Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Culture 101 (part 6) - Gilligan's Island and Breast Cancer Awareness

The month of October has been designated
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM).  
(reference:  National Breast Cancer Awareness Month |

Hence the pink ribbon - universal symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness.
(reference:  The Pink Ribbon Story)

But what's with the title of this post?

And as October is coming to a close, what does Breast Cancer Awareness have to do with that silly 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island?

Just sit right back and we'll hear a tale ...

Baby boomers and those who watch classic reruns surely must have this introduction to the second season impressed on your DNA -

Of the seven castaways, three of them were women:  Mrs. Howell, the millionaire's wife (Natalie Schafer); Ginger, the movie star (Tina Louise); and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells).

In the 1960s, the censors ensured that Ginger only showed a limited amount of cleavage and Mary Ann did not show her bellybutton.  (reference: Tina Louise - Her 60's Look)   But the censors did not have any problems with Mrs. Howell.  She was fully covered and wore high necklines.

The sitcom ran for three season (1964-1967), two animated cartoons, and three movies - not to mention the infinite reruns.  (reference:  Gilligan's Island -

One special was made in 2001 telling the story behind Gilligan's Island -

Surviving Gilligan's Island:

The Incredibly True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History.  (reference:

Among the castaways, Natalie Schafer was one of the most mysterious and had many secrets.  Among them was her real age, which no one knew till after she had passed away in 1991 at 90.  Yet, there was another secret that was more poignant, which is dramatized in the clip below.

For the Natalie Schafer story, the clip starts at 7:10 and ends at 11:10

One of Natalie's friends was depressed as she was to have a mastectomy the next day.  Natalie's friend didn't  know if she could go through with it, felt all alone, and wondered what kind of life she would have after that.  Natalie assured her that she was not alone and must go through with the operation as many other women had and survived.  And these women continued living full lives even when medical procedures were more radical and primitive.  Then Natalie revealed a personal secret that she had hid so well.

Natalie Schafer was a breast cancer survivor.  And her body was one of those scarred by the radical and primitive procedures to remove the cancer.  But she went on living till she was 90 years old, working in the acting field that capitalizes so much on the physical.

Natalie's friend at the end of the clip said - She saved my life that night.

Next time you see a rerun of Gilligan's Island, think of Mrs. Howell.  As we learned in Surviving Gilligan's Island, "Mrs. Howell" survived more that a shipwreck - she survived breast cancer.

And the sitcom Gilligan's Island and the spirit to survive is part of the American culture.


Previous posts in the Culture 101 series:

Culture 101 (part 1) - Reagan's Challenge (2012)

Culture 101 (part 2) - Easter Eucatastrophe (2012)

Culture 101 (part 3) - Paul Revere's Ride (2012)

Culture 101 (part 4) - Gold Diggers and the Great Depression (2012)

Culture 101 (part 5) - Blue Bloods and 9/11  (2012)


Photo from Wikipedia Commons:  Pink Ribbon

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