For this week’s “Things That Bring Back Memories” post, I am going to pick something in the topic of “TELEVISION” and go with Fantasy Island. This was a show that on from 1977 to 1984. It was one that everyone would pretty much yell together – da plane…da plane!! Come on, you know you did it! 🙂 We all wanted to take a vacation on Fantasy Island, to enjoy the beach and all of the amenities. I guess it’s called Sandals now, huh?
For those of you, who are either too young, or just don’t remember it, here’s a video of the intro to the Fantasy Island show:
More Info on Fantasy Island:
Fantasy Island is an American television series that originally aired on the American Broadcasting Company network from 1977 to 1984. The series was created by Gene Levitt. A revival of the series originally aired on the same network during the 1998–99 season.
Before it became a television series, Fantasy Island was introduced to viewers in 1977 and 1978 through two made-for-television films. Airing from 1978 to 1984, the original series starred Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the enigmatic overseer of a mysterious island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, where people from all walks of life could come and live out their fantasies, albeit for a price.
Roarke was known for his white suit and cultured demeanor, and was initially accompanied by an energetic sidekick, Tattoo (played by Hervé Villechaize). Tattoo would run up the main bell tower to ring the bell and shout “The plane! The plane!” to announce the arrival of a new set of guests at the beginning of each episode. This line, shown at the beginning of the show’s credits, became an unlikely catchphrase because of Villechaize’s spirited delivery and French accent. In later seasons, he would arrive in his personal go-kart, sized for him, and recklessly drive to join Roarke for the visitor reception while the staff scrambled to get out of his way. From 1980 to 1982, Wendy Schaal joined the cast as a beautiful brown-eyed blonde assistant named Julie. The producers dismissed Villechaize from the series before the 1983–1984 season, which ended up being its last, and Tattoo was replaced by a more sedate butler type named Lawrence (played by Christopher Hewett). Lawrence’s personality was exactly the opposite of Tattoo’s in many ways. For instance, Lawrence was also responsible for the bell ringing, but instead of climbing to the tower he simply pushed a button outside to have the bell ring automatically.
A Grumman Widgeon aircraft was used for the series. As each visitor exited the plane, Roarke would describe to Tattoo (or another assistant) the nature of their fantasy, usually with a cryptic comment suggesting the person’s fantasy will not turn out as they expected. Roarke would then welcome his guests by lifting his glass and saying: “My dear guests, I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island.” This toast was usually followed with a warm smile but sometimes (depending on the nature of a guest or their fantasy) his eyes would show concern or worry for a guest’s safety.
Very little is known about the man known as Mr. Roarke and it is not clear if that is his first, last, or only name. Although most guests know him as “Mr.” Roarke, many people close to him, including past lovers, have referred to him only as “Roarke”, which suggests he may not have any other names. He is the sole owner and proprietor of Fantasy Island. Roarke’s actual age is a complete mystery. In the pilot film, he comments how the guests who come to his island are “so mortal” and there are hints throughout the series that suggest Roarke may be immortal. In “Elizabeth”, a woman from Roarke’s past appears, but it is revealed that she died over 300 years ago. Another episode even suggests that he was once intimate with Cleopatra. However old he is, Roarke has come to know many seemingly-immortal beings over his time on Earth, including ghosts (“The Ghost’s Story”), a genie (“A Genie Named Joe”), the mermaid Princess Nyah (“The Mermaid”, “The Mermaid Returns”, “The Mermaid and the Matchmaker”), the goddess Aphrodite (“Aphrodite”), and even Uriel the Angel of Death (“The Angel’s Triangle”). In “The Devil and Mandy Breem” and “The Devil and Mr. Roarke”, Roarke even faces the Devil (played by Roddy McDowall) who has come to the island to challenge him for either a guest’s immortal soul or his. It is mentioned this is not the first time they have confronted each other and Mr. Roarke has always been the winner. In the second story, the Devil himself was one of the island’s guests, claiming he was only there to relax and had no interest in Roarke’s soul at the time. However, this turned out to be yet another ruse.
