Country of origin
No. of seasons
First episode date
14 January 1978
Ricardo MontalbánHervé Villechaize (Seasons 1–6)Wendy Schaal (Season 5)Christopher Hewett (Season 7)
No. of episodes
152, plus 2 TV-movies (list of episodes)
American Broadcasting Company
Fantasy island tv show opening theme season one 1978
Fantasy Island is an American television series that originally aired on the American Broadcasting Company network from 1977 to 1984. The series was created by Gene Levitt. A revival of the series originally aired on the same network during the 1998–99 season.
Before it became a television series, Fantasy Island was introduced to viewers in 1977 and 1978 through two made-for-television films. Airing from 1978 to 1984, the original series starred Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the enigmatic overseer of a mysterious island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, where people from all walks of life could come and live out their fantasies, albeit for a price.
Roarke was known for his white suit and cultured demeanor, and was initially accompanied by an energetic sidekick, Tattoo (played by Hervé Villechaize). Tattoo would run up the main bell tower to ring the bell and shout "The plane! The plane!" to announce the arrival of a new set of guests at the beginning of each episode. This line, shown at the beginning of the show's credits, became an unlikely catchphrase because of Villechaize's spirited delivery and French accent. In later seasons, he would arrive in his personal go-kart, sized for him, and recklessly drive to join Roarke for the visitor reception while the staff scrambled to get out of his way. From 1981 to 1982, Wendy Schaal joined the cast as a beautiful brown-eyed blonde assistant named Julie. The producers dismissed Villechaize from the series before the 1983–1984 season, which ended up being its last, and Tattoo was replaced by a more sedate butler type named Lawrence (played by Christopher Hewett). Lawrence's personality was exactly the opposite of Tattoo's in many ways. For instance, Lawrence was also responsible for the bell ringing, but instead of climbing to the tower he simply pushed a button outside to have the bell ring automatically.
A Grumman Widgeon aircraft was used for the series. Just prior to the plane landing, Mr Roarke would address his assembling employees with the phrase "Smiles everyone! Smiles!". As each visitor exited the plane, Roarke would describe to Tattoo (or another assistant) the nature of their fantasy, usually with a cryptic comment suggesting the person's fantasy will not turn out as they expected. Roarke would then welcome his guests by lifting his glass and saying: "My dear guests, I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island." This toast was usually followed with a warm smile but sometimes (depending on the nature of a guest or their fantasy) his eyes would show concern or worry for a guest's safety.
Very little is known about the man known as Mr. Roarke and it is not clear if that is his first, last, or only name. Although most guests know him as "Mr." Roarke, many people close to him, including past lovers, have referred to him only as "Roarke", which suggests he may not have any other names. He is the sole owner and proprietor of Fantasy Island. Roarke's actual age is a complete mystery. In the pilot film, he comments how the guests who come to his island are "so mortal" and there are hints throughout the series that suggest Roarke may be immortal. In one episode he calls on Helen of Troy to help a young woman whose fantasy is not going as planned and she says to him, 'How long has it been?' Where Roarke replies 300 years or more. This shows us that Roarke is in fact immortal and not human. In "Elizabeth", a woman from Roarke's past appears, but it is revealed that she died over 300 years ago. Another episode even suggests that he was once intimate with Cleopatra. However old he is, Roarke has come to know many seemingly-immortal beings over his time on Earth, including ghosts ("The Ghost's Story"), a genie ("A Genie Named Joe"), the mermaid Princess Nyah ("The Mermaid", "The Mermaid Returns", "The Mermaid and the Matchmaker"), the goddess Aphrodite ("Aphrodite"), and even Uriel the Angel of Death ("The Angel's Triangle"). In "The Devil and Mandy Breem" and "The Devil and Mr. Roarke", Roarke even faces the Devil (played by Roddy McDowall) who has come to the island to challenge him for either a guest's immortal soul or his. It is mentioned this is not the first time they have confronted each other and Mr. Roarke has always been the winner. In the second story, the Devil himself was one of the island's guests, claiming he was only there to relax and had no interest in Roarke's soul at the time. However, this turned out to be yet another ruse.
