Monday, January 9, 2023

Vital Viewing (As Primitive as Can Be Edition)


Actor Bob Denver was born on this day in 1935 (he died in 2005.) Though it's not his original claim to fame, Denver is by now best-known for the 1960s situation comedy Gilligan's Island.

If you've never seen the show--which at one time would have and may still put you in a distinct minority--it's about seven people shipwrecked on an uncharted South Pacific island, each person a "type": a sea captain, i.e., skipper, a millionaire (perhaps a billionaire in today's money), his society matron wife, a movie star, a science professor, a girl-next-door type, and a fuck-up. What I find particularly interesting is how six of these seven castaways clung to their individual stereotypes despite three years spent in an island setting that made such stereotypes increasingly irrelevant, if not completely ridiculous. The sea captain no longer has a ship but still sees himself in charge; the movie star has no red carpet to walk on but still dresses as if there's paparazzi snapping photos; the millionaire flaunts his money though there's no stores on the island and the coconuts and bananas are free for the taking; the society matron looks as though she's all set to attend some charity benefit luncheon though as a shipwreck survivor marooned on an island she could probably use some charity herself; the girl-next-door type has to share her hut with the movie star, technically making the latter a girl next door, too, thus rendering the whole concept superfluous; while the science professor, though he lacks a college campus, lecture hall, and laboratory, comes closest to equaling, at times even exceeding, his former life on the mainland as he basically runs the island behind the sea captain's back and solves all sorts of problems that crop up except for the number one problem of how to get off the island, as all his book learning turns out to be no match for...

 ...the fuck-up, i.e., Gilligan. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. After all, even though he has his own distinct personality, Gilligan is the one castaway lacking in any pretense. He clings to nothing, guilelessly taking each day as it comes, with little concern that he may be deviating from some self-assigned role. He's a free spirit as well as a fuck-up. He may even be a fuck-up because he's a free spirit. Or vice-versa. Neither trait gets you all that far in civilized society so it may be the island is the best place for him. Perhaps all those "mistakes" that lay waste to the Professor's carefully laid plans and dooms the castaways to yet another half hour without phones, lights, or motor cars as if they were tropical Amish, is just some unconscious sabotage on Gilligan's part. Whether the aforementioned Denver, who so memorably brought Gilligan to slapstick life would agree with that, I don't know, but he shares some thoughts on his character and the show in general with Rosie O'Donnell in this clip from 1997:

Bob and Rosie talked about the two versions of Gilligan's opening credits. We'll show you both, first the black-and-white segregated version, in which there's no Professor and Mary-Ann, both having been relegated to the back of the bus closing credits, and the multi-hued desegregated version, in which the two have finally attained their equal rights:

I definitely prefer the second opening. It's much more egalitarian.

Oh, that island wasn't egalitarian at all!

Following in the footsteps of such classic fat guy-skinny guy duos as seen above, we now present to you the comedy team of...

...Denver and Hale!

I like the fact that someone set the above video to polka music. It makes that island seem like Cleveland.

...because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and
everybody goes "Awww!”

--Jack Kerouac

Mr. Kerouac may not have had Maynard G. Krebs in mind when he wrote that sentence, but I'm sure Max Shulman, creator of the TV series (and author of the book in which it was based) The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis no doubt had Kerouac in mind when he dreamed up Krebs, television's first bohemian, and Dobie's best friend. Why they should be best friends is a bit puzzling. I remember the high school I went to as being rather clique-ridden: jocks hung around with jocks, cheerleaders hung around with cheerleaders, nerds hung around with nerds, stoners hung around with stoners, and so on. Had there been beatniks in my school--it was about fifteen years too late for any to attend--I'm sure they would have hung around other beatniks and not whatever clique Dobie belonged to (the lovestruck kids who mope around Rodan sculptures clique, maybe? Except he seemed to be the only member.) I guess there's just an unwritten law of comedy that states that laughs are best mined from two best friends with nothing in common. Dobie and Maynard merely paved the way for Oscar and Felix. Anyway, if you haven't figured it out by now, Maynard was played by Denver, shooting him to fame about five years before achieving even greater fame as Gilligan:    

Somehow, the Establishment always gets the upper hand.


  1. I did enjoy Gilligan's Island... and I'm regularly required to perform the entire them song for my brother. The premise was absurd and, if you accepted the absurdity, it was a ball. I remember being confused when “and the rest” were only two other cast members. I agree the updated theme song was much better. I remember it also taking me a bit to get used to the fact that Maynard G. Krebs was no longer Maynard G. Krebs. I was especially drawn to Zelda on that show and it took me years to understand why.