Roarke had a strong moral code, but he was always merciful. He usually tried to teach his guests important life lessons through the medium of their fantasies, frequently in a manner that exposes the errors of their ways, and on occasions when the island hosted terminally ill guests he would allow them to live out one last wish. Roarke’s fantasies were not without peril, but the greatest danger usually came from the guests themselves. In some cases people were killed due to their own negligence, aggression or arrogance. When necessary, Roarke would directly intervene when the fantasy became dangerous to the guest:
For instance in one episode when Tattoo was given his own fantasy as a birthday gift, which ended up with him being chased by hostile natives in canoes, Mr. Roarke suddenly appeared in a motorboat, snared Tattoo’s canoe with a grappling hook and towed it away at high speed to help him escape. Another instance was in “The Victim” where a female guest seeking to fall in love with her dream man ends up as one of his sex slaves. When she and her fellow sex-slaves managed to get free, they are saved by Mr. Roarke and Tattoo where have arrived with the police who then arrest the two men responsible. Another instance was in the 1980 episode “With Affection, Jack the Ripper” when a female guest intent on researching Jack the Ripper’s crimes was sent back in time to 1888 London and would have become one of the Ripper’s victims had not Mr. Roarke physically intervened.
With only a few exceptions, Roarke always made it quite clear that he was powerless to stop a fantasy once it had begun and that guests must play them out to their conclusion.
In later seasons, there were often supernatural overtones. Roarke also seemed to have his own supernatural powers of some sort (called the “Gift of the McNabs” in “Delphine”), although it was never explained how this came to be. In the episodes “Reprisal” and “The Power” he temporarily gave the guest psychokinetic abilities and in “Terrors of the Mind” the power to see into the future. In one episode, when a guest says “Thank God things worked out well”, Roarke and Tattoo share a very odd look and Roarke says in a cryptic way “Thank God, indeed.” In the same episode, Roarke uses some mysterious powers to help Tattoo with his magic act. Ricardo Montalban would claim in interviews that he had a definite opinion in mind regarding the mystery of Mr. Roarke, and how he accomplished his fantasies, but he would never publicly state what it was. Years after the show was off the air, in an interview with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Montalban finally revealed that his motivation was imagining Roarke as a fallen angel whose sin was pride and that Fantasy Island was purgatory.
Each episode would alternate between two or three independent story lines as the guests experienced their fantasies and interacted with Roarke. When reruns of the show went into syndication, a half-hour version was offered, in which each hour-long original show was split to two separate half-hour shows in which only one guest’s story was told in each half-hour episode. This made it obvious that the original episodes had been planned in such a way that each guest or family got off the plane separately, did not interact with the other guest or family, and was given almost exactly half the time of the original episode.
The series was filmed primarily in Burbank, California, with the opening scenes of the enchanting island coastline being that of Kauai, Hawaii (both the Na Pali coast as well as Wailua Falls). The house with the bell tower, where Tattoo rings the bell, is the Queen Anne Cottage, located in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia. The plane, “arriving” with the guests, was filmed in the lagoon behind the Queen Anne Cottage. Sometimes, outdoor scenes were filmed at the Arboretum. Interior sets were filmed on Stages 26 and 17 at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. At some point the production of exterior scenes moved to the Warner Ranch a short distance away from Warner’s main lot.
About the Actors:
Ricardo Montalban (Mr. Roarke) was born November 25, 1920, and passed away on January 14, 2009. He was a Mexican actor. His career spanned seven decades, during which he became known for many different roles. During the 1970’s, he was a spokesman in automobile advertisements for Chrysler, including those in which he extolled the “fine Corinthian leather” used for the Cordoba’s interior. From 1977 to 1984, Montalbán played Mr. Roarke on the television series Fantasy Island. He played Khan Noonien Singh on the original Star Trek series and the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). He won an Emmy Award for his role in the miniseries How the West Was Won (1978), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1993. In his eighties, he provided voices for animated films and commercials, and appeared as Grandfather Valentin in the Spy Kids franchise. Montalbán appeared in many diverse films including The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) as well as two films from both the Planet of the Apes and Spy Kids series. In addition, he appeared in various musicals, such as The Singing Nun (1966), also starring Debbie Reynolds. Over the course of his long career, he played lead roles or guest-starred in dozens of television series. Montalbán also narrated several historical documentaries including the Spanish version of the National Park Service’s history of Pecos Pueblo for Pecos National Historical Park. Prior to his death in January 2009, Montalbán recorded the voice for a guest character in an episode of the animated series American Dad!, in which main character Roger becomes the dictator of a South American country. According to executive producer Mike Barker, it was his last role.
