Family & Companions
A prolific character actor in film and on television for over four decades, Alan Hale, Jr. appeared in nearly every genre imaginable, but was largely remembered as the genial Skipper on "Gilligan's Island" (CBS, 1964-67). The son of actor Alan Hale, he was best used as imposing tough guys or folksy, easily amused sidekicks; both of these qualities were put to use as the Skipper, who could be counted on as the castaways' strong man, while at the same time, fluster apoplectically over Gilligan's shenanigans. When the iconic series came to an end, Hale had no ill will towards those who typecast him as the Skipper, as the role had extended his career another two decades. He continued to play overgrown teddy bears of one stripe or another until his death in 1990, which was mourned by two generations of TV kids who had grown up on that tropical island with Hale.
Born Alan Hale Mackahan, Jr. on March 8, 1921 in Los Angeles, he was the lookalike son of Alan Hale, Sr., the prolific character actor who co-starred with the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, and silent film actress Gretchen Hartman. Reportedly, Hale Jr. began his acting career as an infant during the silent period, but his first recorded appearance was at the age of 10 in the Broadway play "Caught Wet," for which he was credited as "Allan Hale." Two years later, he landed his first screen role in a sound film with an uncredited turn in "Wild Boys of the Road" (1933). Blessed with the same powerful build as his father, but with a broad, childlike smile and boisterous laugh, Hale was well cast as physical men - soldiers, college football players, cowboys - whose easygoing nature offered a counterpoint to the stoicism of their leading men. He was largely a background player for most of his early roles, but by the late 1940s, he was a staple of military dramas and Westerns. He even netted a lead or two, most notably in "Sarge Goes to College" (1947), a lightweight school drama in which his WWII hero is sent to recuperate at a university and becomes involved in collegiate hijinks.
Hale segued smoothly into television at the dawn of the 1950s, and essayed a variety of sidekicks and henchmen for such cowboy shows as "Range Rider" (syndicated, 1951-52) and "The Gene Autry Show" (CBS, 1950-56), where he frequently played Gene's right hand man, Tiny. Now frequently billed as Alan Hale after the death of his father at the dawn of the decade, he began filling many of the roles the elder Hale had played or would play in features, including Alexandre Dumas' Musketeer Porthos in "At Sword's Point" (1952) and "Lady in the Iron Mask" (1952), and support to such major stars as Kirk Douglas in "The Big Trees" (1952), Gary Cooper in "Springfield Rifle" (1953) and Robert Taylor in "Rogue Cop" (1954). Hale also enjoyed the occasional lead, though mostly on television, where he was top-billed as "Biff Baker, U.S.A." (CBS, 1952-53), a two-fisted import businessman who found himself up to his neck each week in international intrigue. From 1957 to 1958, he played the legendary railroad engineer "Casey Jones" (CBS, 1958) before segueing to a variety of roles on the Desilu-produced Western "The Texan" (CBS, 1958-1960) with Rory Calhoun. Though Westerns were his stock and trade for most of the 1950s and early 1960s, Hale appeared in nearly every genre, from comedies like "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68), where his lovelorn farmer, Jeff Pruitt, took a liking to Barney Fife's sweetheart, Thelma Lou, to dramas and action series like "Adventures in Paradise" (ABC, 1959-1962) and "Route 66" (CBS, 1960-64).
In 1964, producer Sherwood Schwartz was looking for an actor to play the skipper of a marooned pleasure cruise in a new sitcom he was creating for CBS. After auditioning and passing on several actors, including Carroll O'Connor, he spied Hale at a Hollywood restaurant and decided that he had found his Jonas Grumby, captain of the doomed S.S. Minnow and second lead on "Gilligan's Island." As the Skipper, Hale's role was to maintain a semblance of order and buoy the spirits of his fellow castaways while enlisting his bumbling first mate, Gilligan (Bob Denver), in rescue attempts. The relationship between Gilligan and the Skipper appeared at times antagonistic - big laughs were generated by the Skipper taking a swipe at Gilligan with his hat - but in reality, the pair were like father and son. Schwartz had envisioned them as a modern take on comedy legends Laurel and Hardy, and for his part, Hale gave an admirable turn as Hardy, right down to his signature slow burn. Offscreen, Denver and Hale were also close friends and mutual admirers.
Though many on "Gilligan" found themselves unhappy with the quality of the scripts, and unhappier still when the series was abruptly cancelled in 1967, Hale did not appear to be phased by the turn of events. He simply returned to his steady work as a supporting player on television. And while several of his castmates, most notably Bob Denver, struggled to distance themselves from their "Gilligan" image, Hale embraced the typecasting, making frequent personal appearances as the Skipper, and even co-starring with Denver in his first post-"Gilligan" series, "The Good Guys" (CBS, 1968-1970). Part of the reason for Hale's lack of concern was that due to the length and breadth of his career - aside from Jim Backus - he had the longest career of any performer on "Gilligan," and his effortless talent made it easy for him to slip back into the character roles he had been playing prior to the Schwartz series.
Hale's career showed no signs of slowing as he entered his third decade of performing in the 1970s. He signed up to reprise the Skipper in all of the spin-off animated series, like "The New Adventures of Gilligan" (ABC, 1974), as well as the exceptionally popular live-action reunion films, starting with "Rescue from Gilligan's Island" (NBC, 1978). But he maintained an acting career well outside the "Gilligan" franchise, which included 1979's "The Fifth Musketeer," for which he again reprised Porthos opposite his "At Sword's Point" co-star, Cornel Wilde. Hale also owned and operated several businesses in Los Angeles, most notably the Lobster Barrel, a seafood restaurant where he would frequently serve as host while dressed as the Skipper. Hale was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the late 1980s, but continued to make appearances in film and on television series. He showed no reticence in playing the Skipper for any occasion, and while receiving treatment for his illness, frequently visited children who were receiving care in the same hospital while wearing his Skipper's cap. On Jan. 2, 1990, Hale passed away at the age of 68.