Ze Plane! Ze Plane!

January 14, 2020

Welcome To Fantasy Island!

These four words have become – for many middle aged Americans (and older) – a now cliché phrase to signify one’s involvement in something almost other worldly or unbelievable.

When the made for TV movie, Fantasy Island, premiered on January 14, 1977, I’m not sure the viewing audience quite knew what they were watching.

The premise was this: a mysterious foreign proprietor granted fantasies – for a price of $50,000 – to people looking for resolutions to a problem in their life. Add to this a little person with an annoying voice and childlike demeanor, a tropical locale and, voila! you had a successful TV series.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“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.

mr. roarke

The dapper Mr. Roarke

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 ‘Ze plane! Ze 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 series’ credits, became an unlikely catchphrase because of Villechaize’s spirited delivery and French accent.”

Besides the mysterious Mr. Roarke and the diminutive Tattoo, the guest stars for the series featured popular actors and actresses of the day.

What I found interesting in researching Fantasy Island was the difference between what I recall when watching the show and the summary I found. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“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. (snip)

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.


Tattoo ringing the bell to announce guests’ arrival

Roarke often preceded particularly risky fantasies with a stern warning, a word of caution, or even a 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 that they must allow the fantasy to play out until its ultimate conclusion. Despite this, on rare occasions, Roarke would appear halfway through a fantasy to offer a guest an opportunity to terminate their fantasy, warning the guest that continuing the fantasy may lead to serious consequences (possibly even death). However, at that point, the guest would decide on their own to see the fantasy to its end, either for selfless reasons (regarding someone they had met during the fantasy) or naivety of what is in store for them. In the most serious cases, however, Roarke would invariably intervene and ensure his guests’ safety.”



The plane bringing the guests

Mostly I recall that Fantasy Island aired on Saturday nights right after the Love Boat. Despite the two memorable main characters and the predictability of the opening scenes, I could not tell you who or what particular plot was featured during the show’s run. It was a surprise to read the summary above as I would have said it was a lighthearted sort of program. Clearly that was not the case.

The series was revived for one season in 1998-99 and a Horror movie based on the characters is set for release on February 14, 2020. Count me out on that one. I don’t do Horror. Ever. The producers must figure there’s a market for it despite the flop of the revival series 20 years ago.

The thing I found most interesting about Fantasy Island was to learn that Ricardo Montalbán  died on January 14, 2009… 32 years to the day after the 1977 premiere. An unbelievable coincidence which seems apropos…

A couple of links:



Answers to the FB quiz:

  1. Robin Williams as Mork. Mork and Mindy
  2. Judd Hirsch as Alex Rieger. Taxi
  3. Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner. The Incredible Hulk
  4. Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Roarke. Fantasy Island (the made for TV movie debuted in 1977, the series in 1978


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