Fantasy Island

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Fantasy Island

Producer Aaron Spelling once said that of all the characters he created, the one he most identified with was Fantasy Island's Mr. Roarke, because he made dreams come true. Following The Love Boat on Saturday nights on ABC from 1978 to 1984, Fantasy Island offered viewers a chance to imagine romantic escapes and gave B-list celebrities such as Bill Bixby, Joseph Campanella, Adrienne Barbeau, Karen Valentine, and Victoria Principal another opportunity to appear on the small screen. Unlike the comedic Love Boat, however, Fantasy Island was a romantic drama, complete with suspense and ironic twists. Each episode carried the implicit warning to be careful what you wish for.

The premise of Fantasy Island was simple: each of the three weekly visitors to the tropical Fantasy Island paid $10,000 to make a lifelong dream come true. Awaiting the visitors was their host, Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), a suave, mysterious man in a white suit, and his simiarly white-suited midget attaché, Tattoo (Herve Villechaize). Mr. Roarke managed the visitor's fantasies, directing his retinue to smile as the seaplane landed to Tattoo's now infamous call of "The Plane! The Plane!" From show to show the visitors' fantasies varied: one visitor was an ugly duckling who longed to be a sex symbol, another was a frustrated salesman looking for the business coup of a lifetime, yet another was a henpecked family man looking for a little respect. The visitors had one thing in common: they all imagined a life more glamorous or exciting than the one they left behind.

Roarke provided the magic that made fantasies come true, but he also proved a wise advisor to those guests who realized that their fantasies often led them where they did not want to go. When a pregnant woman certain to die during childbirth asks to see the life of her as yet unborn child, for example, she is horrified at the way the child's life turns out. As the guests' fantasies went awry, and they always went awry, Roarke was there to help his guests realize that some fantasies are best left fantasies. As the seasons went on, the show delved more into the supernatural. Roarke was suddenly able to bring about events from the future and the past, cast spells and mix up magic potions, and even do battle with the devil, played in a recurring role by a sinister Roddy McDowall. Was Roarke God? An angel? Or just a figure who let viewers indulge their taste for tropical fantasy while reassuring them that they were better off in the lives they had?

Fantasy Island was very much a product of its times, for it attempted to indulge the popular appetite for wealth and glamour that brought shows like Dallas and Dynasty such success. At the same time, the show addressed the age-old fears of those who worried that greed could only bring trouble. ABC brought back a revamped and "edgier" Fantasy Island in the fall of 1998, featuring Malcolm McDowell as Roarke, wearing a black suit this time, and accompanied by a few disgruntled assistants. Though the show had the basic same premise, it was far more interested in exploring the horror of a fantasy realized that was its predecessor. The revival was short-lived, leaving the air after just one season.

—Karen Lurie

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-present. New York, Ballantine Books, 1995.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television. New York, Penguin, 1996.

Spelling, Aaron, and Jefferson Graham. Aaron Spelling: A Prime-Time Life. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1996.