Before it became a long-running original television show, Fantasy Island was introduced to viewers in 1977 through two highly-rated made-for-television films in which Mr. Roarke and Tattoo played relatively minor roles. Airing from 1978 to 1984, the original series starred Ricardo Montalban 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 (he actually pronounced it, "Ze plane! Ze plane!"). In later seasons, he would arrive in his personal go-cart, sized for him, and recklessly driven to join Roarke for the visitor reception while staff scrambled to get out of his way. From 1980 to 1982, Wendy Schaal joined the cast as another assistant named Julie. In a highly unpopular move with both fans and the cast, the producers fired 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.
The actual aircraft used in the series, a Grumman Widgeon seaplane, was rented from a local charter company and almost all of the footage of the plane used throughout the series and films was shot in one day and recycled over the entire run. It is speculated that Tattoo never actually saw Ze plane! Ze plane!. During the filming of the actual episodes, the guests climbed out of a paper-mache and plywood mock-up of the back of the plane. It is sometimes apparent that that number of people could not have all arrived in the plane at the same time. For example in one episode, seven adults and two children come out of the six-seat seaplane. In another episode, there is a sizeable pile of luggage on the dock which viewers are to believe came out of the plane.
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.".
Roarke's personal vehicle was an orange Dodge Aspen station wagon with a Safari top with the stance of a modern-day sport utility vehicle.
Tattoo and Mr. Roarke welcome visitors to Fantasy Island.
In the early seasons, it was noted that each guest had paid $50,000 in advance for the fulfillment of their fantasies and that Fantasy Island was a business. Later, 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 - less than ten dollars - to have her fantasy about her father fulfilled.
In the two pilot movies Roarke was actually a rather sinister figure, but once the series went into production he soon became much more benevolent. In later seasons there were often supernatural overtones. Roarke also seemed to have his own supernatural powers of some sort, although it was never explained how this came to be. 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. In at least one episode, Mr. Roarke faces "The Devil", who has come to the Island to challenge him for his immortal soul. It is mentioned this is not the first time they confront each other, and Mr. Roarke has always been the winner.
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 actually got themselves killed due to their own negligence, aggression or arrogance. When necessary, Roarke would directly intervene when the fantasy became dangerous to the guest. For instance, when Tattoo had his own fantasy, which ended up with him being chased by hostile natives in canoes, Mr. Roarke suddenly appeared in a motorboat, snared Tattoo's canoe with a grappling hook and towed it away at high speed to help his employee escape.
The usual format of each episode consisted of an introduction in which Roarke would describe to Tattoo (or another assistant) the nature of each person's fantasy, usually with a cryptic comment suggesting the person's fantasy will not turn out as they expected. The episode would then alternate between two or three independent storylines as the guests experienced their fantasies and interacted with Roarke. Often, the fantasies would turn out to be morality lessons for the guests (for example, one featured a man who clamoured for the "good old days" to be 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 TV series in the 1960s.
The show was broadcast every Saturday night on ABC at 10:00 PM, after the The Love Boat, which was also produced by Aaron Spelling. Like several other series of the era, such as the above-mentioned The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote, Fantasy Island employed many celebrity (if not A-list film stars of the time) guest stars, often bringing them back repeatedly for different roles. Such guests included TV stars like Bill Bixby and Bob Denver, music stars like Sonny Bono and Robert Goulet, classic film stars like Peter Lawford and Ray Bolger, young starlets like Victoria Principal and Barbi Benton, character actors such as Howard Duff and David Doyle, and soap opera actors like Dack Rambo.
The program was popular in its day, and its campy style has won it a cult following in reruns.
It was filmed primarily in Burbank, California with the opening scenes of the enchanting island coastline being that of Kauai, Hawaii. The gorgeous house with the bell tower, where Tattoo rings the bell, is the Queen Anne Cottage, located in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia. The plane, "arriving" with the guests, was filmed in the lagoon behind the Queen Anne Cottage. Sometimes, outdoor scenes were filmed at the Arboretum.
 1998 series