    1. Mitchell, just so there's no misunderstanding--and I think you do understand this--my delineation of the show's absurdities was meant as PRAISE. I think the producers and writers knew exactly what they were doing, and the absurdity was intentional.

      Hanna and Barbara have never confirmed it, but some have opined that Zelda was the model for Velma on Scooby Do, Where Are You? (And you can probably guess who Shaggy was modeled on.)

  2. Hi, Kirk!

    Happy 88th birthday in heaven to Bob Denver, a character actor remembered by millions as the work-loathing beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a late 1950s/early 60s sitcom that I watched regularly, and remembered by many millions more as Gilligan, the Minnow's first mate, the Skipper's little buddy and the screw-up of the castaways on Gilligan's Island.

    I cringe whenever I watch the S-1 opening titles that do not mention The Professor and Mary Ann, two characters that were essential to the cast and storytelling. What were the producer's thinking? I suppose we should remember that Tina Louise originally understood that she was the star of the series and that the plots of all episodes would revolve around her. Maybe that has something to do with it. Even when they revised the opening sequence, The Professor and Mary Ann are forced to share the screen as if their characters were an afterthought and somehow less important than the rest.

    Let us remember that Tina Louise is the last surviving cast member of Gilligan's Island. One month from now, she will turn 89 years of age, which seems impossible. Tina's a Democrat, and another thing I like about her is the personal quote, "The best movie you'll ever be in is your own life because that's what matters in the end." In the late 50s, I watched Russell Johnson in several sci-fi and exploitation films including This Island Earth, Attack of the Crab Monsters and Rock All Night. We should remember that Dawn Wells was the cast member who died of COVID at the end of 2020. Dawn and Bob Denver were two of the stars of High School U.S.A., a 1983 TV movie I watched for the second time the other day. And of course, Jim Backus starred in I Married Joan, another 50s sitcom that I watched regularly, Rebel w/o a Cause, the Mister Magoo movie and TV series, Mad, Mad World and many other films and TV shows.

    Thanks for remembering good guy Bob Denver, who left us too soon at age age of 70 but achieved immortality in the role of goofy Gilligan. Have a great week, good buddy Kirk!

    1. Shady, in that first video Rosie O'Donnell wondered if the various actors' agents were behind the credits, and I suspect that's true. Note that in the opening credits not only do you see Jim Backus' and Tina Louise's names but also the characters they play. That's something that's usually negotiated by an agent. In terms of name recognition, Backus and Louise (who had won a Golden Globe for 1958's God's Little Acre) were right up there with Bob Denver. I suspect that, because the producers wanted Denver and Alan Hale Jr as a comedy team from the very beginning, and thus one right after each other in the credits, a deal was cut to include the names of Backus' and Louise's characters, thus making them seem more pivotal than they perhaps were. In fact, in terms of pivotability, I would argue that Gilligan, Skipper, and the Professor were at the show's core, and if you go by that, Russell Johnson's name should have come before Backus, but alas, not the same name recognition.

  3. I loved "Gilligan's Island" when I was a kid! Okay, I was six, what did I know?

    1. Debra, if I live to be 110, I'll still find Gilligan's Island funny, along with The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, etc. It's all art with a capital A as far as I'm concerned.

      “Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.”

      ― Ludwig Wittgenstein

  4. Your written description of Gilligan's Island makes the show's plot and characters seem absurd, and it was, and I absolutely loved it. I remember the theme song change and I remember thinking what did I just hear? Then, how did they fit so many syllables where there were so few. I had always thought it was unfair to leave the Prof and MA out of the tune, regardless. Being the youngest? on the island, Gilligan was somehow quite attractive to me and but even more so in Dobie Gillis. I must have been pretty young, maybe pre teen when Dobie Gillis was screened here. The writing was already on the wall. Gillis seemed too stuffy and proper to me and so many years later, I can't remember the show aside from the Gillis monologues. I enjoyed this revisit to my youth and I will watch the clips later today.

    1. Andrew, I agree Bob Denver started out good-looking, but I think all that comic mugging took its toll on his face. It got more and more rubbery as he aged, but then isn't that true for all of us?

  5. Oh, I absolutely understood.

    On my weekly calls with my brother he invariable says, “Gilligan, you can't fly!” I am immediately Gilligan and say “I can't?!?” before falling from the sky.


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