Alan Hale MacKahan was born on March 8, 1921 in Los Angeles, California. He was the son of two actors. Alan’s father, Alan Hale, had been a legendary journeyman supporting actor in over 200 films, both silent and talkies. His mother, Gretchen Hartman, was also a screen actress. Under the name Grace Barrett, she was a silent film actress in the 1920s. Alan thus grew up around show business personalities (he was a classmate of Mickey Rooney and the two remained lifelong close friends).
Alan caught “the bug” early and started acting at the age of 10. Alan made his Broadway debut in Caught Wet in 1931 (the show ran for less than two months). He was to appear in five or six more plays in his checkered career, before devoting himself full-time to films and later, television. His film debut came in 1933 in Wild Boys of the Road, where he was billed, but was edited out of the film’s final release.
After being educated and graduating from Blacke-Fox Military Academy, Alan soon began a steady career as the classic “working actor” in motion pictures. Alan appeared in scores of other films before world war ii, including Dive Bomber (1941) with Errol Flynn, Time Out for Rhythm (1941) with Rudy Vallee and The Shores of Tripoli (1942) with Harry Morgan.
It was probably during this period that Alan, to supplement his income, also found work as a vacuum cleaner salesman. While it is known that Alan did sell vacuums, no specific dates for this alternate employment are given.
In 1943, Alan married Bettina Doerr, who was to have four children with him- Brian, Chris, Lana and Dorian. Alan and Bettina were to be married for 20 years, until 1963. During World War II, Alan enlisted and served in the U.S. Coast Guard. After the war, in 1946, Alan signed a contract with Monogram Studios, Hollywood’s “bargain basement” studio, where he proceeded to churn out dozens of films.
Besides his work on low-budget “quickies” at Monogram, Alan had an extremely eclectic resume of movie appearances for the next almost 20 years, including an uncredited bit in Monsieur Beaucaire with Bob Hope (1946), It Happens Every Spring with Ray Milland (1949), The West Point Story with James Cagney (1950), Home Town Story with a young Marilyn Monroe (1951), and The True Story of Jesse James with Robert Wagner (1957).
Alan also kept busy as one of Hollywood’s most active thespians in the new medium of television in the 1950’s and early ’60’s. His appearances on TV included guest spots on Bonanza, 77 Sunset Strip, Bat Masterson, Perry Mason, My Favorite Martian, Wagon Train, The Untouchables, and Maverick. Alan had also done several films with Gene Autry and was a recurring character on television’s The Gene Autry Show in the ’50s.
Interestingly, in 1958, Alan became one of the rare television actors to be a regular or semi-regular on two TV series simultaneously, when he starred as the title character in Casey Jones, while also appearing in several episodes of The Texan.
Perhaps Alan’s most famous (and prophetic) TV guest-starring spot was on a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, where he played the title character in “The Farmer Takes a Wife” and portrayed an uncouth bachelor named Jeff Pruitt, who was looking, in Mayberry, for a wife. It was during this episode that Alan referred to Barney Fife (Don Knotts), several times, as “little buddy.” (Hmm…)
In 1963, Sherwood Schwartz had already auditioned several actors for the role of Jonas Grumby aka “the Skipper,” for a new pilot he was producing called Gilligan’s Island. Among the newcomers who tried out for the role was a 39-year-old character actor named Carroll O’Connor, who was rejected, but within a few years would find his own TV immortality as Archie Bunker.
The story goes that Schwartz was having trouble casting the “Skipper” role, but one night he happened to spot Alan having dinner in a Civil War uniform at a Hollywood eatery. This started his wheels spinning and gave him the original impetus to consider Alan in the as yet un-cast role.
Later, Alan was filming on location in a movie called Bullet for a Badman when he got the call to come in and audition for Gilligan’s Island. In what must have been an incredibly dramatic few hours, he rode a horse from Zion National Park in Utah to the highway, hitchhiked a ride to Las Vegas, and caught a plane to Los Angeles, where his audition was to take place. After passing the audition and procuring the role, Alan settled in and enjoyed what was to be the longest steady job and role (three years) of his various and sundry acting career.
Interestingly, less than a month before Gilligan’s Island debuted on CBS on September 26, 1964, Alan married his second wife, Naomi. Naomi was known as “Trinket,” and the two were to be happily married until Alan’s passing over a quarter century later.
