Dobie Gillis: "I Gotta Kill that Boy!" A Cult Series Makes its Way to DVDA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
On the television screens in America in 1959, a harried grocery store owner shouts out at his son's cavalier leave from their home with the SHOUT!, "I've gotta kill that boy!"
And we're a long ways from the 1950s sit-com world of Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show.
SHOUT! Factory has made Max Shulman's Dobie Gillis series, starring Dwayne Hickman, available on DVD. It was one of those TV series that fans thought would not be released. The Max Shulman Estate had not approved of it, and many pundits thought it unlikely. And then suddenly, not one episode, not one season, but virtually all of Dobie was available!
I like the fact that SHOUT! releases classic TV Series like Dobie as complete sets, all the seasons collected in one brightly designed box, and the company actually has begun practicing a reverse approach to the more or less established way of selling an individual season, seeing how the show does before committing to putting another season out for the collectors. If you love a series, and you want every season, there's a cliff-hanger element added, because, Hey! You never know if the company will continue or just abruptly abandon it. The question can linger for months, even years, if the show will ever be available in its entirety on DVD.
As a storyteller I also love that being able to view every episode over a passage of time means that I can see how a series like Dobie evolves, from conception and then from season to season. In this set you really can discover the shifting in tone in Dobie Gillis. I would have sworn before viewing these in this newly released DVD set that Dobie's father's angry/energetic/exasperated/sometimes a forlorn lament: "I gotta kill that boy!" ran through the course of all four seasons of Dobie, but it doesn't. He only pitches the line at the departing Dobie in the first season.
I suspect, as iconic as the line became for the series, someone behind the scenes decided that it was too harsh a litany to use week after week, from a father to a son, and that Herbert D. Gillis had to be mellowed down a bit, and their familial relationship not as dysfunctional.
See, you could not realize that if you only had the first season.
Or watch a performer come in for what may have been a one-shot episode, and so captured the writers and/or producers and/or the audience that half a season later that person becomes a full-fledged member of the supporting cast.
The neat thing about this release approach by SHOUT! is that after they make the complete sets available, they then release them as single season sets. Now, if you're only interested in a particular season, you only have to buy that one. Or if the completed sets are too expensive, and you can only afford one at the time, you can also still have episodes from the series.
There were many things about the show I never realized until viewing these uncut prints of Dobie. If you look up any episode guides to the series, it is always under the name The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The odd thing is that the title "Many Loves" is only used in the first season. Even the theme song, which is co-written by Max Shulman, who created Dobie in novels, and presumably did the lyrics to Lionel Newman's melody, vanish after the first season. The animated opening (a cartoon version of Dobie that is no reflection of Dwayne Hickman, more Mad Magazine unglamorous style) also is gone by the second season.
The title becomes just Dobie Gillis for the next three seasons.
And even that changes. In the second season the show opens with a teaser. At its end, Dobie's name comes up, and just his name is sung, with the lettering jouncing jazz style to the impassioned voices behind it. In the third season, there is still a teaser, and the lettering of Dobie's name still distorts like something from an early Max Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon, but the voices are all gone, and it's just instrumental.
But the first season title is still the one that is on just about any guide for the show, or even in most reference to it. It's never Dobie Gillis in the listings, it's always The Many Loves of…
It's also an added historical feature that SHOUT! -- on this set at least -- offers extras that offer some insight into the making of the series. Dwayne Hickman does a brief video interview, and he looks great, especially if he's as old as I read somewhere when the interview was done.
And for any TV buffs of the time, to see Maynard G. Krebbs and Kookie (77 Sunsey Strip's Edd Byrnes) teaching Pat Boone how to be hip has to be especially fun to view, and thankfully not lost.
The early sets SHOUT! did of the Gene Autry TV series had all of the original commercials, including skits that Autry and Pat Buttram did to sell chewing gum. I had to shake my head to see Gene popping gum into his mouth, up in the saddle on Champion, his horse, and tossing the Wrigley's Spearmint gum wrapper into the western landscape as he rode off.
Check that first season Autry set out and see if I'm not right.
Dobie is based on a number of collected short stories by Max Shulman, started in 1945, and unlike many family based series of the 50s and 60s, its focus is on teens, and as it progresses, men and women going into their twenties. Dobie wants a woman, and in that first season many of the story-lines are centered around that chase, male after female.
