Fantasy Island

I was doing some reading on Fantasy Island today. Not long ago, I wrote a tribute to Ricardo Montalban, whom I knew from Star Trek and Planet of the Apes movies. A variety of news shows that I watched, however, emphasized that he starred in the 1970’s-1980’s sitcom Fantasy Island. They showed him looking urbane in a nice white suite, saying, “Welcome to Fantasy Island.”

I knew only a little bit about the show. I remember watching a program on TV Land about the most famous catchphrases in television history, and one of them was “ze plane! ze plane!” from Fantasy Island. A little person would say that as he rang a bell.

But there was a lot that I didn’t know about the show. Were the people coming to the island of their own free will? Was there something magical about it, like that planet on Star Trek, in which the crew members got to live their fantasies?

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the wikipedia article (in italics):

Airing from 1978 to 1984, the original series starred Ricardo Montalban 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.

So I guess the guests came out of their own free will.

In the two pilot movies Roarke was actually a rather sinister figure, but once the series went into production he soon became much more benevolent. In later seasons there were often supernatural overtones. Roarke also seemed to have his own supernatural powers of some sort, although it was never explained how this came to be. 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. In at least one episode, Mr. Roarke faces “The Devil”, who has come to the Island to challenge him for his immortal soul. It is mentioned this is not the first time they confront each other, and Mr. Roarke has always been the winner.

So there is a supernatural and religious element, kind of like Lost.

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 actually got themselves killed due to their own negligence, aggression or arrogance. When necessary, Roarke would directly intervene when the fantasy became dangerous to the guest.

So people learn lessons on this show! I love those kinds of programs. And I like Roarke being a benevolent character, since Ricardo Montalban strikes me as a nice guy (when he wasn’t choking McCoy or firing on the Enterprise, that is).

The usual format of each episode consisted of an introduction in which Roarke would describe to Tattoo (or another assistant) the nature of each person’s fantasy, usually with a cryptic comment suggesting the person’s fantasy will not turn out as they expected. The episode would then alternate between two or three independent storylines as the guests experienced their fantasies and interacted with Roarke. Often, the fantasies would turn out to be morality lessons for the guests (for example, one featured a man who clamoured for the “good old days” to be taken back to the Salem witch trials), sometimes to the point of (apparently) putting their lives at risk, only to have Roarke step in at the last minute and reveal the deception. It is mentioned a few times that a condition of visiting Fantasy Island is that guests never reveal what goes on there. A small number of guests decided to make the irrevocable choice to stay permanently, living out their fantasy until death; one such person was an actor who had been in a Tarzan-type TV series in the 1960s.

Maybe there’s a lesson about unanswered prayer here: sometimes, what we want is not the best thing! And it doesn’t always bring what we expect. I watched some of the Fantasy Island introductions on You-Tube, and one of them was about an old man who wanted to be a swinger. I wonder what lessons he learned! Did Fantasy Island make a statement against the sexual revolution?

I also like the part about keeping Fantasy Island a secret. There’s something about stories in which people undergo life-changing experiences, but cannot tell others specifically what they were. Yet, the others know that something life- changing has happened to them. Maybe that’s what’s going on in the synoptic Gospels, with the Messianic Secret!

Fantasy Island employed many celebrity (if not A-list film stars of the time) guest stars, often bringing them back repeatedly for different roles. Such guests included TV stars like Bill Bixby and Bob Denver, music stars like Sonny Bono and Robert Goulet, classic film stars like Peter Lawford and Ray Bolger, young starlets like Victoria Principal and Barbi Benton, character actors such as Howard Duff and David Doyle, and soap opera actors like Dack Rambo.

That sounds cool, since I like seeing actors I recognize from other shows. “Look who’s on Desperate Housewives! That’s Mallory from Family Ties!” And I see all sorts of recognizable faces on 7th Heaven.

Fantasy Island sounds like a good show! Maybe I’ll check out some episodes from the library, once I get a DVD player, assuming that the shows are out on DVD.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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