Today is the birthday (1935) of Robert Osbourne “Bob” Denver, a US actor, widely known for portraying Gilligan on the television series Gilligan’s Island, but I remember him most as the beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs, on the 1959–1963 sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I don’t believe that Gilligan played on British television when it first came out, but Dobie Gillis was on in South Australia in the early 1960s in syndication. In any event, both sitcoms seem inane to me now, and all I remember about Krebs was that he was an idiot posing as a beatnik. Back then I had no idea about beatniks. I came of age in the hippie generation. I also remember that the show was my first introduction to Rodin’s “The Thinker” because Gillis and Krebs sat by a copy quite often on the show. From a distance, Krebs and Gilligan look like the same character in different clothes and with different friends.
Denver was born in New Rochelle, New York and raised in Brownwood, Texas. He attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California where he acted in college productions and met fellow student Dwayne Hickman, with whom he later co-starred in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. After graduation, he coached physical education and taught mathematics and history at Corpus Christi School, a Roman Catholic elementary school in Pacific Palisades, California.
Most of Denver’s acting career was in television, but he appeared in several films and on Broadway. Denver made his television debut in 1957, playing a small part in one episode of The Silent Service (S01 E37: “The Loss of the Tang”). While teaching at Corpus Christi in 1958, Denver was permitted to audition for a role on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as a favor to his sister, who was a secretary on the production lot. He got the role, and left teaching the following year to become a regular on the series. After filming the first three episodes, Denver received his draft notice, and was briefly written out of the script and replaced, but he was designated 4-F due to an old neck injury, and returned to Dobie Gillis having missed only one episode. Denver later reprised his Maynard G. Krebs role in the television sequels Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? (1977) and Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis (1988).
During his time on Dobie Gillis, Denver appeared on the NBC interview program, Here’s Hollywood. In 1963, Denver played his only major dramatic role on television, as a physician (Dr. Paul Garrett) in one episode of Dr. Kildare, telecast on October 10, 1963; the episode, “If You Can’t Believe the Truth …”, also featured Barbara Eden and Ken Berry. Between the end of Dobie Gillis and the start of Gilligan’s Island, Denver appeared in an episode of The Farmer’s Daughter and in the final episode of The Danny Thomas Show. He also had a one-episode role replacing the actor who played Dudley A. “Dud” Wash, the fiancé of Charlene Darling of the Darlings, on The Andy Griffith Show which was aired March 30th, 1964. This was done by the network to promote Denver’s face and make him more familiar to the viewing audience, since Gilligan’s Island was about to go on air.
Following the cancellation of Dobie Gillis, Denver starred on Gilligan’s Island, which ran for three seasons (1964–67) on CBS, and became a staple of later syndication. His role as the well-meaning but bumbling first mate among a small group of shipwrecked castaways became the one for which he is most remembered in the US. During the run, Denver privately went out of his way to help his co-stars, such as successfully demanding that Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells be included in the series’ opening credits and insisting that Wells get an equal share of the series’ publicity with Tina Louise. A decade after the series was cancelled, Denver played Gilligan in the made-for-TV reunion movies Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978), The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979), and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981). He also lent his voice to the animated series The New Adventures of Gilligan and its sequel Gilligan’s Planet. During the 1980s, he re-created the character of Gilligan for numerous cameo appearances, including episodes of ALF, Meego and Baywatch, as well as a bartender in the film Back to the Beach (1987).
After Gilligan’s Island, Denver went on to star on other TV comedy series, including The Good Guys (1968–1970), Dusty’s Trail (1973) (a show similar to Gilligan’s Island, involving a lost wagon train headed to California), and the Sid and Marty Krofft children’s program Far Out Space Nuts (1975). Four episodes of Dusty’s Trail were later combined to create a feature film, The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West (1976). Denver’s other television roles included guest appearances on multiple episodes of Love, American Style, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. In 1983, he starred in the television pilot The Invisible Woman as the bumbling mad scientist uncle of the title character.
Denver’s first feature film appearance was in the service farce, A Private’s Affair (1959), with Sal Mineo. Credited as “Robert Denver”, he had a small role in the Jimmy Stewart film, Take Her, She’s Mine (1963), playing a beatnik poet working at a coffee shop. Denver also appeared in the beach film For Those Who Think Young (1964) with Tina Louise prior to the development of Gilligan’s Island. Other films in which Denver appeared include Who’s Minding the Mint? (1967), The Sweet Ride (1968) and Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968) with Phyllis Diller. In 1983, he appeared in the television movie High School U.S.A.
In 1970, Denver replaced Woody Allen in the original Broadway production of Allen’s hit comedy Play It Again, Sam, earning praise from New York Times critic Clive Barnes for conveying “a genuine clown-like wistfulness” that Barnes had found lacking in Allen’s own performance in the starring role.
Later in his life, Denver returned to his adopted home of Princeton, West Virginia, and became an FM radio personality. He and his wife, Dreama, ran a small oldies format radio station, WGAG-LP 93.1 FM. He also earned a small income making public appearances, often costumed as Gilligan. In 1992, he played Gilligan to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a West Virginia fundraiser for the organization.
Denver died September 2, 2005 from pneumonia, at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He had been receiving cancer treatment and had undergone heart bypass surgery earlier that year.
I would give a beatnik recipe in honor of Krebs, but the beats were not especially associated with food, except perhaps, tasteless 1950s junk (anything wrapped in bacon). Instead, here’s coconut shrimp as a mild homage to Gilligan’s Island which was mostly a Hawaiian schlock ripoff.
1lb of cleaned raw shrimp (de-veined and butterflied)
2 tsp of ginger/garlic paste
1 tsp of red chili powder
salt and black pepper
seasoned flour, with salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1 cup desiccated coconut
vegetable oil for deep frying
Mix the marinade ingredients and marinate the cleaned shrimp for at least 30 minutes (preferably longer).
Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350°F.
Make three plates: one of flour, one of egg, and one of coconut.
Remove the shrimp from the marinade, draining excess. Using the wet hand, dry hand method, dip the shrimp, one by one, in flour, then egg, then coconut, making sure that the shrimp are thoroughly coated with coconut. Then fry in batches until golden on all sides. Drain on wire racks, and serve hot with a dipping sauce of your choice. Mango, pineapple, lime, and fresh ginger pureed together work fine.