The Time A Young Kurt Russell Appeared In Gilligan's Island

Imagine watching Nick at Nite back when shows from the 1950s through to the '70s dominated the programming block. It just so happens that "Gilligan's Island" season 1, episode 19, "Gilligan Meets Jungle Boy," is on. By and large, you know what to expect: Gilligan (Bob Denver) getting up to slapstick mayhem; Jonas Grumby, aka "The Skipper" (Alan Hale Jr.), on the verge of blowing a fuse over his first mate's antics; and the shipwrecked passengers of the SS Minnow staging yet another comically failed attempt in their Sisyphean quest to escape the titular island. Sherwood Schwartz's supremely silly sitcom series was nothing if not consistent in its formula.

It's at this point that a 13-year-old Kurt Russell shows up with no shirt and a leopard loincloth on.

"Jungle Boy" does indeed hit all the anticipated beats for an episode of "Gilligan's Island." It also, in true to form fashion, makes no effort whatsoever to explain any of the show's nonsense, including how Russell's mini-Tarzan and his incredibly well-kept wavy hair came to be stuck on an uncharted isle in the Pacific Ocean or why he only knows how to repeat words that others say to him first. He does, however, lead Gilligan and the gang to a natural gas mine on the island. Roy "The Professor" Hinkley (Russell Johnson) quickly speculates that he can concoct a hot air balloon to carry one of the isle's castaways to the mainland so the rest of them can be rescued. I'm gonna guess you can see where this ends up going.

Russell made his one-and-done trip to "Gilligan's Island" on February 6, 1965, just a couple of years after kicking Elvis in the shin in his first movie role. Several decades later, though, he could still recall it like it was yesterday.

Russell remembers playing 'Jungle Boy'

Ah, the strange existence of a child actor. When Russell appeared on "Today" to promote his return as "Mr. Nobody" in 2017's "The Fate of the Furious," the hosts took the opportunity to show the actor some footage from his "Gilligan's Island" appearance 52 years earlier. A visibly game Russell played along, quipping that he "Can't deny it" before explaining: 

"What's weird about our careers [as actors] is that we look at it from the inside. For me, that was, like, three weeks ago. I still remember some of my lines. I didn't have very many." 

While Russell didn't elaborate upon his experience shooting the episode, he did touch briefly on what his life was like in the immediate aftermath:

"When you're 13-years-old and you gotta do 'Gilligan's Island' in a loincloth, and you gotta go back to your public school afterwards, you would've had to handle yourself pretty quickly."

No doubt, his time on "Gilligan's Island" taught Russell to have a sense of humor about his job from a young age. He would need it, too; the '60s and '70s saw the actor starring in some of the most ridiculous Disney comedies ever, including "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" (where he plays a himbo whose brain is turned into a computer) and "The Barefoot Executive" (where he plays a lowly mailroom clerk who climbs the ladder at a TV network thanks to his prodigious pet chimpanzee). 

It's no wonder he signed off on the infamous surfing scene in John Carpenter's "Escape From L.A." years later. Only someone with the particular combination of Russell's background and natural charisma could hang 10 with Peter Fonda on a tsunami as Snake Plissken and somehow come out the other side looking just as cool as he did before.