Little Buddy, a.k.a. Bob Denver, spills the beans about working on two of the most popular sitcoms of all time, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and “Gilligan’s Island,” in his autobiography “Gilligan, Maynard & Me” ($13, Citadel Press).
A graduate of Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount), Denver had five college productions under his belt when he became a part-time grammar school teacher and sports coach in 1956. The following year he got the call to play super-cool beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on “Dobie Gillis.” Though he played Maynard for four seasons, he’s best known as the goofy castaway Gilligan on the 1963-66 CBS slapstick comedy “Gilligan’s Island.” Both series have been in syndication and are part of pop culture.
Denver discusses the genesis of “Gilligan’s Island,” as well as the difficulties shooting in the icy cold lagoon (which happened to be near the Hollywood Freeway), the tricky special effects and the cast and crew of the S.S. Minnow. One story finds Denver trying to nap in his dressing room during his lunch hour only to have Tina Louise, who played the dimwitted, sultry Ginger, entertaining a gentleman caller in the room next door.
Times Staff Writer Susan King caught up with Denver, currently on a nationwide book tour, via phone in San Francisco.
What age groups have been showing up at the book signings?
I guess from about 7 to 90.
Do they dress up as their favorite “Gilligan” character?
No, they don’t dress up or do any kind of weird stuff (laughs).
It must be real gratifying to meet the fans.
Oh yeah. It’s fun to see them. They are all happy. Everybody just grins and says, “I ran home from school every day and turned it on.”
It’s really amazing that you have been on the air for 34 years.
Yeah, since ’59. Can you believe it? It kind of fascinates me. The last couple of years, instead of people doing big takes (when they see me) and saying, “Oh my God.” They just look up with no take at all and say, “Hi, Bob.” I’m the neighbor they know. This face has been so long in their houses.
What was the most unusual story you’ve heard from a fan?
One woman said, “Thank you for saving my daughter’s life.” Her daughter was in a coma from a car accident. She was like 9 and her favorite show was “Gilligan’s Island.” It would come on at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Every day she would turn it on and say to the little girl, “This is your favorite show. You should really wake up and watch it.” She was in a coma for a long time. She said one time, “Here is your favorite episode.” And the little girl opened her eyes, sat up and said, “OK, Mom.” She came out of the coma just to watch the show. I said, “You are certainly welcome.”
Did you write the book because fans have asked you questions about the series over the years?
That was one of the reasons, just to put down the answers to questions people were asking me. But it was just fun to remember.
Could you talk about how you and Alan Hale (who played the Skipper), worked out all the physical comedy you did on “Gilligan”?
It was fun. Alan Hale was the best person I could have picked in a million years to be my partner in doing physical comedy. I couldn’t hurt him. I could climb on him, bounce on him, roll all over him and he would go, “Are you done?” He would never hurt me. He was just too big and strong. You can’t rehearse a lot of physical things we did, but you can’t do it by the numbers. Whatever happens, you’ve got to trust each other.
I did “Gilligan” because I wanted to do all the physical jokes I had seen over the years. I did every one I wanted to and a few I hadn’t thought of.
Do you have a preference between “Dobie” and “Gilligan”?
I enjoyed both of them. Maynard had a lot of words. He had a motor mouth. He was all over the place. (Creator) Max Schulman loved to put words in his mouth. They made me say every cliche backward. To this day I don’t know what the right one is. “Starve a cold, feed a fever?” They made me say all of those sayings wrong and to this day I don’t use them because I am not sure.
Are there “Gilligan” fan clubs?
They start up and disappear a lot, but there’s one that has been going for a long time in Salt Lake City. He has a couple of thousand members. When it was Johnny Carson’s last year (on the “Tonight Show”), in his monologue he said they were thinking of changing the island of Maui’s name to Gilligan’s Island. I thought it was kind of a fun joke. The next day the wire service called me and said they had 14,000 signatures from the island of Maui to change its name. They were going to put it on a ballot. Stuff like that breaks me up.
Have you heard from any cast members about the book?
Tina is not too excited. She got a little upset about the dressing room story. I don’t know why (laughs). I didn’t think it was that bad. She went to my publisher and marched around screaming: “I never had sex on ‘Gilligan’s Island!’ ”
“Gilligan’s Island” airs weekdays at 5 a.m. on WTBS and 12:30 p.m on KTTV; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on KTTV .