Bob Denver is everyone’s favorite “little buddy” thanks to “Gilligan’s Island,” which ran for three seasons in the mid-1960s. So, if you heard that he went to college with one of his future television co-stars, you might assume it was someone from that show.
That’s not, however, the case.
Denver went to college with Dwayne Hickman, and they both later co-starred in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” The show, which ran from 1959 to 1963, made Denver a star. And it almost led to him not being cast on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Denver’s Early Years
Born in New Rochelle, N.Y., Denver grew up in the small country town of Brownwood, Tex., before moving to California to attend Loyola University. (It’s now called Loyola Marymount University.) He majored in political science — didn’t see that coming, did you? — and participated in on-campus theater productions.
Denver met Hickman onstage. And for his part, Hickman almost became a priest but instead went to Loyola.
After graduation, Denver taught physical education, math, and history at a Catholic elementary school in Pacific Palisades, Calif. In 1958, his sister got him an audition for the forthcoming “Dobie Gillis” show. After winning the part, he left teaching the next year to act full time.
‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’
The series focused on Dobie Gillis, played by Dwayne Hickman, who like many teenage boys craves money, popularity, and the adulation of pretty girls. Also like many teenagers, he didn’t have much luck in any of those areas.
And yet again like a lot of his counterparts, Gillis’ future after high school was uncertain given his poor academic performance.
Denver played Maynard G. Krebs, Gillis’ best friend and the show’s breakout character. Embodying popular conceptions of Beat Generation hipsters, the bongo-playing, work-avoiding, slang-slinging beatnik Krebs captivated television audiences.
Too Hipster for ‘Gilligan’s Island”?
After “Dobie Gillis” ended, producer Sherwood Schwartz was casting “Gilligan’s Island” but was hesitant to consider Denver for the role of Gilligan.
Schwartz explained in his 1988 book “Inside Gilligan’s Island: From Creation to Syndication.”
“I had never met Bob Denver. I knew Bob only from his role as Maynard G. Krebs on ‘Dobie Gillis.’ … Like many producers, casting directors and executives, I fell temporary victim to the evils of typecasting.”
Thankfully, it only took one 30-minute meeting with Denver for Schwartz to realize he was perfect for Gilligan. After that, Schwartz finished casting the remaining roles, and the rest was television history.