A book about ferns: the truth of the three-hour Gilligan’s Island cruise

24 June 2024

Gilligan’s Island was a slapstick American TV series which ran from 1964 to 1967. Despite its popularity, the show was cancelled shortly before filming of a fourth series commenced. I first saw reruns of Gilligan’s quite some time later. A number of movies, featuring most of the original cast, were made between 1978 and 1982. For all its goofiness, and ludicrously fanciful storyline, the show’s appeal has not waned, since production ceased over forty years ago.

Much of the allure lay in the way a group of mismatched passengers and crew were forced to get along after being marooned on an unchartered island, somewhere in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. Among them were the wealthy and the working class, the chic and the collegiate. Most of the laughs were generated by the titular character, Gilligan, the well-meaning though bungling first mate, of the shipwrecked charter vessel, that all had been aboard.

But the premise of Gilligan’s Island, about seven people setting off on what was meant to be three-hour cruise, has been a constant source of speculation. And conspiracy theories. For instance, why was the millionaire, Thurston Howell III, carrying a briefcase full of cash? Further, why did he board the charter vessel with dozens of suitcases of clothing? And what of the professor? Why on earth was he on a fun cruise with a cache of scientific paraphernalia?

I wrote about this topic in 2008, after reading an in-depth exposé by Gilligan’s fan, and writer, Adam-Troy Castro, published on the no longer online SFF Net website. I’m glad I posted a number of excerpts from Castro’s article, in my piece, as they may be all that’s left of the original article.

But, long story short, no one aboard the S.S. Minnow, the shipwrecked charter boat, was out on any three-hour cruise. Howell wanted to cross into international waters, and make a big drug buy. That explains the cash he was carrying. The professor meanwhile, had brought analysis equipment with him, so he could check the contraband was the real deal. Everyone else on the Minnow had their not so wholesome reasons for being there.

Although my post is sixteen-years old, it still comes up in search engines results, which says a lot about the enduring popularity of Gilligan’s Island, together with the intrigue of the show’s peculiar premise. And then the other day, during my weekly login to Facebook (FB), an article about the professor, posted on the Classic Stars FB page, popped up in my feed. If you’re a fan, it’s well worth a read (and I don’t think you need to be a FB member), but this is possibly the most salient sentence:

The Professor’s backstory identifies him as Roy Hinkley (though his actual name is rarely mentioned during the series), a high-school science teacher who was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His principal expertise was as a botanist, whose purpose in joining the ill-fated voyage that stranded the castaways was to write a book to be titled “Fun With Ferns”.

So there we have it. The professor was not on board the charter vessel so he could test the authenticity of goods Howell was allegedly buying, somewhere on the open sea. The great big mystery can finally be laid to rest. The professor was there researching a book about ferns. Plants, not illicit drugs. Nor was anyone else, therefore, up to no good.


How though does going on a three-hour cruise, where nary a fern is to be seen, with an excess of laboratory equipment no less, help in the writing of such a book? Oh no: we’re by no means anywhere near getting to the bottom of what was really happening on this “three-hour cruise”…


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