Tina Louise became a superstar overnight as she starred as Ginger in the hit television show Gilligan’s Island. The New York native became a great actress, singer, and model. Though, she was often praised for her looks and not necessarily for her work on screen.
Today, Louise is the only cast member of Gilligan’s Island who still is alive. The show changed her life forever, but her career didn’t only consist of acting. The now 89-year-old is still going strong – and when you see her today, you’ll have a hard time believing she isn’t a few decades younger! Let’s look at her magnificent life, career, and what she looks like today.
Tina Louise was born Tina Blacker on February 11, 1934, in New York City. Her father owned a candy store, and her mother worked as a fashion model.
Tina Louise – early life & career
When Tina was only four years old, her parents divorced, which made her childhood rather complicated.
“My path was very unusual. I lived with a lot of different cousins and aunts and strangers and so forth and so on, sort of a gypsy kind of a childhood,” she told Authority Magazine in 2019.
When growing up, Tina didn’t have any big dreams of working in the entertainment industry. Though, just weeks before she was to attend Miami University, everything changed.
“I saw a friend of mine who had gotten a part in a play on Broadway and he was the same age as me and I was very impressed,” Tina Louise told Authority Magazine.
“My mother took me backstage and I just really enjoyed it,” she continued. “And the very fact that my friend was in it gave me a little push to just proceed. I told my mother that I wanted to leave the University because the drama department wasn’t sufficient for me.”
Tina’s mother knew her daughter wanted to pursue a career in the drama department and honored her request. She began attending the Neighborhood Playhouse in Manhattan, New York, which she said “was, and still is, a wonderful school. “
While Tina Louise studied and perfected her craft at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, she also began modeling. Moreover, she was working as a nightclub singer. In 1952, she made her Broadway debut in the Bette Davis musical Two’s Company. At that point, her looks fascinated people, and she even appeared in Playboy Magazine.
In 1957, Tina Louise released her first music album, It’s Time for Tina. She continued working in theater and got some smaller parts in movies. However, in 1958, her life changed.
Breakthrough role in ‘God’s Little Acre
Her role as Griselda Walden in the drama film God’s Little Acre made her a Hollywood star. The movie received excellent reviews – and Tina Louise ended up taking home the Golden Globe Award for the New Star of the Year.
“It was incredible,” she told Forbes. “The movie ended up in the Venice Film Festival. I went abroad. There were all these people around taking care of me. I didn’t have to worry about anything. We sat in the theater, and I got bright red roses [laughs]. I’m saying, ‘Why did you give me roses? You should give them to the writer, the director – somebody else.'”
Instead of accepting Hollywood roles, Tina Louise went her own way. After God’s Little Acre, she focused on her Broadway work and also starred in some Italian films. In 1962, when returning from Europe, Louise started studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio.
“Everything Lee Strasberg said was important. He’d pick up your arm and see if—and how — it would drop to determine the level of relaxation in your body and spirit,” Louise told Esquire. “He’d say, ‘Make a sound.’ Some people would start to laugh and that would sometimes turn to tears. You didn’t have to be sad — it all came from deep relaxation.”
She continued, “I learned a lot from Lee about deep relaxation to get at something you were working toward. And then I found myself on Gilligan’s Island, where somebody’s telling you, ‘Go to the right.’ ‘Go to the left.’ That was an adjustment.”
Gilligan’s Island would make Tina Louise into somewhat of a Hollywood legend. Before landing the role, she was performing with Carol Burnett in the Broadway musical comedy Fade Out-Fade In. However, when Louise read the script, she wasn’t convinced it was a role for her.
Tina Louise as Ginger in ‘Gilligan’s Island’
Initially, in the pilot, her role as Ginger was played by Kit Smythe. But when they decided to make her quit the bombshell character, Tina Louise was the answer.
The stress explained that Ginger was “part Marilyn [Monroe], part Lucille [Ball]..” In the beginning, she felt the scripts were “snarky.” But after a while, she realized it was “light and funny and charming.”
