‘Many Loves of Dobie Gillis’ cast was golden, as seen on new DVD box set (Part II)

Shout Factory’s deluxe DVD box set The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series” (CBS, 1959-1963). The suggested retail price is $118.99, but Amazon has it for $91.99. The 21-disc offering includes bonus episodes from “Love That Bob” and “The Stu Erwin Show.”

Following Shout Factory’s recent release of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in a complete-series DVD box set, Reveal Shot presents Part II of an interview with television historians Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik, authors of “Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television” (expanded 2nd ed., 2011). Castleman is an attorney at Boston law firm Michienzie & Sawin LLC, while Podrazik is the curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

Read the first part of the interview here.

Reveal Shot: I wanted to zero in on Dwayne Hickman, briefly, in terms of what he brought to this role. Certainly it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Dobie Gillis.

Castleman: One of the things I liked about him is that — and again, up to this point, teenagers were usually portrayed as goofy, crazy kids — Dwayne Hickman portrayed Dobie as an intelligent guy. Level-headed, if you will. And I admired that. It gave him some gravitas, in the sense that he made you feel like you would feel in a given situation. You don’t feel like a goofball; you feel like you’re a serious guy who’s trying to make his way.

Podrazik: Everyone likes to find the character that’s an everyman, that’s identifiable. Dwayne Hickman managed to be a very accessible, sensible, believable, sympathetic character. You knew he was never going to win, but he didn’t come across as a mope. He came across as someone who picked himself up, dusted himself off, and would start all over again.

Castleman: And even though he had that burning ambition, to be successful, to be rich, to have the girl, to have the car, it wasn’t over the top. He wasn’t like Thalia Menninger. He was still, at heart, a good guy.

Podrazik: Just the timbre of his voice helped. He was not Walter Denton from “Our Miss Brooks,” with a squeaky voice [imitates Richard Crenna’s high voice as the character] like that. He was someone you’d want to have a conversation with. You mentioned breaking the fourth wall; when he did that, he would be saying, this is what’s on my mind. This is what I’m trying to do, this is my scheme this week to have all my dreams come true. Uh oh, here comes Maynard to puncture my balloon again.

Reveal Shot: Turning to Bob Denver. One of the things I noticed in your reviews of his subsequent roles is that when Denver was in a supporting role, as he is here, it’s fine, but when he had to carry a series, as in “Gilligan’s Island,” he wasn’t as effective. What made him successful in this supporting role?

Castleman: Well, just his great quirkiness. Again, thinking of the time frame, he would’ve appeared far more quirky back then. I always loved how he would literally be allergic to the word “work.” It was really funny, and it certainly went against what would’ve been considered the correct concept of American society. Goodness knows where that specific thing came from — it might’ve been Denver or the writers or some collaboration, but it’s a great thing. He’s a wonderful sidekick, and again I think the analogy to Art Carney/Ed Norton and “The Honeymooners” is apt, and you can say that in effect that Norton is a more interesting character than Ralph Kramden, and Maynard is a more interesting character than Dobie, but could there be an “Ed Norton Show?” I don’t know.

Podrazik: … One of my favorite episodes was the “Time Capsule” episode, in which Maynard was really distressed at the state of the world.1 Why bother with a time capsule when everything’s going to be blown up? Maynard could credibly say what might have been niggling in the back of the minds of more proper folks, like, boy, this really is a scary time. But he would actually say it. And that really worked well in contrast to everyone else.

When Bob Denver turned around and became the lead, in something like “Gilligan’s Island” or some of his other roles — and maybe I’ve softened a little on this as time has gone by — as long as some of the other characters took the lead on a particular story, he was good popping in with his “Gilliganisms,” but if it’s all Gilligan all the time (or if it had been all Maynard, all the time), that could be a bit wearying. And that’s why comic relief characters are such golden opportunities, because you can make so much without having that character carry the whole story.

Reveal Shot: I wanted to talk about Frank Faylen, because years ago, when we discussed “Leave It To Beaver,” you both talked about how, while the kids on the show were pretty realistic, the adults were not. So I wanted to address how good Faylen was here, playing this sarcastic and always exasperated father.

Castleman: I would like to compare him favorably to one of my least favorite characters of the ’50s, which was Chester Riley, at least the William Bendix version. I always hated Bendix’s version, because he seemed like such a bag of hot air.

