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CASTAWAYS’ CREATOR REVEALS GILLIGAN’S DEEPEST SECRETS

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It's high time to resolve any unanswered questions that have festered in the minds of many viewers lo these many years.

"Gilligan's Island," after all, has a way of puzzling even its most devoted fans.Like, why would a millionaire and his wife share a chartered boat with members of the - gulp - proletariat? (Their own yacht was in the shop.)

And how did Mary Ann concoct those coconut cream pies? (The professor was quite the genius helper in the makeshift kitchen.)

And why didn't Ginger ever pair off with Gilligan or the skipper? (Oh, please.)

Want more? "Gilligan's Island" creator Sherwood Schwartz, who also masterminded "The Brady Bunch," promises just that. His new book, "Inside Gilligan's Island," features all sorts of provocative tidbits about the seven castaways who were marooned on an uncharted desert isle after their tour boat was caught in a storm.

The book was written in 1988 as a textbook for college film classes, but St. Martin's Press thought the greater public would appreciate some intimate details of the CBS prime-time series - such as that the blue oxford shirt worn by the professor (Russell Johnson) withstood 886 washings without so much as losing a button.

The book was re-released in paperback, and included additions gladly provided by Schwartz, who, at 77, still is making a rather lucrative living off a show that once was fair game for critics.

And the show that aired from 1964-67 always provided plenty of fodder, such as the off-the-wall episode in which the professor tried to save the castaways by making a huge balloon out of raincoats after discovering helium on the island.

Although critics said the premise was ridiculous, Schwartz said he was vindicated in September 1983, upon hearing reports that a Czechoslovakian family sewed together their raincoats and filled them with helium in an attempt to escape Russian persecution.

And he feels vindicated, too, by the continued success of the show. "Gilligan's Island" airs in syndication nationwide.

"`I Love Lucy' had 400 episodes and turns over once a year. `Gilligan's Island' only has 99 episodes and turns over three times a year," he said. "It must be in its 120th run."

As if the reruns weren't enough, there was more money to be made from the show - namely, three film specials and two animated series (the specials were made before the deaths of Jim Backus, who played millionaire Thurston Howell III; Natalie Schafer, his wife, Lovey; and Alan Hale Jr., the skipper).

There also was a "Gilligan" pilot that aired on an educational channel and a stage musical, written by - who else? - Schwartz and his son, Lloyd.

The musical made its West Coast debut last month in San Diego to tepid reviews. ("Too much of the time, `Gilligan's Island: The Musical' is content to ride along on our love for the series itself, which is a love that must be charitably described as `conditional,"' the San Diego Union-Tribune said.)

Still, Schwartz is pressing on, and it's not just the castaways who are keeping him busy.

Work is scheduled to begin in July on a big-screen version of "The Brady Bunch," a Paramount Pictures project that Schwartz will co-produce.

The TV show about a brood of six kids, their parents and the maid first aired on ABC from 1969-74 and also spawned a stage play (not written by Schwartz but endorsed, nonetheless).

"If you take a careful look at `The Brady Bunch' and `Gilligan's Island,' they are the same show," said Schwartz, who lives in Beverly Hills. "It's about how people learn to get along with other people."

Schwartz also is hard at work on "Gilligan's Island: The Movie," with an anticipated release date of this winter.

And casting? This is where Schwartz really has fun speculating. He adores the thought of Geena Davis playing Ginger, Winona Ryder as Mary Ann, Steve Martin as Thurston Howell and Martin Short as Gilligan.

Simply put? "This will be major," he said.