TV writer and producer Sherwood Schwartz, whose contributions to the world of sitcoms included the classic series “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch,” died July 12 at 94.
The shows never received critical acclaim but went on to become cultural icons that spawned follow-up movies, theatrical productions, tell-all books by their former stars and more.
“Both managed to reverberate in viewers’ heads through the years as few such series did, lingering in the language and inspiring parodies, spinoffs and countless stand-up comedy jokes,” one writer said after Schwartz died.
“Gilligan’s Island” ran only three seasons, from 1964 to 1967, but was revived in three TV movies, a children’s cartoon and a reality show. “The Brady Bunch” lasted five seasons, from 1969 to 1974, and was followed by three one-season spinoffs, a live production of the show’s episodes and two films.
Schwartz, in his own memoir of “Brady,” as well as in others’ memoirs in which he was quoted, claimed a deeper significance for each show than as critically derided “gag-ridden corn” (Gilligan) or “a sugarcoated view of American family life” (Brady).
Schwartz said that “Gilligan’s Island” was really “a metaphor for the nations of the world, and their purpose was to show how the nations of the world have to get along together or cease to exist.” Schwartz was quoted as saying that such a description drew an outburst by CBS President Bill Paley and almost cost him the show.
But Schwartz insisted that “it was a microcosm. I mean, here’s a show about a group of people who have absolutely nothing in common, forced to live together and work hard toward a common goal of survival. That’s the philosophy of the show. Of course, we buried that message under a lot of pratfalls and bamboo and silly stuff, but I used to get a lot of mail from psychiatrists and philosophers who understood it.”
As for “The Brady Bunch,” Schwartz said he was inspired in 1965 by an article that described the growth of “blended” families in America: “Times were changing, and that one little newspaper item was all it took to provide that ‘Eureka’ moment that inspired me to create a new kind of TV family—a family that America was not only ready for, but maybe even needed.”
Schwartz was born in Passaic, N.J., and grew up in Brooklyn. His brother, who was working for Bob Hope, got him a job as a writer. Schwartz wrote comedies and programs for Armed Forces Radio during World War II before becoming a staff writer for the original radio version of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” He then became head writer of “The Red Skelton Show,” for which he, his brother and two others won an Emmy Award.
The movie and TV website IMDB has a full resume of Schwartz’s writing, producing and songwriting, which included co-writing the famous theme songs for both “Brady” and “Gilligan.”
Schwartz received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008. He was married to his wife for 69 years.