Tina Louise will forever be remembered for playing the movie star Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island. The comedy about a desert island castaways ran for three seasons from 1964 to 1967 but became even more popular in the 1970s and 1980s as a syndicated sitcom that ran in the afternoons, when kids had just come home from school.
More than a decade before setting out on that “fateful trip” on the S.S. Minnow, as the show’s theme song put it, an 18–year-old Tina Louise appeared in LIFE, and undoubtedly Ginger would have approved of the photo display. The magazine presented Louise as a young woman of glamor and talent who drew outsized attention from the boys.
In its Feb. 2, 1953 issue legendary LIFE photographer Nina Leen chronicled a big night for Louise, who at the time was a budding actress known as Tina Myers, in the hardly-deserted isle of Manhattan. At the beginning of the night Leen photographed Louise backstage at the Broadway musical revue in which she was performing. Later that night Leen captured Louise as she made her society debut in a ball at the Waldorf Astoria.
Here’s how LIFE described the young woman’s big night:
Tina Myers started out the evening as one of the 15 chorus girls in the Bette Davis Broadway Show, Two’s Company. She got through her sketch in which she speaks two lines and then, being excused from the last two numbers, ran to her dressing room to don a white, wide-skirted gown and go off to a cotillion. For Tina, 18, and the daughter of a wealthy New York manufacturer, was about to make her debut in society one week after her debut in the professional theater. There were 111 debutantes coming out with Tina at the Waldorf Astoria. They were all greeted with polite applause as they curtsied. But when Tina appeared she was met by a storm of gasps and wolf whistles.
After being featured in the magazine, Louise continued to act in stage shows for several years, before moving onto the movies and television. In 1958 she won the Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for her movie debut in the drama God’s Little Acre. (Other notable winners of that particular Golden Globe award, which was handed out from 1947 to ’82, include Jane Fonda, Jayne Mansfield and Natalie Wood.)
On Giligan’s Island, Louise’s performance as Ginger played off glamorous qualities that attracted Leen’s camera back in 1952. In one episode Louise performed the song “I Want to Be Loved By You”, and that clip captures both the fun of her character, and of the show in general. These seven castaways have supposedly been stuck on this island for ages, but there goes Ginger, with her glitzy gown and full makeup and perfectly done hair, performing a song that Marilyn Monroe had also sung in the movie Some Like it Hot. In that movie Monroe performed with a big band; on Gilligan’s Island, Louise sings to the accompaniment of a phonograph rigged up by a professor and operated by a millionaire in a blue blazer.
No one will mistake Gilligan’s Island for Lord of the Flies—or any of the more gritty shows about castaways such as The Wilds or Yellowjackets that focus on the struggle for survival. But it was unmistakable fun, and a reason why that former debutante and the rest of her co-stars remain so warmly remembered.