Famous New Yorker: Bob Denver

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Publicity photo of Dwayne Hickman (left), Bob Denver (right) and Yvette LeBlanc (center) from the TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

By the age of 28, Bob Denver was already famous around the world. He was recognized everywhere as a popular TV character, but worried that he’d never get a chance to play a different kind of role. Little did he know that his most famous role was yet to come.

Robert Osbourne Denver was born in New Rochelle on January 9, 1935. His family soon moved to Texas, where Bob graduated from Brownwood High School. He moved to Los Angeles to earn a political science degree from Loyola University. As a stage manager for the school’s theater department, he caught the acting bug watching the other students rehearse.

Denver sought acting work after graduation but went to work in a post office to make ends meet. His big break came when he won the part of Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis TV series in 1959. Denver almost lost the part when he was drafted into the military early in the series, but an old neck injury made him unfit for service. That break assured him of TV stardom.

Maynard G. Krebs was a new type of TV personality – a “beatnik” for whom laziness was a rebellion against society. He was a caricature of the “Beat Generation” writers and artists of the 1950s, down to the goatee Denver grew for the part. Since few people wore beards at that time, Denver was instantly recognized as Maynard wherever he went. The beard also made it difficult for Denver to play other parts while Dobie Gillis stayed on the air.

In interviews, Denver worried that he would be typecast – that people would identify him so strongly with Maynard that they would never accept him playing anything but a beatnik. But one year after Dobie Gillis ended a clean-shaven Denver had a new TV role in the fall of 1964. He was now the bumbling but lovable first mate of the S.S. Minnow, marooned with his Skipper and five passengers on a deserted island.

Gilligan’s Island didn’t last as long as Dobie Gillis, but it transformed Bob Denver forever in the minds of TV fans. Because it was filmed in color starting with its second season, Gilligan’s Island was shown in reruns more often than Dobie Gillis in the decades to come. More importantly, while Maynard G. Krebs was soon seen as a relic of the 1950s, Gilligan’s slapstick comedy has never become dated. People find it just as funny now as it was nearly 50 years ago.

After three successful seasons, Gilligan’s Island was canceled in 1967. Denver went on to star in The Good Guys, a comedy show that lasted two seasons, and Dusty’s Trail, an unsuccessful attempt to turn Gilligan’s Island into a western. Later in his career, he played Gilligan in three TV movies and contributed his voice to Gilligan cartoons. Bob Denver was even more typecast as Gilligan than he was as Maynard G. Krebs. But both roles guaranteed that when he died on September 2, 2005, Denver was fondly remembered by generations of TV fans.

 

 

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