Roarke had a strong moral code, but he was always merciful. He usually tried to teach his guests important life lessons through the medium of their fantasies, frequently in a manner that exposes the errors of their ways, and on occasions when the island hosted terminally ill guests he would allow them to live out one last wish. Roarke's fantasies were not without peril, but the greatest danger usually came from the guests themselves. In some cases people were killed due to their own negligence, aggression or arrogance. When necessary, Roarke would directly intervene when the fantasy became dangerous to the guest:
With only a few exceptions, Roarke always made it quite clear that he was powerless to stop a fantasy once it had begun and that guests must play them out to their conclusion.
In later seasons, there were often supernatural overtones. Roarke also seemed to have his own supernatural powers of some sort (called the "Gift of the McNabs" in "Delphine"), although it was never explained how this came to be. In the episodes "Reprisal" and "The Power" he temporarily gave the guest psychokinetic abilities and in "Terrors of the Mind" the power to see into the future. In one episode, when a guest says "Thank God things worked out well", Roarke and Tattoo share a very odd look and Roarke says in a cryptic way "Thank God, indeed." In the same episode, Roarke uses some mysterious powers to help Tattoo with his magic act. Ricardo Montalban would claim in interviews that he had a definite opinion in mind regarding the mystery of Mr. Roarke, and how he accomplished his fantasies, but he would never publicly state what it was. Years after the show was off the air, in an interview with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Montalban finally revealed that his motivation was imagining Roarke as a fallen angel whose sin was pride and that Fantasy Island was purgatory.
Each episode would alternate between two or three independent story lines as the guests experienced their fantasies and interacted with Roarke. When reruns of the show went into syndication, a half-hour version was offered, in which each hour-long original show was split to two separate half-hour shows in which only one guest's story was told in each half-hour episode. This made it obvious that the original episodes had been planned in such a way that each guest or family got off the plane separately, did not interact with the other guest or family, and was given almost exactly half the time of the original episode.
Often the fantasies would turn out to be morality lessons for the guests. For example, one featured a couple who clamored for the "good old days" being taken back to the Salem witch trials, sometimes to the point of (apparently) putting their lives at risk, only to have Roarke step in at the last minute and reveal the deception. It is mentioned a few times that a condition of visiting Fantasy Island is that guests never reveal what goes on there. A small number of guests decided to make the irrevocable choice to stay permanently, living out their fantasy until death; one such person was an actor who had been in a Tarzan-type television series called "Jungle Man" in the 1960s. Aside from a "clip show" ("Remember...When?") the only episode with a single storyline was "The Wedding", in which terminally ill Helena Marsh (Samantha Eggar) returned to Fantasy Island to spend her last days as Roarke's wife.
In the first film, it was noted that each guest had paid $50,000 (about $196,000 in 2016 dollars) in advance for the fulfillment of their fantasies and that Fantasy Island was a business. In Return to Fantasy Island, Roarke told Tattoo that he sometimes dropped the price when a guest couldn't afford the usual fee because he believed everyone should be given a chance to have their fantasies fulfilled. Afterwards, it became clear that the price a guest paid was substantial to him or her, and for one little girl whose father was one of Roarke's guests, she had emptied her piggy bank (which contained less than ten dollars) to have her fantasy with her father fulfilled. On numerous occasions, a guest had not paid for the trip at all but instead won it as a result of a contest. Those who came by winning contests were usually the unknowing beneficiaries of rigged contests in order to disguise to themselves and others the real reason for their coming as part of someone else's fantasy.
The nature of a fantasy varied from story to story and were typically very personal to each guest on some level. They could be as harmless as wanting to be reunited with a lost love to something more dangerous like tracking down a cold-blooded killer who murdered someone close to the guest. Usually, the fantasy would take an unexpected turn and proceed down a quite different path than the guest expected. Some resolve in "The Monkey's Paw" style. He or she would then leave with some new revelation or renewed interest about themselves or someone close to them. Many times, Roarke would reveal in the end that someone they met during the course of their fantasy was another guest living a fantasy of their own. Both guests often left the island together. However, in one episode, one guest (Don Knotts) had no particular fantasy and was simply there to relax and enjoy himself. In another episode, a guest's fantasy was to play the part of a private eye. At the end of the episode he discovers that his 'suspects' were actually a company of actors who had asked Mr. Roarke to act out their 'whodunnit' play in a realistic setting.
