Natalie Schafer (November 5, 1900 – April 10, 1991) was an American actress of film, stage and television, probably best known for her role as "Lovey Howell" on the sitcom Gilligan's Island (1964–67).

Early life and career

Natalie Schafer was born November 5, 1900 in New Jersey.[6] She was the eldest of the three children of Jennie (née Tim; family name originally Tein)[7] and Charles Emanual Schafer,[8] both of German Jewish descent.[7] She began her career as an actress on Broadway before moving to Los Angeles in 1941 to work in films.

Schafer appeared on Broadway in 17 plays between 1927 and 1959, often playing supporting roles. Most of those appearances were in short-run plays, with the exceptions of Lady in the Dark (1941–42), The Doughgirls (1942–44), and Romanoff and Juliet (1957–58). She was seen in a revival of Six Characters in Search of an Author, directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie (1955–56). She also appeared in stock and regional productions, including the off-Broadway production The Killing of Sister George, with Claire Trevor in the title role.

Schafer performed in many films, usually portraying sophisticates; but she is best known as "Lovey Howell" on Gilligan's Island. She reprised her role in made-for-television spin-off films after the show ended, along with the animated spinoff Gilligan's Planet in 1982.[9]

She guest-starred as well on many other television series, including Goodyear Playhouse/Philco Playhouse ("The Sisters", with Grace Kelly, 1951), I Love Lucy (1954), Producers' Showcase ("The Petrified Forest", 1955), Guestward, Ho! (1960), The Beverly Hillbillies (1964), Mayberry RFD (1970), The Brady Bunch (1974), Three's Company, The Love Boat, and Phyllis (1976).[9]

For the 1971-1972 television season, Schafer joined the cast of the CBS daytime-serial, Search for Tomorrow, portraying Helen Collins, mother of Wade and Clay Collins. Immediately following that role, she played Augusta Roulland on another daytime soap, Love of Life. Her final performance was in the 1990 made-for-television horror film I'm Dangerous Tonight.[9]

Personal life

Schafer was married to actor Louis Calhern from 1934-42; they had no children. Long after their divorce, the two appeared together in the 1956 film Forever, Darling.[9]

Schafer was legendarily secretive about her age, never even telling Calhern. For many years, her birth year was generally given as 1912. Few people believed this, yet her actual year of birth of 1900 (which was not discovered until after her death) shocked even her intimate friends. She was reportedly also a breast cancer survivor, a fact she withheld from her fans and friends.[10]

Her investments, particularly in real estate, made her a multi-millionaire. Differing sources state that most of this fortune was bequeathed to either her Gilligan's Island co-star Dawn Wells or to care for her dogs. Wells did not comment on that, but she did claim on Vicki Lawrence's talk show Vicki! that Schafer spent her last years living with her, adding that she essentially had served as Natalie's caretaker during that time. Wells also stated on Vicki! that one of Schafer's favorite things on Gilligan's Island was "falling through quicksand".

Death

Schafer died of liver cancer in her Beverly Hills home, aged 90. She was cremated; her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean, off San Pedro's Point Fermin Light.

She bequeathed between $1.5 million and $2 million to the Lillian Booth Actors Home to renovate the hospital's outpatient wing, which was renamed, in 1993, the Natalie Schafer Wing.[11][12]

Partial filmography