Frank Faylen played what Chester Riley should have been. He’s a very believable dad, a very believable small business operator, a very believable World War II vet who’s in complete conflict with a new generation that he doesn’t understand and makes no sense to him. He’s exasperated, but he’s able to stay human at the same time.

Podrazik: And the marriage between Herbert and Winnie Gillis (Florida Friebus) is credible. They’re basically running a small business together.  And Faylen was absolutely someone you could see putting in the long hours. There are people who look back at their youth and say, “I walked 27 miles to school.” I believe Herbert really would have. He was the type that would work hard, who had a strong belief in the American ethic — that was the character as written. And Faylen pulled it off so well.

And yes, while you definitely followed the teens on the show, as a viewer you could say, I don’t mind going to the adult subplots here, because they’re really good subplots.

Cover of "Watching TV: Six Decades of Ame...Reveal Shot: What about Sheila James? There was a character (Zelda Gilroy) who could have been really annoying, and yet she seemed to find a way to straddle the line between that and bringing out the more endearing aspects of that character.

Castleman: One of the things I’ve been thinking about her, with all the attention these days on “The Big Bang Theory,” that show has always spotlighted the nerdy guys that we’re familiar with, but it now finally has some nerdy girls, too. They deserve equal time. You’re used to just seeing the gorgeous sexpot, who may be funny, but is going to be gorgeous. But let the other side have a say, too. And I think that’s the case with Sheila James as Zelda.

Zelda Gilroy certainly is a believable type. Yes, certainly it’s bordering on slapstick a little bit, with the mannerisms and so forth, but I always enjoyed her, and found her really interesting to watch.

Podrazik: And, not that they constructed series back then to have these grand story arcs, but you knew that’s who Dobie should be with. Despite all of his illusions, and his pursuit of the most gorgeous girl on campus, it was Zelda that would ground him.2 And also, that was staying within his social class; she was not only who he should be with, but she was also who it was appropriate for him to be with, in the eyes of society. So of course when they did the reunion movie [“Bring Me The Head of Dobie Gillis” (1988)]3, they were married.

Reveal Shot: As far as some of the other supporting actors, I’ll just let you comment on anybody else you like — Tuesday Weld, Stephen Franken, and so on.

Castleman: Well, once you get to that level, you’re talking more about characters that more border on caricature. And that’s okay. I love Stephen Franken. Again, I focused on him far more than Warren Beatty during his brief time there. I thought he was very funny, I loved the way his character made fun of the wealthy — which is certainly a long-standing tradition — but they did it very well. I got a big kick out of it. He and the woman who played his mother, Doris Packer, who was also perfect.

Podrazik: I would underscore that of the rich folks, I very much enjoyed Chatsworth’s mom, because she did have her moments of insight. In one episode, she managed to get the Gillis family into the rich circles, because she wanted to demonstrate [to Chatsworth] that there wasn’t something inherently better about [the Gillises], that if they were exposed to, and had, “oodles and oodles of money,” as Thalia might say, they wouldn’t act all that differently from the way the Osbornes act.4

Reveal Shot: Well, I guess I’ll close with my “what if” question: Given that CBS greenlighted “Dobie Gillis” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” what kind of trajectory do you think their sitcom development would have taken if they hadn’t been sidetracked by the success of the rural shows like “The Beverly Hillbilies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres?”

Castleman: Sure — you look back on it now, and you say, geez: “Dobie Gillis.” “Dick Van Dyke.” What a great string here — if two makes a string.

I mean, look — that stuff was cutting edge, and it takes time to percolate. Obviously tapping into that rural stream, although you look back at “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction” now and kind of shudder and sigh and say, oh my — that kind of thing was far more mainstream, and it certainly did well for CBS’s bottom line for most of the ’60s. So I can’t really fault them on that level.

Podrazik: I started looking at the schedule grids to see what else was on, and you know, “Dobie Gillis” wasn’t entirely alone on the CBS schedule as a non-rural comedy. They had “The Danny Thomas Show” — hardly rural, and depending on how you want to start characterizing them, there’s “My Favorite Martian” (starting in 1963-64) and others…

And I think the difference, if you’re looking at “Dick Van Dyke” and “Dobie Gillis,” since you’re coupling those two, you have to remember that “Dick Van Dyke” came from Carl Reiner basically sitting down and writing the first season (1961-62)5. So this was something that was very rich, in disciplined text, before they had filmed one moment of the show. And again, “Dobie Gillis” comes from someone [Max Shulman] who was a short story writer, who wrote for feature films, so it had a richer literary pedigree than shows that started out — and shamelessly so — as cartoons.