Herve Villechaize (Tattoo) was born in Paris on April 23, 1943. He stopped growing very early and his father (who was a surgeon) tried to find a cure by visiting several doctors and hospitals. But there was none, so Hervé had to live with his small height and also with undersized lungs. He studied at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and made an exhibition of his own paintings, which were well received. At 21, he left France for the USA where he continued to paint and to make photographs. He also started to participate in some movies and was quickly offered several roles for plays and then for cinema. His first big success was The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) where he was a killer associated to the villain Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee). He inspired the TV-series Fantasy Island (1977) where he took the role of “Tattoo”, the faithful servant of “Mr. Roarke” (Ricardo Montalban). This series was a great success and, thanks to it, Villechaize became famous and rich, mostly because of his enigmatic and charming smile. In 1983, he argued with the producers of the show in order to earn as much money as Montalban but, instead, he was fired; he also lost his model-actress wife. The series continued without him but stopped one year later, when the media response meter decreased because of the lack of Tattoo’s character! Villechaize became alcoholic and depressed, so he missed several roles that he was offered. His health problems also increased (mostly suffering from ulcers and a spastic colon), and he nearly died of pneumonia in 1992. On the afternoon of Saturday September 4th, 1993, after having watched a movie, he wrote a note and made a tape recording before shooting himself in his backyard.
Christopher Hewett (Lawrence) was born April 5, 1921 in Worthing, Sussex, to an army officer father and an Irish mother who was a descendant of Daniel O’Connell. He was educated at Beaumont College, and at age 7, made his acting debut in Dublin stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At 16, Hewett joined the Royal Air Force, leaving in 1940. Hewett then joined the Oxford Repertory Company and made his West End theater debut in 1943. He later appeared on Broadway in the musicals My Fair Lady, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Music Is, and Kean and in the plays Sleuth and The Affair, among others, and directed the 1960 Broadway revue From A to Z and the 1967 Off Broadway revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical By Jupiter. Hewett also directed several stage productions including The Marriage-Go-Round and Beyond the Fringe and Camelot. Hewett made his film debut in the 1951 crime drama Pool of London, and later appeared in roles on Robert Montgomery Presents and DuPont Show of the Month. He appeared as the grand theatre director Roger DeBris in Mel Brooks’s 1968 film comedy The Producers. In 1976, Hewett played the generic bureaucrat Federov in the short-lived sitcom Ivan the Terrible. During the 1979-80 season, he played Captain Hook to Sandy Duncan’s Peter Pan on Broadway. From 1983 to 1984, he portrayed Lawrence, Mr. Roarke’s (Ricardo Montalbán) sidekick on the final season of the ABC series Fantasy Island. The following year, Hewett landed his best known role as Lynn Aloysius Belvedere, an English butler who works for a middle class American family in the sitcom Mr. Belvedere. After the series ended its run in 1990, Hewett appeared in a guest spot on an episode of the NBC teen sitcom California Dreams in 1994. His last onscreen role was a cameo appearance on the Fox series Ned & Stacey in 1997.
Fantasy Island – Did You Know?
- The plane that was used on Fantasy Island was up for auction in the 1990’s. This plane was autographed by all the guest stars. Before Fantasy Island, this plane was also owned by Richard D. Bach, author of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”.
- During the early part of the series, a jeep CJ-7 was used to get around. In the later episodes, a customized 1976 Plymouth Volare station wagon was used.
- The customized Volare seen throughout the series was part of a product placement deal with Chrysler Corporation, since Ricardo Montalban had been a spokesperson for their television commercials dating back to 1975. He promoted the Chrysler Cordoba and mid-1980s New Yorker sedans. Also, the Volare is the ancestor of the modern-day SUV and crossover although the Chrysler F platform vehicles (Volare, Aspen, and its J and M derivatives – Diplomat, LeBaron, Mirada, Fifth Avenue, Imperial) were rear-wheel drive.
- When 3-D was revived in the early 1980’s, some thought was given to shooting an entire episode in 3-D. The problem was that Anaglyphic glasses (tinted glasses) could not be used because this required that television sets be correctly color adjusted – something in 1983 with dozens of television makers and in an era without cable or satellite was unthinkable.
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