The women look sexy, in what fashion 1960s Pop Culture allows them to be, but they seldom are sexual beings.
Not like any women I knew in the time period.
Tuesday Weld as Thalia Menniger, Dobie's mainstay romantic obsession through a whole of lot episodes in the first season, showcases Tuesday's allure and charisma as a performer, but Thalia's pragmatic about everything, and any sexuality is pretty subdued.
Not like any women I knew in the time period.
Which doesn't mean there isn't an engaging contest of personalities between the younger aged Tuesday and the twenty-something Dwayne Hickman as Thalia and Dobey.
Is Tuesday really only 15 years old when she plays Thalia? Really? Who would-a guessed?
Yvonne Craig (before she became Batgirl) appears as 5 different women Dobie is pursuing over the seasons
Dobie is also unlike most sit-coms with its at times filmic approach. The episodes can be peppered with one-shots and snap cuts and visions appearing in frame during some of these battles of the television style 60s sexes.
There are movie parodies, with Dobie and Maynard as everything from gangsters to soldiers to prospectors flirting with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Nothing seems set in stone, except the Statue.
A lot of people probably remember Bob Denver as Gilligan, but he first became a star on Dobie Gillis, as one of the first beatnik (or, if you prefer, counterculture) supporting cast characters. Denver and Hackman play well together in the metaphorical sandbox. Maynard's normally cheerful demeanor played off Dobie's ponderings as he sat before Auguste Rodin's statue of "The Thinker," with Dobie often breaking the fourth wall and talking directly into the camera, discussing his turmoil of the week, with Maynard often appearing in counter-point, bopping to Thelonious Monk, and using Dobie's arm to batter his head against in imitation of a wrecking ball taking down the Endicott Building.
The wrecking ball is always taking down the Endicott Building, just as the only movie ever playing in town is The Monster That Devoured Cleveland.
Denver's Maynard is often cited as the first regular anti-establishment character in a TV series, which is just a short way down the road real world time-wise for turbulent rejections of materialism and maintaining the status quo. Loveable Maynard doesn't want anything to do with it.
Continuity may not be sacred in Dobie, lessons learned are lessons forgotten, but the series understands comedy constructs and has a number of re-occurring catch-phrases and bits reminiscent of Jack Benny (a Hackman influence) and Burns & Allen. The series boasts a number of such pieces from "I gotta kill that boy, I just gotta," to someone using a number of derogatory words to describe something or someone and Maynard entering with "You rang?"
Or the response to an act of kindness: "You're a real human being."
Maynard flinches and screeches "WORK?!" any time the word gets mentioned.
Being able to see the show like this, I never realized that in episode 4, they wrote Maynard out of the show and had him replaced by Michael J. Pollard, as Maynard's hipster but oblivious cousin. For two episodes, it appears that Maynard has stunningly disappeared. Behind the scenes, Bob Denver had received his draft notice after filming the first few episodes. He thought he was going into the service. I can only imagine the panicked scrambling behind the scenes to figure out what the hell the producers were going do now that they had finally sold a show that had originally be rejected by NBC. Denver was declared 4F, and Maynard did a magic act, and re-appeared.
Frank Faylan and Florida Friebus play Dobie's working class dad and mom. No suits and ties and coiffured hair in this half-hour comedy, nor are the husband and wife totally without passion for each other. Whatever their differences of opinion about things, there are times when Dobie leaves that they chase each other around, and in one episode they actually close the freezer door where they store the meat for an afternoon clinch. As the seasons progress, there is often less of them showing passion for each other, but it does still appear from time to time.
Frank Faylan did vaudeville as a boy. In Episode 14, "The Flying Millicans", he is still able to do an impressive standing back-flip, on camera. Of note to the old Batman TV series, Yvonne Craig makes one of several appearances as the woman Dobie desires for the week.
Class distinction in America is given a lot of play in the show, first with Warren Beatty as Milton Armitage, an arrogant, aggressively physical rich guy who is Dobie's adversary for a woman's affections, and then Steve Franken as Chatsworth Osborne, Jr., Milton's cousin. Franken really throws himself into the role, totally obliviously obnoxious, although nonplussed when he is caught in situations like having to change clothes with Dobie and Maynard.
The mother for both rich young guys is Doris Packer, who gets a lot of mileage out the word, "Nasty."
