Tina Louise was born Tina Blacker in New York City. An only child, she was raised by her mother, Betty Horn (nee Myers) Blacker (1916–2011), a fashion model. Tina's father, Joseph Blacker, was a candy store owner in Brooklyn and later an accountant. The name "Louise" was allegedly added during her senior year in high school when she mentioned to her drama teacher that she was the only girl in the class without a middle name. He selected the name "Louise" and it stuck. She attended Miami University in Ohio.
At the early age of just two years, Tina got her first role, after being seen in an ad for her father's candy store. She played numerous roles until she decided it was best to focus on school work. By the age of 17, Louise began studying acting, singing and dancing. She studied acting under Sanford Meisner at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse in Manhattan. During her early acting years, she was offered modeling jobs, including as a rising starlet, who along with Jayne Mansfield, was a product advocate in the 1958 Frederick's of Hollywood catalog, and appeared on the cover of several pinup magazines such as Adam, Sir! and Modern Man. Her later pictorials for Playboy (May 1958; April 1959) were arranged by Columbia Pictures studio in an effort to further promote the young actress.
In 1964, she left the Broadway musical Fade Out – Fade In to portray movie star Ginger Grant on the situation comedy Gilligan's Island, after the part was turned down by Jayne Mansfield. However, she was unhappy with the role and worried that it would typecast her. The role did make Louise a pop icon of the era, and in 2005 an episode of TV Land Top Ten ranked her as second only to Heather Locklear as the greatest of television's all-time sex symbols.
After the series ended in 1967, Louise continued to work in film and made numerous guest appearances in various television series. She appeared in the Matt Helm spy spoof The Wrecking Crew (1969) with Dean Martin. Louise played a doomed suburban housewife in the original The Stepford Wives (1975), and both the film and her performance were well received.
She attempted to shed her comedic image by assaying grittier roles, including a guest appearance as a pathetic heroin addict in a 1974 Kojak episode, as well as a co-starring role as an evil Southern prison guard in the 1976 ABC-TV Movie Nightmare in Badham County. Her other television films of the period included Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby (1976), SST: Death Flight (1977), Friendships, Secrets and Lies (1979), and in the prime-time soap opera Dallas, during the 1978–79 seasons, as J.R. Ewing's secretary, Julie Grey, a semi-regular character. Her character was finally killed off. In the fall of 1984, she replaced Jo Ann Pflug as Taylor Chapin on the syndicated soap opera Rituals after Pflug refused to do love scenes with co-star George Lazenby due to her religious beliefs. After a few months, however, Louise did not renew her own contract and the character was written out. She later made cameo appearances on the network daytime soaps Santa Barbara and All My Children.
The question "Ginger or Mary Ann?" is considered a classic pop-psychological question when given to American men of a certain age as an insight into their characters, or at least their desires as regarding certain female stereotypes. With the January 2014 death of Gilligan's Island co-star Russell Johnson, Louise and actress Dawn Wells are the only two surviving cast members of the original sitcom. Louise is quoted as saying, "The best movie you'll ever be in is your own life because that's what matters in the end."
Louise declined to participate in any of three reunion television films for Gilligan's Island. Despite maintaining an adequate career after the show's run, she kept claiming that the show actually ruined her career. The role of Ginger was recast with Judith Baldwin and Constance Forslund. Although she did not appear in these television movies, she made brief walk-on appearances on a few talk shows and specials for Gilligan's Island reunions, including Good Morning America (1982), The Late Show (1988) and the 2004 TV Land award show with the other surviving cast members. In the 1990s, she was reunited with costars Bob Denver, Dawn Wells, and Russell Johnson in an episode of Roseanne. She did not reunite with them for the television film Surviving Gilligan's Island (2001), co-produced by Wells. She was portrayed by Kristen Dalton in the television film. Her relations with series star Denver were rumored to be strained, but in 2005, she wrote a brief, affectionate memorial to him in the year-end "farewell" issue of Entertainment Weekly.
Louise made one record album, It's Time for Tina, which was released originally on Concert Hall in 1957 (Concert Hall 1521), and later reissued on Urania Records (1958 and 1959 respectively). The album is sought after by collectors. With arrangements by Jim Timmens and Buddy Weed's Orchestra, 12 tracks include "Tonight Is the Night" and "I'm in the Mood for Love." Coleman Hawkins is featured on tenor sax. The album has been reissued on CD twice, most recently on the UK label Harkit Records. The album was released on iTunes in 2012. She also recorded for United Artists Records but recorded just one single for that label in 1958.
Louise now resides in New York City. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a lifetime member of the Actors Studio. Louise has been a vocal advocate for improving child literacy. She donated a portion of the proceeds of her 2007 book, When I Grow Up, to literacy programs and said in a 2013 interview that she had been volunteering at local public schools since 1996. She has written three books including Sunday: A Memoir (1997) and When I Grow Up (2007). The latter is a children's book that inspires children to believe they can become whatever they choose through creative and humorous comparisons of animal kingdom achievements. She published a second children's book titled What Does a Bee Do?
^Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 279. ISBN0-02-542650-8.