Maynard G. Krebs, Mainstream Media’s First Beatnik
By Felice Prager
Until The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis came along in September of 1959, there were no TV shows centered exclusively on the lives of teenagers. In addition, until this series, beatniks were heard of and written about in newspapers and magazines, but they did not live in your neighborhood or hang out with your kids.
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was created by Max Shulman from stories that he wrote about the title character, but oddly, the Maynard G. Krebs character, the most famous beatnik in TV history, was not in either of Max Shulman’s books.
Dwayne Hickman starred as the title character, Dobie Gillis, and Bob Denver played the character of Maynard G. Krebs, the first beatnik to come into American homes, snap his fingers, and play the bongos.
Dobie was the perpetual daydreamer who loved beautiful girls; the girls, for the most part, ignored him. Maynard was his bohemian sidekick.
This series preceded Bob Denver’s trip aboard the S.S. Minnow in the role of
Gilligan with the Skipper, the Professor, Maryann, Ginger, and Mr. and Mrs. Howell.
Maynard G. Krebs began as a stereotypical beatnik with a goatee who used hip slang. He was unkempt in appearance and avoided anything that even slightly resembled work.
To Maynard, work was a four-letter work that provoked a fearful reaction – “Work!” In comparison to the well-groomed Dobie Gillis, Maynard most definitely stood out. This contrast was one of the humorous threads throughout the series. Though Maynard’s role began as a beatnik, he eventually became that odd character who collected petrified frogs and tinfoil.
Bob Denver gave depth to the character because the writers had no idea what beatniks were really like. Actually, Denver didn't know anything about them either and said he just played Maynard as a more childlike and innocent version of himself.
Bob Denver knew jazz, so jazz musicians became Maynard's idols. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was so hip and so ahead of its time that it was the only 1950's sitcom where Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk were praised on a regular basis. When he wasn't listening to records, Maynard played bongos, ocarina, and anything else that would produce a sound. If no instruments were available, he just sang his version of scat.
Maynard loved scary movies, especially The Monster that Devoured Cleveland, which seemed to enjoy an endless engagement at the local movie theater. He also loved to watch the wrecking ball swing on the Old Endicott Building; this building must have been the sturdiest structure in town because it was being demolished almost every week during the lifespan of the series.
Maynard lived in his own world with its own twisted logic. For instance, the G of his middle name stood for Walter and he was named after his aunt. His speech was full of colorful Maynardisms such as "You rang?" and "Like, I'm getting all misty."
Just before The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis ended its run in 1962, Bob Denver recorded his legendary Like, What? album. Unfortunately, when the show was cancelled, the record's release was canned, and only a few hundred promotional copies of the album were ever manufactured. This album is now a highly sought after collector's item fetching thousands of dollars when it is in mint condition.
Oddly, Bob Denver was born in New Rochelle, New York and was raised in Brownwood Texas. He graduated from Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount University) in Los Angeles, California. Before playing Maynard, he was a mailman, and he taught math and coached sports at a Catholic elementary school.
Years later, Maynard G. Krebs became a well-known figure in American popular culture to many who had never had any contact with actual beatniks. Many believe that the character of Shaggy Rogers on Scooby Doo was modeled from Maynard G. Krebs with the other four human characters modeling the other characters from the series.
Bob Denver almost left the series after the first four episodes were filmed when he was drafted into the Army. Michael Pollard of Bonnie and Clyde was hired as Maynard's beatnik brother, but he was dropped when Bob Denver returned because he flunked the Army physical.
The supporting cast was rich and memorable. Warren Beatty was a regular on the first few episodes. He played Milton Armitage, a rich kid. From 1960-1963, Steve Franken played the role of another spoiled schoolmate, Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. Doris Packer played Chatsworth’s socially obsessed and over-doting mother. Sheila James played Zelda Gilroy, the girl who could only get Dobie's attention by wrinkling her nose at him.
James was more serious about her education than she was about pursuing an acting career. She studied law and graduated first in her class at Harvard Law School! She eventually became a California State Senator. Dobie's parents, Herbert and Winnie Gillis, were played by Frank Faylen and Florida Friebus. Tuesday Weld played Thalia Menninger, the beautiful girl that Dobie loved.
Weld quit after the first season to pursue a career in the movies, returning occasionally in later seasons. According to Dwayne Hickman, it was not an amicable relationship. "She just wasn't a pro," he told the press after Tuesday Weld left the show. "Late to work, late getting back from lunch, no sense of responsibility to the show."
Dobie and the gang started out in high school, briefly got drafted into the army, and then headed to college where they had the same teacher they had in high school - played by William Schallert. After 'Dobie' ended, Schallert went on to play Patty Duke’s father on The Patty Duke Show.
Bob Denver’s career continued with the success of Gilligan’s Island where he played Gilligan for three seasons, several reunions, and a variety of spoofs of
Island¸ including one memorable episode of Roseanne where the Gilligan cast and the Roseanne cast switched places. He was in several other series (The Good Guys, Dusty’s Trail) and had many guest spots on series such as Love American Style, Love Boat, Alf, and Baywatch.
Dwayne Hickman (Dobie) went on to co-star in the Academy Award winning film Cat Balou and some beach films of the Sixties (Ski Party, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.) Eventually, he opted for a career on the other side of the camera as a programming executive. He is now spending his time doing oil paintings.
There were two Dobie Gillis TV-movie reunions featuring the original cast, one in 1977 (Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?) and one in 1988 (Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis.) The first was even a pilot for a new series, with the action centering on Dobie and Zelda's son.
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, the original series, lasted four years, from 1959 until 1963. It also re-emerged on Nick at Nite, gaining a new second generation fan base in the 1980s.
Bob Denver underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery in May of 2005. He was subsequently diagnosed with throat cancer. He died on September 2, 2005 at the age of 70. He was surrounded by his family — his last wife (of 28 years) and his children from four different marriages.
more articles by Felice Prager