Skipper doubts Gilligan simply because Gilligan is an idiot.
Gilligan convinces the Skipper to head off into the jungle to find the mysterious jungle boy but whenever Gilligan spots the jungle boy the Skipper is too slow turning around to spot him, and eventually he ends up with a birds egg splatting him in the face. Disgusted with his “Little Buddy” Skipper storms off back to camp and then of course the jungle boy then walks up to Gilligan. This is called comedy folks. Instead of being led to meet the other castaways the jungle boy takes Gilligan to a strange rock formation that is plugged by a large stone, the boy removes the plug and helium gas begins to poor out and we are subjected to several minutes of comedy antics with Gilligan losing his hat as some prop man dangles it around on string. They recap the rock and Gilligan is able to then lead the boy back to camp.
Gilligan arrives at camp ahead of the boy and is subjected to more ridicule from Skipper until the boy strolls into camp and is spotted by Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells). The jungle boy is a bit skittish at first, and Howell’s blustery offer of new luggage doesn’t temp the boy, but Mary Ann’s softer approach works, “When fishing for boys the proper bait is girls.” We are then treated with comedic scenes of the castaways trying to civilize the jungle boy; Ginger (Tina Louise) tries to style his hair but quickly realizes he should be allowed to “You be you” yet never questioning how a kid living in the jungle has a 50s haircut in the first place. Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer) tries to teach the boy proper table manners but only results in him eating one of the forks. Ginger, Mary Ann and Mrs. Howell all try to crack the language barrier with no success.
Gilligan eventually shows the wondrous helium font to The Professor and The Skipper and they quickly come up with the idea of sewing a bunch of raincoats together to form a balloon that would allow one of the castaways to catch the nearby jet stream which would then carry them to Hawaii. There is a bit of a disagreement about who should take the trip until eventually The Professor and Skipper draw straws, the Skipper wins but is immediately not sure if it can be considered a win as the trip could be dangerous. The girls quickly sew together the raincoats, a surprisingly large amount of raincoats for seven people heading out on a three hour tour on a sunny day, and then the Skipper is all set for his trip…that is he would be if he didn’t weigh so much. Turns out the balloon can only carry a few provisions and a passenger of only ninety pounds; everyone turns and looks at the jungle boy. Mary Anne is aghast at the thought but the Professor ensures her it would be perfectly safe, child safety not being a big thing back in the day, and that they could provide the boy with a note to let the authorities know of the castaway’s location. The group argue about this for a while, the danger to this young kid being the main sticking point, but then Gilligan suggests that they send the balloon up unmanned with the aforementioned note inside. Everyone agrees this a great idea, and coming from Gilligan this is a bit unusual, but unfortunately the jungle boy was listening to all this discussion and took it into his head to hop in the balloon and take off into the wild blue yonder.
Discovering the balloon gone the castaways are despondent, Gilligan blames himself but this is actually one of those rare times that their escape from the island wasn’t foiled by one of Gilligan’s acts of idiocy, even the Skipper tries to console his little buddy. Later they overhear on the radio that the jungle boy’s balloon landed on an aircraft carrier but the mystery of where he came from will remain one for some time as the kid of course doesn’t know how to talk beyond going, “Boy, boy, girl, girl” that her learned from the women. Gilligan offers his thoughts in his usual daft way, “But once he goes to high school and college he’ll be able to talk real good.” Ginger has to point out that could be ten years from now, but of course even if the kid eventually did learn to talk the odds of him being able to point out where the deserted island was located is rather slim.
Of course as television shows go Gilligan’s Island was certainly not something you want to overthink, or think about at all for that matter, it was a silly show and one even the Network were so embarrassed to air that it was cancelled despite having solid ratings. Kurt Russell isn’t given much to do here as the relatively silent jungle boy but his youthful charisma still managed to shine through.
Note: Once again if an idea fails the castaways never try to attempt it again, and in this case it seems obvious that the professor could easily make multiple smaller balloons to take numerous messages into the air.
Gilligan Meets Jungle Boy (1965)
Gilligan’s Island is not a high concept show and mostly deals in slapstick and lowbrow comedy, but the cast all seem to be giving it their best and once again seeing a young Kurt Russell is rather fun.