In its second season, “Dobie Gillis,” squaring off against ABC’s “Wyatt Earp” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on NBC 6, continued to be a solid Tuesday night performer for CBS, and was an easy choice for renewal as the network made plans for 1961-62. That fall, ABC tried its own comedy in the Tuesday 8:30 p.m. time slot — a cartoon version of “Amos n’ Andy” (from that show’s creators, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) in the form of a fox and a bear. It flopped, while  “Dobie Gillis” usually finished in a comfortable second place against “Hitchcock.” By March 1962, however, CBS was already reported to be contemplating a revamp that would include moving “Dobie” to Wednesday nights.

For its fourth and final season (1962-63), “Dobie Gillis” was seen on Wednesdays at 8:30, against the last half-hour of “The Virginian” on NBC and ABC’s TV version of the Bing Crosby film “Going My Way,” starring Gene Kelly.7  By this time, “Dobie Gillis” was the only television series being produced by Twentieth Century-Fox, which was still reeling from the millions of dollars that had been swallowed up by its feature film “Cleopatra.”

In February 1963, press reports indicated that the “Dobie” had been marked for cancellation by CBS. Though the ratings had declined to some degree, Chicago Tribune TV critic Larry Wolters also reported in his April 28, 1963 column that a number of half-hour series were axed across all of the networks because “some cost-savings could be effected by replacing them with hour-long entries.” He noted that 12 new shows already slated for 1963-64 were 60 minutes long.8

The show immediately became one of the most prized offerings in syndication, and eventually gained a new legion of fans during a long run as part of Nickelodeon’s Nick At Nite schedule.

— David B. Wilkerson


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25 Great Warner Bros. films on DVD/Blu-ray, 1926-1967

Cover of "The Adventures of Robin Hood [B...

Here are my picks for 25 must-own Warner Bros. films on DVD and Blu-ray, in chronological order. Films were eligible from 1923 to 1969, when Jack L. Warner stepped down from the studio to become an independent producer. Let the debate begin.

I’ve denoted cases in which I’ve reviewed the films mentioned here in earlier entries. Sometimes a film is listed without further comment; this is not meant to diminish them in any way. I will probably deal with them in more detail in future posts, or update this one.

All films are available separately or in boxed sets  from Warner Bros. Home Video or its Warner Archive unit unless otherwise noted.

1. “Don Juan” (1926)
Available at Warner Archive
John Barrymore stars as the titular lothario in this silent film, the first to have a synchronized music score and sound effects on disc, using Warner’s Vitaphone system. Possibly an ideal entry point for someone new to silent drama, with memorable characterizations by Barrymore, Estelle Taylor as Lucrezia Borgia, and a very young Mary Astor as Adriana della Varnese, the woman who finally captures Don Juan’s heart. Great sword fight at the end.

2. “Little Caesar” (1930)

3. “The Public Enemy” (1931)
See Part I and Part II of Reveal Shot‘s Warner Bros. Gangster series for analysis of these two films. They are available separately or as part of the Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classics on Blu-ray, along with “White Heat” (see below).

4. “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang” (1932)
See Part III of the WB Gangster series.

5. “The Mystery Of The Wax Museum” (1933)
The 3-D remake of this film, ‘House Of Wax” (1953) would certainly be a big draw at the TCM festival after the popular screenings of 3-D classics “Hondo” and “Dial M For Murder” this year, but I prefer the original. Lionel Atwill stars as the wax museum sculptor disfigured in a fire who goes insane and begins to tomb living women in wax. Glenda Farrell is the archetypal wisecracking female reporter who uncovers the horrific facts.

6. “G-Men” (1935)
Warner Bros. does an effective reversal of its gangland dramas, showing one of the roughest of them from the side of law enforcement. Cagney plays a hood who goes straight, first as a lawyer, and then, when a friend is murdered, as an FBI agent. Features strong supporting work from Barton MacLane as the main bad guy, and Ann Dvorak as Cagney’s one-time girlfriend who can’t escape the criminal milieu. One of the most brutal movies of this period.

