Dwayne Hickman has died at age 87 from Parkinson’s Disease. I know if you’re under a certain age you’re saying, Who?
But Dwayne was the Richie Cunningham of his day. He was the teen and young 20s star of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” the hit TV series of the early 1960s. As he was a proto-Richie, Bob Denver– later to become Gilligan of “Gilligan’s Island” — was the show’s Fonzie, Maynard G. Krebs. The show was created by and written by Max Shulman, the humorist who wrote the short stories on which the series was based.
The series launched the careers as well of Warren Beatty and Tuesday Weld.
When “Dobie Gillis” ended Hickmman starred in some beach blanket movies like How to Stuff a Wild Bikini with Annette Funicello, and Ski Party with Frankie Avalon.He also starred in the Academy Award-winning comedy western classic Cat Ballou with Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. Along with guest appearances on episodic television, Hickman toured in national companies of hit plays.
But there’s a twist. In the 70s, armed with a B.A., Hickman became an executive at CBS, and oversaw a host of new hit shows including Maude, M*A*S*H and Designing Women.
It was Dobie, though, for whom he will always be remembered. First of all, Dobie’s icon was Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker, whom he stood before when he broke the “fourth wall” during each episode. Dobie narrated the action for the audience without the device of a documentary crew following him, a la The Office. He had a breezy, snarky delivery that was also endearing, much like the much older George Burns, in his matter of fact notice taking of the characters who surrounded him. Shulman was a genius, and Hickman was able to convey his unusual rhythms. For 1960, “Dobie Gillis” was ahead of its time.
So raise a glass to Dobie, Maynard G. Krebs, Max Shulman and an era when being smart was very cool.