In Hollywood, most people consider themselves lucky to have one show get on the air. A veteran producer and writer, Sherwood Schwartz created several TV series. Two of them — Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch — were moderate successes in their original runs but later became two of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. Schwartz died in his sleep early this morning at the age of 94.
Born in 1916 in Passaic, New Jersey, Sherwood Charles Schwartz grew up in Brooklyn and was a pre-med student at New York University. He earned a bachelor’s degree and moved to Los Angeles. While waiting to be accepted at medical school, he asked his brother Albert, who worked on Bob Hope’s radio show, if he could try writing a few jokes. Hope liked his work and offered him a job so he decided to help people feel better with laughter, rather than medicine.
Schwartz used to joke that Hope would send him, as the youngest man on the team, out for ice cream fudge sundaes. When Schwartz returned from a stint in World War II, he stopped by the writer’s room. Without missing a beat, Hope commented that it had taken him a long time to get the sundae this time.
After World War II, Schwartz wrote for radio’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He transitioned to television in the 1950s with I Married Joan (starring a pre-Gilligan Jim Backus) and The Red Skelton Show. He became the head writer on the Skelton show and shared an Emmy with his brother, Skelton, and others.
He was later a script supervisor on My Favorite Martian and pitched his own show, Gilligan’s Island, to CBS. It was rejected, in part because the execs didn’t believe there would be enough story ideas for an ongoing series. Schwartz responded by coming up with dozens of story outlines, written out on 31 feet of butcher paper.
Revolving around seven diverse people who’ve been stranded on an uncharted island in the Pacific, Gilligan’s debuted on CBS in September of 1964. The show was hated by most critics but the public loved it. It ran for three seasons and was unofficially picked up for a fourth.
Programmers had cancelled Gunsmoke because of low ratings but that was network president William S. Paley’s wife’s favorite show. When the programmer’s realized their folly, the Western was swiftly returned to the schedule. To make room, they dropped a new sitcom and Gilligan’s Island. After telling the cast that the show had been picked up, Schwartz had to call them back to relay the bad news.
In 1965, Schwartz read an article in the Los Angeles Times that reported that 40% of US marriages had at least one child from a previous marriage. He wrote a treatment called Yours and Mine and all three networks were interested but wanted significant changes so he shelved it. It later became the basis for The Brady Bunch. That series ran for five years on ABC. Like Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch became incredibly popular in syndication.
Schwartz created and produced several other TV series but none of them were nearly as popular. Schwartz was kept busy for much of his later career working on numerous Brady and Gilligan reunions, movies, series, plays, and sequels (except for The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which he had nothing to do with). In 2008, Schwartz was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Schwartz is survived by his wife, Mildred; three sons, Donald, Lloyd and Ross; a daughter, Hope Juber; grandchildren; — and several generations of grateful TV viewers.
What do you think? What are your favorite memories of the work of Sherwood Schwartz?