"You nasssty boy, you!"
Eventually, any time you see Doris, you wait for her to say it, savoring the word.
"Nasssty boy, you!"
And she really delivers nasty each time she says it.
Warren Beatty, perhaps imitating his superior (at least in his mind), supercilious manner denied ever having worked in television.
That ain't Warren's clone you see in here.
Warren, along with Tuesday and the vocal theme-song, disappear after the first season. Okay, to be totally accurate, for the nit-pickers, Tuesday does appear a couple of times in later seasons.
Sheila James (whose real name is Sheila James Kuehl) appears in the third episode as Zelda Gilroy, the woman determined to marry Dobie, to scrunch her nose up at him bunny-style, to which he inevitably returns the facial distortion. I suspect no one knew Sheila would become a mainstay for the series, throughout the seasons. She appears and then is gone for a number of episodes. She really becomes a semi-regular in the second season.
Sheila would go on to make history outside of pop culture as the first openly gay political candidate to run for office in 1994. Oh, and win, too!
Way to go, Sheila!
Wisely, the producers and writers surround Dwayne Hickman with personable performers, and Hackman apparently isn't threatened by their upstaging him. Thus, as they make Dobie blander through the seasons (kind of as Disney does with Mickey Mouse over the years) everybody else gets to dance and sing and get crazy.
The Thinker remains throughout. The statue just changes locations.
While most episodes are straight-on comedies, unlike most series doesn't feel compelled to be restricted to just that tone or approach, and suddenly an episode appears that incorporates the surreal, the fantastic, the absurd.
Giant chickens can grow in the Gillis grocery, crashing through walls, toppling shelves.
Maynard can become a world renowned psychic about to predict the Kennedy/Nixon presidential election on global TV, aired the week the actual election was happening.
Maynard can be sent off in a rocket ship headed toward the moon, with a chimp, and oddly enough land on an island, but this time have the women adoring him.
And next week, the grocery, the school, the Thinker, are all as if Dobie and Maynard are still struggling, unknown, everyday folks, their 25 Minutes of fame forgotten.
Mark Evanier has written that he based many of the characters in the animated series Scooby Doo from the characters in Dobie Gillis. Check out Mark's site; he writes a column full of insight on all forms of pop culture. Tell him Don sent you.
Dobie is well represented here for fans of the show. The episodes are uncut. The prints are clear and sharp. The end credits have not been redone, for some reason, but there is no terrible reduction in quality. As the seasons progress, the end credits incorporate the original commercial sponsors. Marlboro cigarettes was one of their prime sponsors? The cigarette industry was targeting the youth market, apparently.
I don't believe Dobie or Maynard did any commercials for them.
And probably, if Maynard was smoking, it wasn't Marlboro.
Copyright © 2013 by Don McGregor
Dwayne Hickman in the first season of Dobie Gillis, with bleached blonde hair because there was fear audiences would confuse him with the popular role he had on the Bob Cummings show a couple of years earlier, Love That Bob. His hair is almost albino white. In the next seasons, the network relented, since Dwayne's hair was falling out from all the treatments, and along with losing his brother, Daryl, playing Dobie's older brother in the first season, Dobie becomes essentially an only child. Retro Planned Parenthood, or something.
Dobie and Maynard make it into DC Comics land. The title The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis makes the transition, though the series, from the second season on becomes just DOE-BEEEE! Art by Bob Oksner.
SHOUT!s DVD cover art, for the complete set. Season 1 is available by itself, and the remaining seasons will go on sale individually throughout 2014.
There are a number of curious elements that appear in Dobie. In the first season, the teen-age hang-out Baskin Robbins style ice cream shop has Asian owners, and features oriental flavors of ice cream floats and sodas. No mention is ever made of it, and I wonder if in the smaller screens and sometimes chaotic reception of image if this wasn't missed by many viewers.
Why has is the guy who never acted on any other television series. What's his name?
Here's the gang listening to pompous Osbourne spout off his attributes. Unfortunately, his mom, played by Doris Packer, isn't included in the photo snarling, "You Nassssty Boy!"
Frank Faylen as Herbert T. Gillis getting some ideas about his wife Florida Friebus as his wife, Winnie, when there aren't any customers in the store, or Dobie and Maynard around. Anybody know what the name of the comics stored in the racks are? Are they real or made-up titles?