For several generations of television fans, Dwayne Hickman will forever be Dobie Gillis, one of TV’s most engaging teenagers. Who can ever forget him philosophizing in front of Rodin’s Thinker, chasing Tuesday Weld, avoiding the advances of Zelda Gilroy, or clowning with Maynard G. Krebs, TV’s favorite beatnik?
For millions of Baby Boomers who came of age in the early sixties, Dobie Gillis represented the ultimate teenager: confused about his future, crazy about girls, and faithful to a fault to his hapless sidekick. Although most identified with the character of Dobie Gillis, there is much, much more to Dwayne Hickman. His unique and varied career provides a fascinating look at more than fifty years of show business history. In Forever Dobie, Dwayne Hickman recounts:
Hickman’s stint managing a Las Vegas resort, where he worked with country-and-western legends Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, and Roy Clark. His return to television as a CBS executive assigned to the hit comedies Maude, MASH,* and Designing Women and his experiences with producers and writers Norman Lear and Linda Bloodworth Thomason.
For several generations of television fans, Dwayne Hickman will forever be Dobie Gillis, one of TV’s most engaging teenagers. Who can ever forget him philosophizing in front of Rodin’s Thinker, chasing Tuesday Weld, avoiding the advances of Zelda Gilroy, or clowning with Maynard G. Krebs, TV’s favorite beatnik? For millions of baby boomers who came of age in the early sixties, Dobie Gillis represented the ultimate teenager: confused about his future, crazy about girls, and faithful to a fault to his hapless sidekick.
Although most identified with the character of Dobie Gillis, there is much, much more to Dwayne Hickman. His unique and varied career provides a fascinating look at more than fifty years of show business history.
Remembered for his title role in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Hickman began his acting career as the reluctant protege of a stage mother and dreamed of one day holding a regular job. The pivotal decision of his life was a choice between a junior executive position with an L.A. utility company and a meaty role on The Bob Cummings Show. Heeding his father’s advice to take “the least amount of work for the most amount of money,” Hickman chose acting. But he would work very hard-and become a teen celebrity.
Hickman’s career has been rich and varied. Never abandoning his fascination with the corporate world, he tried being a “suit,” working as a CBS executive assigned to such hits as Maude, MASH,* and Designing Women, but found himself always returning to acting. Now married and a director as well as an actor, Hickman retains the self-effacing charm that made Dobie Gillis so appealing. His amusing autobiography offers an insider’s view of the entertainment business as well as his working relationships with such stars as Tuesday Weld, Jack Benny, and George Burns.
To a nation raised on Nick at Nite reruns, TV history begins in the mid-1950s, and Dwayne Hickman and Dobie Gillis are interchangeable. To the knowledgeable vidhead, however, Dobie’s genesis lies in Hickman’s character on The Bob Cummings Show (aka, in reruns, Love That Bob). For that and many other reasons, Hickman’s story of teen stardom in the 1950s and 1960s is a must-have for TV and pop culture buffs.
Politely recounting his differences with erstwhile Dobie sidekicks Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty, Hickman doesn’t dish much dirt in his breezy showbiz bio, and still, the historical tidbits (the derivation of the name Dobie, for instance) and brief sketches of such pop culture icons as Jack Benny, Bob Cummings, and Max Schulman (Dobie’s literary creator, a very successful 1950s comic novelist) are priceless. Mostly, this is a fast-paced look at a fascinating, in some ways groundbreaking sitcom that answers at least one of the period’s most important questions, What became of Dobie’s brother, Davey Gillis?
Dobie Gillis is 61 years old. If you’re under 40, this may not mean much to you. But to those who watched one of the first television shows to be told from a teenager’s point of view, way back in the early 1960s, the news that actor Dwayne Hickman almost qualifies for Social Security payments might be shocking. Hickman gives a behind-the-scenes picture of working on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in Forever Dobie, his autobiography (written with the help of his wife, Joan Roberts Hickman).
The show, which aired from 1959-63, was created and written by Max Shulman, a Woody Allen predecessor whose main character, “a red-blooded American teenage boy,” was saddled with the wishy-washy name Dobie. The show was literate, funny and, unlike many of the situation comedies of the time, arch, satiric and hip.
Dobie’s best friend, Maynard G. Krebs, was a beatnik who wore a goatee and torn sweatshirts and asked “You rang?” whenever his name was called. Played by Bob Denver, who would later star in “Gilligan’s Island,” Maynard was, for those times, the epitome of what parents mean by a “bad influence.”
As George Burns did on The Burns and Allen Show, Dobie addressed the audience each week. His first monologue described a desperate but gentlemanly longing for female companionship. “A wolf wants lots of girls,” he said. “I just want one. One beautiful, gorgeous, soft and creamy girl for my very own. One lousy girl. But to get a girl you need money, and standing between me and money is a powerful obstacle.” Cut to a closeup of Dobie’s fearsome-looking father.
Hickman had been acting in movies and television since childhood. Now, at 25, he was finally a star. His name appeared in gossip columns. He was photographed with pretty actresses. Earlier, Hickman had had the luck to play the nephew on The Bob Cummings Show, where he learned about comic timing. He got to know Burns, who was the show’s producer, and Jack Benny, who used to sit in on rehearsals.
The book is filled with mild memories about Hollywood, most of which are curiously without punchline or even, in some cases, a point. We learn Hickman was an extra in movies with Fred MacMurray and Wallace Beery. He dated Gary Cooper’s lovely daughter, Maria, and changed clothes as a child extra in John Wayne’s dressing room. He had a haircut from the barber who had just finished clipping Clark Gable.
If you’ve ever read a Hollywood memoir, this stuff isn’t exactly going to curl your hair. Hickman “settles” old scores, but even this is done tamely. Warren Beatty had a featured role on the Dobie show as a rich kid called Milton Armitage who was “aloof, vain, snobbish.” “And who better to play the conceited Milton Armitage,” Hickman muses, “than the handsome and arrogant young actor Warren Beatty, who possessed all of Milton’s endearing qualities?”
Hickman repeatedly portrays himself as an awkward, incompetent ninny who could get good grades but couldn’t sing, dance or defend himself against bullies. Even when he describes his post-Dobie career as a CBS television executive working on such series as Designing Women, Maude and WKRP in Cincinnati, and later as a television producer and director, he always comes across as a boob. By his account, he was a so-so actor and a fumbler with women. Yet somehow he persuaded three women to marry him; he must have been doing something right. (February 24, 1995, San Francisco Examiner) 🌳