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Remembering TV’s best-loved boater.

The Good Captain



I love Australia’s Sanctuary Cove Boat Show. It’s small and, for a boat show, intimate, but it has its drawbacks—namely jet lag.

If you travel out of JFK, it’ll be 25 hours before you step onto the tarmac of Gold Coast Airport. Such a long trek impels you to stay a while, if only to recover. I remained seven days, which firmly implanted the 14-hour time difference in my brain. It took a week to dissipate.

After five sleepless nights following my return in May, I finally resorted to a pharmaceutical solution. Being no pharmacologist, I cannot explain how the pill I took works but I can tell that before it puts you out, it sometimes trips you out.

And tripping was what I was doing in my living room in the wee hours as I read the headline in The New York Times: “Former TV Skipper Pleads Guilty in Fatal Crash.” Now for someone of my generation there is only one TV skipper: Capt. Jonas Grumby. If that name fails to ring a bell, it’s probably because he was rarely called anything but “Skipper” by his “little buddy” Gilligan, who lent his last name (apparently he had no first) to the island on which they and five others resided from 1964 (black and white) to 1967 (color).

Grumby was played by Alan Hale, Jr., (above) who could have taught Santa Claus how to be jolly. I know this because I met Hale when I was a student in Los Angeles. Not only was he uncommonly good-humored, he was really a boater—though not a captain—and a U.S. Navy veteran from World War II. He also owned a lobster restaurant and, as I recall, a 40-foot powerboat.

So as I sat there in a drug-induced haze, I wondered how jolly Alan Hale could have killed someone. Had he actually been one of those Hollywood weirdos like the guy from Hogan’s Heroes?

Just then my wife strolled in, took one look at my dilated eyes, and asked, “Whatever are you reading?” When I told her the sad story of Hale/Grumby’s demise, she said, “Hale died 20 years ago. Come to bed.” Only the next morning, sobered up, did I realize that the TV captain in question had been from a recent show about Alaskan crabbers.

Grumby had been iconic in my youth—maybe even the reason I got involved with boats. It was good to know that the jolly old Skipper hadn’t murdered anyone.