September 06, 2005
R.I.P. Little Buddy
TV's Gilligan Dead
By Joal Ryan
(from E Online via Yahoo)
Somewhere, on some channel, in some time zone, Gilligan is still stranded.
Bob Denver, forever in reruns the most clueless castaway of Gilligan's Island, died at a North Carolina hospital Friday from cancer-related complications, his family announced Tuesday. He was 70.
Denver underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in May.
"He gave us the gift of love and laughter," the Denver family said in a statement, "even in his passing."
Russell Johnson, the brainy professor to Denver's brainless first mate on Gilligan's Island, said he shared tears with Denver's friends and fans. "Frankly, Bob Denver would adore your laughter most of all," Johnson said on his Website. "That's more likely why God created him."
Denver starred on Gilligan's Island from 1964 to '67. The sitcom about seven shipwreck survivors, from Hollywood bombshell to Kansas farm girl, was never an Emmy nominee, was not a critical favorite and was a top 20 hit just once. It produced 98 episodes, two fewer than the traditional 100 believed to be mandatory for syndication success. And yet it was in reruns that the show became inescapable, if not indestructible.
"It's 40 years this year it's been on the air continually," Denver observed in 2004 to the Charleston Gazette, a newspaper based in his adopted home state of West Virginia.
If viewers wouldn't let go of Gilligan, Denver never broke with the Skipper's "little buddy," either. He revisited the character several times, in several incarnations, from Saturday morning cartoons (1974's Gilligan's Planet, 1982's Gilligan's Planet) to reunion TV-movies (led by 1978's top-rated Rescue from Gilligan's Island), to a cameo on ALF.
A slightly earlier TV generation, however, arguably best remembered Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, the bongo-playing beatnik on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). Though not a rerun phenomenon, the comedy produced nearly 50 more first-run episodes than Gilligan's Island.
Denver's 1993 autobiography played tribute to both of his iconic incarnations: Gilligan, Maynard & Me. Like a good parent, the actor refused to play favorites.
"I enjoyed both equally, but in different ways," Denver wrote on his Website. "Maynard gave me the chance to do wonderful word comedy...When I was offered Gilligan, I chose it because that character gave me the chance to do physical comedy, which I love."
"With Maynard and Gilligan, I had the best of both worlds."
Born in New Rochelle, New York, on Jan. 9, 1935, Denver enjoyed a prime-time run of 11 consecutive years, from 1959, with the debut of Dobie Gillis, to 1970, with the demise of The Good Guys, a little-remembered sitcom that ran for two seasons. Gilligan's Island--a script Denver snagged only because comedian Jerry Van Dyke turned it down first--was sandwiched in between those two shows.
Following The Good Guys, Denver returned to series work with the 1973 syndicated Old West comedy, Dusty's Trail. In 1975, the gone-gray comic starred in the Sid and Marty Krofft children's TV demi-classic, Far Out Space Nuts.
Three years later, Denver dusted off Gilligan's floppy white hat and long-sleeved red polo. At 43, the shirt seemed baggier and the antics more desperate, but Rescue from Gilligan's Island was popular enough to spawn two more TV-movies, 1979's The Castaways on Gilligan's Island and 1981's The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.
The critical kibosh on the show, however, remained. In a 1994 Canadian radio interview, Denver was asked if the Smithsonian Institution, home to Archie Bunker's living-room chair and Fonzie's leather jacket, had requested Gilligan's hat.
"Nah, the Smithsonian doesn't ask for anything back from Gilligan," Denver said. "They haven't dropped that low yet."
Denver was back in the headlines in 1998 when he was arrested for marijuana possession. And he created some buzz last year when he launched an oldies station, dubbed "Little Buddy Radio" in West Virginia, and called out TBS' new reality series spin on his old show, The Real Gilligan's Island.
"I really don't think this show is going to work," Denver told the Bluefield [West Virginia] Daily Telegraph. "...I'd like to see them put a lion or a tiger on the island, but I really don't think that would happen."
With Denver's death, Tina Louise, who played movie-star Ginger Grant, and the rest, Johnson and Dawn Wells, as Mary Ann, the farm girl, are the only surviving castaways of the original Gilligan cast. Alan Hale Jr., the skipper, died in 1990; Jim Backus, the millionaire, in 1989; Natalie Schafer, the millionaire's wife, in 1991.
Denver said all the actors on the series were typecast as a result of the Gilligan reruns that never died, but he, for one, wasn't bitter.
"When you've been part of a show that has made so many people happy and continues to do so to this day, it's hard to resent it," Denver said on his Website. "Besides that, I'm also known as Maynard, which means I say 'WORK?!?!' for fans almost as much as I say, 'Skipper!' "