Fantasy Island, the ultimate escapist show of the 70’s and 80’s, was actually seen as two made-for-TV movies before it was a series. The first movie, Fantasy Island, originally aired in January of 1977 and introduced Aaron Spelling’s concept of an exotic island where fantasies come true with the help of a mysterious man who serves as host. It wasn’t until a year later that the second film aired. Return to Fantasy Island served as a pilot, with the regular episodes starting a week later.
As in the films, Ricardo Montalban—taking a break from touting the luxuriousness of “fine Corinthian leather” in car commercials—played Mr. Roarke, the man who could make wishes come true. Helping in this task was Herve Villechaize as his equally strange assistant Tattoo. Roarke, who appeared sinister in the first film, was softened up for the series. That is not to say that he became any less mysterious; Mr. Roarke’s history was never revealed. Neither the audience nor the visitors ever learned how Mr. Roarke came to be on the island or through what power he was able to grant these fantasies. This element added an underlying subtext that knowledge is not necessarily a good thing.
Supporting this theory was that the fantasies often ended with the realization that what the fantasizers had before their arrival was far more precious than that with which they left. A typical fantasy might have a homely woman wishing she were prettier or an old man wishing to go back in time and reconnect with a lost love, only to find that the fantasy still left something to be desired. The episodes generally featured two stories, with the action going back and forth between the two (a technique also used on Spelling’s The Love Boat).
Each episode opened with the diminutive Tattoo ringing a bell and yelling, “De plane! De plane!” This would signal Mr. Roarke to come out, and the two (always dressed in matching white tuxedoes) would greet their expectant guests as they deboarded the plane. While the guests were being given leis, Mr. Roarke would briefly explain to Tattoo (and the audience) what each person’s fantasy was. This would always conclude with Mr. Roarke’s customary line, “Smiles everyone, smiles.”
Like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island featured an array of famous guest stars, among them Peter Graves, Cyd Charisse, Phil Silvers, Larry Storch, Roddy McDowell (as the devil), Sammy Davis Jr., LeVar Burton, Sonny Bono, Donny Most, Annette Funicello, Julie Newmar and Adam West. And, as if they hadn’t spent enough time on an island, Gilligan’s Island‘s Bob Denver, Jim Backus and Tina Louise all made appearances as well. Regular characters included Roarke’s goddaughter Julie, and Tattoo’s replacement, Lawrence, who appeared in the final season.
The show was remade in 1998 with Malcolm McDowell as Mr. Roarke, and while this incarnation had some interesting elements, it did not garner as much interest or viewers as the original.
“De plane! De plane!”
See also Classic TV Revisited: Fantasy Island.
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