Although some fantasies were rooted in the real world, many others involved supernatural (such as ghosts, demons, or witchcraft) or mythological (mermaids, genies, Greek goddesses) elements. Time-travel was often a required element, if not a specific request, to fulfill one's fantasy.
Roarke often preceded particularly risky fantasies with a stern warning, word of caution, or even suggestion that the guest select another fantasy instead. He would then inform his guests that he was powerless to stop a fantasy once it had begun and must allow the fantasy to play out until its ultimate conclusion. However, in life-or-death cases, he would invariably intervene and ensure his guests' safety.
In 1998, ABC revived the series in a Saturday time slot. The role of Mr. Roarke was played by Malcolm McDowell and, in contrast to the first series, the supernatural aspect of his character and of Fantasy Island itself was emphasized from the start, along with a dose of dark humor. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, known for his work on The Addams Family movies, was a chief creative force on the new series. Another difference was that the new series was filmed in Hawaii instead of California. The remake followed the fantasies of at least two of Roarke's guests with an additional subplot involving members of his staff – usually Cal and Harry. Whereas the original series featured a separate writer and title for each subplot, the new series was written as several stories but featuring a unified theme and title.
The supporting cast was also expanded for the new series. There was no attempt to reinstate Tattoo, with Roarke instead having a team of assistants – one of whom was a beautiful female shape shifter named Ariel – who were assigned to help create and maintain the various fantasy worlds created on the island. Apparently these assistants were imprisoned on the island in order to pay off some debt (or earn a second chance at life), sometimes hinting that they were in some kind of Limbo, with many parallels between the regulars and William Shakespeare's The Tempest. It was strongly hinted that the island itself was the source of Roarke's mysterious powers as his assistants have been shown wielding its magic with varying degrees of success. Miranda, Roarke's adopted daughter, was human but grew up on the island with similar powers as well. The series was canceled midway through the season with the remaining episodes airing on the Sci Fi Channel. This version also aired on UPN.
In an attempt to contrast this series with the original, the new Mr. Roarke usually wore black. In the first episode, he picked the single black suit out of a closet of white ones and ordered that the rest be burned. Also during the first episode, an assistant came into Mr. Roarke's office, shouting "The planes! The planes!" Mr. Roarke ordered the assistant to never do that again.
Episodes of the revived series regularly opened and ended with a sequence set in a travel agency that actually books the fantasies, operated by two elderly travel agents played by Fyvush Finkel and Sylvia Sidney (in her final acting role). Roarke gave them their assignments by stuffing contracts into a pneumatic tube that somehow connected the island with the travel agency and the outside world.
Selected episodes from the first, second and third seasons are available free at Hulu. Selected Minisodes from seasons one, three, four, five, and six are available free at Crackle, along with complete episodes from seasons one, two, and three.
Digital multicast television network Cozi TV announced the series would be airing on the network beginning fall 2013. Currently, episodes of the original series can be seen on Fridays on sister cable network Universal HD.
In Canada, episodes of the original series aired during primetime some evenings and again on the weekend on TV Land (now Comedy Gold). All seven seasons are also currently available through a Canadian subscription to Netflix.
In Greece, episodes are aired very early in the morning (sometimes 04.00-04.30) every day on Mega Channel.
In 1988, Star Classics released the pilot episode of the series on VHS in the United States and Canada.
In 2005, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released Season 1 of the original series on DVD in regions 1, 2 & 4. The release included the 1977 pilot Fantasy Island and 1978's Return to Fantasy Island. However, due to poor sales, no further seasons were released.
In February 2012, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series in Region 1; they subsequently released the second season on DVD on May 8, 2012. Season 3 was released on October 23, 2012.