THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS (1959-63) 148 EPISODES
It may surprise readers to learn that this series served as one of the influences in the development of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series Scooby Doo, Where Are You (1969). In it, the character of Fred Jones is based on Dobie Gillis; Velma Dinkley on Zelda Gilroy; Norville ‘Shaggy’ Rogers on Maynard G. Krebs, and Daphne Blake on Thalia Menninger. Equally surprising (for me, anyway) is that the pilot for The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was Bob Denver’s first professional acting job. He had been a grade school teacher and postal worker before joining the cast and taking the world by storm with his wonderful portrayal of the beatnik Maynard G. Krebs. Of course, he would later play Gilligan in Gilligan’s Island, but he will always be Maynard to most of my generation. Nobody involved in the ‘Dobie Gillis’ series knew anything about Beatniks, the term coined to describe devotees of the Beat Generation philosophy, so Denver visited the Los Angeles area coffee shops and hipster hangouts and studied them at first hand.
(L to R) Dwayne Hickman & Bob Denver
During the production of only the fourth episode in season one, (titled ‘The Big Sandwich’), Denver found himself drafted into the US Army. Consequently, he was reluctantly written out of the series with the episode titled ‘Maynard’s Farewell to the Troops’. Michael J. Pollard was then cast as Maynard’s cousin, Jerome, and was to assume all of the Maynard character’s role in future episodes. However, Bob failed his Army physical and was rejected as ‘4F’ by the draft board. He was subsequently rehired after two episodes featuring Pollard and rewritten back into the series. Pollard was paid for all thirty episodes he had been signed for, courtesy of his ‘play or pay’ contract.
Sheila James as Zelda Gilroy
Sheila James portrayed Zelda Gilroy, the girl at Dobie’s school who has her heart set on marrying him. Dobie, on the other hand, has the hots for Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld), who sort of loves him but loves money more. Dobie never has money so he is perpetually fighting a losing battle for her affections. A pilot for a ‘Zelda’ spin-off series was produced in 1962, but was scrapped when the head of CBS rejected this. He found Sheila ‘too butch’, he said, a criticism that worried the girl immensely because she was, at that time, a ‘closeted’ lesbian. After acting parts dried up as word got around regarding her sexuality, she went into law and politics under her real name Sheila Kuehl, receiving a law degree from Harvard Law School. She eventually became the first openly gay person elected to the California State Assembly (6 years) and to be elected as a California Senator (8 years). Now in her early eighties, Sheila is still a force in Los Angeles politics.
Tuesday Weld as Thalia Menninger
Although he played Chuck MacDonald on The Bob Cummings Show (1955), Dwayne Hickman will be best-remembered as Dobie Gillis in this series made four years later. He was the younger of two brothers, both of whom made their marks on the screen; Darryl primarily in movies, Dwayne mostly in television. Dwayne’s stint as Dobie Gillis made him the more famous of the two, however. As of July 2022, Darryl is the oldest surviving member of the Grapes of Wrath cast of 1940. He is now in his nineties. Dwayne’s most memorable movie performance would be, I feel, his very funny turn as Michael Callan’s brother in the comedy western Cat Ballou (1965). He lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease in 2022 at the age of eighty-seven.
Warren Beatty as Milton Armitage
If anyone is wondering what the ‘G’ stands for in Maynard G. Krebs, the answer is that it stands for his ‘Aunt Walter’. Maynard explained that the ‘G’ was because his mother ‘didn’t spell too good.’ Although they were supposed to be high school students in their teens, Bob Denver was twenty-three when the series pilot was shot in mid-1958. Dwayne Hickman was even older. He was twenty-four. Dwayne was not enamoured of Tuesday Weld who played Thalia, the love of his life in the show. She left the series after season one. Warren Beatty played Dobie’s nemesis Milton Armitage, but did not enjoy working on the series. He left before season one concluded and returned to stage work.
THE JIM BACKUS SHOW (1960-1) 39 EPISODES
The show focused on Jim in the role of Mike O’Toole, the editor/proprietor of a low-rent wire service struggling to stay in business. The series was also known as Hot Off the Wire. It only lasted one season of thirty-nine episodes, airing from October 1960 until July 1961. The show featured Nita Talbot as reporter Dora Miles and Bill McLean as a reporter known simply as Dave. An actor sporting the rather odd professional name of Bobs Watson portrayed Sidney, the office boy. ‘Bobs’ made a name for himself back in 1938 when he played ‘Pee Wee’ in Boys Town, a box-office hit that starred Spencer Tracy and a juvenile Mickey Rooney. At thirty-nine years of age ‘Bobs’ found religion, gave up acting and entered the ministry.
Jim Backus was blessed with an instantly recognized voice. Hence, his stint as Mr. Quincy Magoo in 130 episodes of the animated series gave him an identity he never really shook off. The series Mister Magoo ran during 1960-1, roughly the same time-span as The Jim Backus Show. Three years later, fans were able to put a face to the voice when Jim hilariously played stranded millionaire Thurston Howell III in the popular Gilligan’s Island series (1964-7). Although that series only ran for three years (99 episodes), it has appeared in syndication for decades and has an immense following.
Backus was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1913. One of his teachers in grade school was none other than Margaret Hamilton, the actress who would play the dual roles of Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 children’s classic film The Wizard of Oz. In his later years Backus suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He passed away on July 3, 1989, six months before his Gilligan’s Island co-star Alan Hale Jr. became the second principle member of the cast to go to his death.