7. “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” (1936)
In Errol Flynn Signature Collection, Vol. 2. Also available separately.
I’m mysteriously drawn to tales of British colonial rule of India and other areas in that part of the world. No serious attempt was made to explain the rationale for the infamous charge at Balaclava; it’s set up here as the by-product of sibling rivalry, unrequited love and revenge. Max Steiner’s score plays an unusually big part in the film’s success, and the titular charge is very well done by director Michael Curtiz, despite the deaths of several horses and a stunt man.

8. “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” (1938)
2-Disc Special Edition
The definitive swashbuckler, just ahead of some of Twentieth Century-Fox’s Tyrone Power classics. Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone’s Sir Guy of Gisbourne can hardly be topped as a screen duel. An eye-opener to anyone you encounter who is skeptical about the glories of three-strip Technicolor  (though I guess that would have to be someone who hasn’t seen “The Wizard Of Oz” in a while).

9. “Angels With Dirty Faces” (1938)
See Part IV of the Warner Gangster series.

10. “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” (1938)
A stellar adaptation of a clever play, featuring Edward G. Robinson as a doctor who is fascinated by crime, and decides to join a group of thieves on a series of jewel robberies to test his theories. When there is mutual attraction between he and the female member of the gang (Claire Trevor), her erstwhile boyfriend (Humphrey Bogart) starts trouble. See this review at Pretty Clever Films.

11. “The Roaring Twenties” (1939)
See Part V of the Warner Gangster posts.

12. “The Sea Hawk” (1940)
The best of Flynn’s pirate movies. Here he’s Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe, leader of “The Sea Hawks,” a group of English pirates who seize Spanish ships during a time when Queen Elizabeth is ostensibly trying to avoid war with Spain. Thorpe ends up having to fight the Spaniards and a traitor on the Queen’s court. If Rathbone had played the traitor, rather than Henry Daniell, the film would have been even better. As it is, only Fox’s “The Black Swan” ranks as a better pirate saga.

13. “The Letter” (1940)
You can’t have a list of great Warner classics without including Bette Davis. In “The Letter,” set on a British rubber plantation, Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, a married woman who shoots her lover to death. She claims self-defense, but that testimony is jeopardized by an incriminating letter she wrote to the dead man that same day, inviting him to her home. When that letter falls into the hands of the victim’s wife, Leslie must somehow get it back. The melodrama sometimes seems to be veering out of control, but director William Wyler manages to rein it in, abetted by James Stephenson as Leslie’s suspicious lawyer and Herbert Marshall as the cuckolded husband. Davis is fascinating, as usual.

14. “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)
See my entry on this hard-boiled detective story.

15. “Casablanca” (1942)
I can’t imagine the trouble I’d be in if I left out this one.  Rather than try to summarize its importance here, I defer to this essay from Bright Lights Film Journal.

16. “Mildred Pierce” (1945)
Ann Blyth, who appears here as the title character’s evil daughter Veda, was interviewed by Robert Osborne during the TCM Film Festival this year. Raquel Stecher at the Out Of The Past blog covered the event here.

17. “Key Largo” (1948)
18. “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre” (1948)
19. “White Heat” (1949)
20. “Strangers On A Train” (1951)

21. “Giant” (1956)
I wrote up my review of this one after a screening at the TCM Film Festival, and spoke to Warner Home Video’s George Feltenstein about the film’s restoration.

22. “Rio Bravo” (1959)

23. “The Great Race” (1965)
One of my suggestions for next year’s TCM Film Fest.

24. “Up The Down Staircase” (1967)

Along with “The Blackboard Jungle,” one of the best movies about teaching. This adaptation of Bel Kaufman’s 1965 best-seller about the experiences of young Sylvia Barrett (Sandy Dennis), whose first teaching assignment out of grad school lands her at a tough New York City high school. There are lots of intriguing story threads: A fellow English teacher (Patrick Bedford) is brilliant but unable to connect emotionally with a shy girl who has a crush on him; Sylvia gets anonymous notes from an admirer in the class suggestion box; a black kid wants to drop out because he feels overwhelmed by racist attitudes; a gang member interprets Sylvia’s kindness to be some kind of sexual proposition. The location photography by the unheralded Joseph Coffey is very good, truly creating the sense of time and place that makes older films so fascinating for audiences decades later. Fred Karlin’s music score is contemporary and yet, in pointing to Sylvia’s idealism, takes on a baroque sensibility at times.

25. “Cool Hand Luke” (1967)

— David B. Wilkerson


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