Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bob Denver - 1935-2005

Bob Denver may have been one of the best known actors for someone whose career stalled. Certainly every true Child of Television knew and loved him. He died September 2 of complications from cancer treatment.

Born in New Rochelle New York, it was while he was attending Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles, were he was in pre-Law, that he first began acting. Although he initially resisted it he eventually decided to make it his career. Before winning the role of Maynnard G. Krebs in The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis he worked as a mailman and a teacher. Krebs was an iconic role, and gave him a chance not only to work with his Loyola-Marymount classmate Dwayne Hickman, but also with Tuesday Weld, Michael J. Pollard and Warren Beatty.

Still it is as Gilligan, the lead character in Gilligan's Island that he's best known today. While the show ran only three years it managed to typecast Bob Denver so strongly that in later years he usually found acting roles on TV either reprising the Gilligan role - as in an episode of Baywatch - or playing himself as he did in an episode of Evening Shade. Following Gilligan's Island there were a couple of series that didn't take off. One was The Good Guys in which he costarred with Herb Edelman and which was, on the whole a pretty good show that never really clicked with the audience. Another was Dusty's Trails, which was nowhere near a pretty good show. It was a "revision" of Gilligan's Island that had everything but the island - a one wagon wagon train with five travelers a wagon master (played by Forrest Tucker) and a scout (Bob Denver) who gets them hopelessly lost. Does this sound at all familiar? Mark Evanier has a couple of stories about encounters with Bob Denver when they were both working on an attempt to revive The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis under the misdirection of James Komack (the less said about Komack the better except to remind you that he was the one who caused the on set feud between Gabe Kaplan and Marcia Strassman on the set of Welcome Back Kotter - there are a lot of people who didn't like Komack). Apparently it was at about this time that he'd abandoned Hollywood and moved to West Virginia, returning occasionally for guest roles and of course fan appearances. He worked extensively with the handicapped in West Virginia. He also hosted a radio show in West Virginia. In recent years his name came up when he was arrested after a parcel of marijuana was delivered to his home. He received six months probation. In May of this year he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and it was at around this time that his cancer was diagnosed.

Gilligan's Island was a blessing and a curse for Bob Denver. It made him a household name in a way that not even The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis didn't but he tended to get typecast as the enthusiastic but bumbling and rather dumb guy who sometimes triumphs in the end. In real life he was well read and extremely helpful to his cast mates. His philosophy was that "when you work to make the other person look good, you end up looking good yourself,". It was Denver who was responsible for the second season addition of "The Professor and Mary-Ann" to the the show's theme song, and for helping to increase Dawn Wells' salary. Unfortunately for the cast members, most of whom were also typecast, although not nearly as much as Denver, TV show contracts at the time only gave actors residuals for five repeats of any given episode. The cast of Gilligan's Island received their last residual checks in 1968.

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