“I always had fun with the show. Ginger flirted. Flirting is fun! Flirting is good;” Louise told the NY Post.
Tina Louise stayed on the CBS sitcom for all three seasons and a total of 98 episodes. Although her role was adored, she never reprised it on any reunion for television or movies over the years.
For decades, and still to this day, fans have approached her and sent letters, thanking her for her incredible portrayal of Ginger.
“I get letters every day at my house. I appreciate the fact that they love the series. I once had somebody come up to me in a restaurant, she said she was sorry to interrupt, but that her husband was dying of cancer and liked to look at the show every single day,” Tina Louise said.
“That was very, very important. I respect the fact that people like it so much. I understand that for myself – when you need diversion, you need diversion. When I was on my bed for two-and-a-quarter months [recuperating], I needed diversion. Fortunately, there was the reality show of an election that was really getting heated. I was grateful for that, the books I read and the people that came by.”
“The writers didn’t want us to get off the Island”
Even though the series became very successful, it “only” lasted for three seasons. So what happened? According to Tina, it was an executive decision.
“The writers didn’t want us to get off the Island,” Louise explained. “The show was in the Top 10 or 20 when it ended. The [network] president wasn’t happy [with the 1967] schedule. He wanted Gunsmoke to come back on. So they took our show off,” she added. “In syndication, it just went on and on and on … and on and on and on.
“When it did end I just got back to what I was doing. Which was more dramatic roles,” she added.
Tina Louise continued her successful career both in acting and in music. She starred in the television series Kojak in 1974, and other roles include the 1975 movie The Stepford Wives, the 1987 comedy OC and Stiggs, and the rockabilly satire film Johnny Sue in 1992, starring Brad Pitt.
Even though she had reached retirement age, Tina would not stop with her passion. In 2014, she starred in the spiritual drama Tapestry, and other things became more interesting.
Beginning with her Sunday: A Memoir book in 1997, Tina Louise has written several books. Her children’s book When I Grow Up in 2007 was very special, as she donated some of the proceeds to literacy programs. Moreover, Louise has been volunteering at local public schools since 1996.
She is an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences member and a lifetime member of the Actors Studio. But while the recognitions are very special to her, she has sadly seen many of her colleagues pass away over the years. Tina Louise is the last living cast member of Gilligan’s Island. In 2020, her former Gilligan’s Island castmate and friend, Dawn Wells, passed away from Covid-19.
This is Tina Louise from ‘Gilligan’s Island’ today
“Dawn was a very wonderful person. I want people to remember her as someone who always had a smile on her face,” Louise told the New York Post. “Nothing is more important than family and she was family. She will always be remembered.”
“We were part of the wonderful show that everyone loves and has been a great source of comfort, especially during these times.”
Tina Louise was married to the late TV talk show host Les Crane for four years. The couple divorced in 1971, and together, they share a daughter, Caprice Crane, who’s moved on to become a producer, screenwriter, and novelist. Today, Tina has two grandchildren,” whom she calls “my two beautiful babies.”
The 89-year-old still lives in her hometown of New York (in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan.)
Even though she is getting quite old – which remains hard to believe when seeing pictures of her – Tina is ready to meet the right man.
“Numbers are not what you look like”
“I’m open. I’m open. I’m open to life,” Louise said. “These days, I’m still not going out very far. If I go out with a friend, it’s once in two weeks.”
Meanwhile, she didn’t want to give her age when interviewed by the New York Post in 2021.
“Don’t number me. Who needs it?” Tina Louise added. “Numbers are not what you look like or how you live your life … Buddha said, ‘Live in the present moment. Wisely and earnestly.'”
If you enjoyed this article, perhaps you’d like to read about why Little House on The Prairie star Karren Grassle never had children.
Tina Louise was extraordinary on Gilligan’s Island. We can’t believe she is 89 years old; she still looks so beautiful!
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