Dismissed and ridiculed unanimously by the critics, Alan was to join six fellow actors in what has been called the single most syndicated (and beloved) television show in the history of the medium. For the 98 episodes of Gilligan’s Island, one of the cornerstones of the show’s success was the close friendship of the Skipper with his “little buddy,” Gilligan (played by Bob Denver).
Explaining their relationship (as well as his own character), Alan said; “The Skipper lent himself to certainly being a nice fellow, a bumbling fellow, of course. He had a perfect foil in Gilligan, but really loved Gilligan. They were really great friends. Between the two of them, nothing seemed to dovetail. The only thing that did dovetail was their lasting friendship. They really were fond of each other.”
As previously stated, the Skipper’s real name on the series was Jonas Grumby, although this name was only to be mentioned once- in the series’ first episode “Two On a Raft.”
On the show, you can always see the Skipper wearing a green emerald pinky ring. Or, at least you can see the ring is green in the color episodes. In one episode, the Skipper explains to Gilligan that the ring “was given to him by his pop.” This was actually true, in that the ring was given as a gift to Alan by his dad, Alan Hale, Sr.
Hale and Denver used Laurel and Hardy as their comedy mentors in their various slapstick routines. This is especially obvious in the many episodes where the Skipper is the victim of Gilligan’s incompetence and “breaks the fourth wall,” looking directly into the camera, much like Ollie did with Stan, as if to say to the viewers “So you see what I have to deal with?”
15-year-old Alan Hale, Jr. with Stan laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Well-liked by all his co-stars, as well as the Gilligan’s Island crew, Alan became known as the ultimate trouper. While filming one episode, a branch gave way and Alan came tumbling down from his perch on a palm tree. Alan had broken his right wrist from the fall, but because he didn’t want to hold up production, he didn’t tell anyone about his injury until the next season.
Alan had a habit of calling people “little buddy” in real life, Sherwood Schwartz noticed this and decided to include it as a part of the Skipper’s character and incorporate it as his nickname for Gilligan. (In real life, Alan was so fond of the term, he often would address his wife Naomi as his “little buddy.”)
After Gilligan’s Island ended it’s historic run in 1967, Alan was, like all the cast members, typecast in his role. Nonetheless, Alan still kept a busy schedule of film and TV roles. He played a character named “Gilligan” in an episode of Batman, and at the end of a guest spot on The Wild, Wild West, Alan tells of how he now wants “to relax on my own private desert island,” as a snippet from the Gilligan’s Island theme plays in the background.
Alan also reunited with his old pal Bob Denver in three episodes of Denver’s short-lived series The Good Guys in the late ’60’s. He reprised his most beloved role as the Skipper in three more Gilligan’s Island reunion films, plus he did the voice of the Skipper in two Gilligan’s Island cartoon series. On an episode of The New Gidget, he played a character called “the Skipper.”
Besides all this activity, he still found roles in around a dozen post-Gilligan’s Island films, including Clint Eastwood’s 1968 Hang ‘Em High and 1984’s Johnny Dangerously with Michael Keaton. Alan’s final big screen appearance was a cameo with Bob Denver, fittingly, dressed as Gilligan and the Skipper, in 1987’s Back to the Beach.
Always the bon vivant, Alan’s off-camera hobbies included golfing, sailing, eating out, cooking and traveling.
For many years, he ran a popular seafood restaurant in Los Angeles called Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel. Alan always loved to wear his old black “Skipper hat” in real life, and would greet customers at his establishment wearing his world-famous topper. After the closing of his restaurant, Alan found employment at a travel agency, helping people book sea cruises. Was that perfect or what?
Alan was, by all accounts, a good-hearted man, and in his post-Gilligan’s Island years he spent countless hours visiting sick children in various hospitals, decked out in his Skipper outfit. He enjoyed nothing in the world more than bringing a smile to a bedridden child’s face.
Sadly, in the late 80’s, Alan was diagnosed with thymus cancer (the thymus is a gland-like structure that helps the body’s immune system). He had been a heavy smoker for decades.
When children would see Alan in his last years in a cancer-ridden fairly emaciated state, he would explain to them that they were preparing to do a remake of Gilligan’s Island and the reason he was so thin was because this time he was going to play Gilligan.
The world lost Alan Hale Jr. on January 2, 1990 (just six months after the death of first Gilligan’s Island cast member to pass on, Jim Backus.) He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the pacific ocean. Dawn Wells, representing the Gilligan’s Island cast, was the only cast member present.
The U.S. Coast Guard offered Naomi Hale a funeral with full military honors, but she politely refused.