Natalie Schafer

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Natalie Schafer
Natalie Schafer in Dishonored Lady.jpg
In the film Dishonored Lady (1947)
Born(1900-11-05)November 5, 1900
DiedApril 10, 1991(1991-04-10) (aged 90)
Years active1927–1990
m. 1933; div. 1942)

Natalie Schafer (November 5, 1900 – April 10, 1991) was an American actress of film, stage and television, known for her role as Lovey Howell on the sitcom Gilligan's Island (1964–1967).

Early life and career[edit]

Natalie Schafer was born November 5, 1900, in New York City, NY[3] and raised in Manhattan, the eldest of the three children of Jennie (née Tim; family name originally Tein)[4] and Charles Emanual Schafer,[5] both of German Jewish descent.[4]

Schafer began her career as an actress on Broadway before moving to Los Angeles in 1941 to work in films. She appeared on Broadway in 17 plays between 1927–59, 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.[citation needed]

Schafer performed in many films, usually portraying sophisticates; including "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.

In 1969, Schafer appeared in The Survivors—a high-profile prime time soap opera aired by the ABC television network. Despite the presence of movie stars like Lana Turner, Kevin McCarthy and George Hamilton, the show was a ratings failure and only lasted one season.[6] 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.

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), Mannix (1972), The Brady Bunch (1974), Three's Company, The Love Boat, and Phyllis (1976).[7]

Personal life[edit]

Schafer in September 1990

Schafer was married to actor Louis Calhern from 1933–42; they had no children. Schafer and Calhern remained on good terms and later appeared together in the 1956 film Forever, Darling, long after their divorce.[citation needed]

Schafer was secretive about her age. She reportedly never revealed her true year of birth to her husband during their marriage. 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, which she withheld from her fans and friends.[8]

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,[citation needed] 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".[citation needed]


Schafer died of liver cancer in her Beverly Hills home, at age of 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 the Natalie Schafer Wing in 1993.[9][10]

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ "Sign In". Family Search. Retrieved March 18, 2016.
  2. ^ "Natalie Schafer, 90, 'Gilligan's Island' Star". The Courier-News. Somerville, NJ. April 12, 1991. p. C3. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  4. ^ a b Family Profile, American Jewish Archives; accessed August 8, 2017.
  5. ^ "United States Census, 1910" Charles Schafer, Manhattan Ward 12, New York, New York; retrieved July 31, 2012.
  6. ^ "The Survivors (1969) Cast". TV Guide. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Natalie Schafer". TV Guide. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  8. ^ Karol, Michael (March 1, 2004). Funny Ladies: Sitcom Queens. ISBN 978-0595312993. Retrieved June 11, 2020.
  9. ^ Manning, Frank (December 14, 1994). "Hospital Marks Opening of Wing". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ "History of the Home". The Lillian Booth Actors Home. Retrieved June 11, 2020.

External links[edit]