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Bob Denver: Immortal

   Our little buddy has finally been voted off the island. It's  a sweet story, because Bob Denver died with loved ones around. He was only 70. Many of us feel this loss, because he was someone we knew well in our childhood. We knew Gilligan, we liked Gilligan, and we forgave Gilligan for the stupidity of his show. Gilligan's Island was remarkable not as an original sitcom, but as the ultimate rerun, a fixture of afternoon TV, a time-killer in an era in which millions of young people had absolutely nothing to do but watch Gilligan find a way to ruin any chance of getting off the island.

    The show was dumb at every turn. The show's producer, the estimable Sherwood Schwartz, is quoted in Denver's obit as saying, "I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications." Not true: The genius of G.I. was that it had no implications whatsoever. It dared to be inane in troubled times. This was apparently meant to be a highly diverse cast of white people, representing all the major white-people social groups: The rich couple, the whispery Hollywood bombshell, the farm girl, the nerd, the genial fat guy and the loveable doofus.

    In a sense, they were perfectly positioned in the 1960s: The world could have been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and they would have had just a slightly prettier sunset. Vietnam was heating up, but nothing changed on the island. America's youth rebelled, a sexual revolution caught fire, a generation turned against its parents, but on the island the supreme authority of the narrative formula was safe. Gilligan, always of indeterminate age, couldn't get older, or develop as a character, a situation reinforced by the many decades of reruns. Even if Bob Denver got a role in a new show in prime time, he would revert to the ageless Gilligan by the next afternoon. He was the same in 1980 and 1990 as in 1965. A constant of nature. The Gilligan Constant. And perhaps Bob Denver took solace during his illness that it was his peculiar fate to be, for whatever quirky reason, an immortal.

By Joel Achenbach  |  September 6, 2005; 5:25 PM ET
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Maybe its because I'm a little older than you, but I have a vivid memory of Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs and that coolest of the cool TV show among pre-teens at the time, Dobie Gillis! His passing makes this baby-boomer know for sure she's not a kid anymore!

Posted by: Peggy | September 6, 2005 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Good show, Achenbach. I nice little tribute.

Posted by: LP | September 6, 2005 5:55 PM | Report abuse

that's "a" nice little tribute. You know what I meant.

Posted by: LP | September 6, 2005 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Gilligan was the Devil!

Posted by: Videlicet | September 6, 2005 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Ah hahahaha! Very good, Videlicet.

Posted by: CowTown | September 6, 2005 6:14 PM | Report abuse

First Rehnquist dies, then Denver. Kind of like a particle/anti-particle annihilation.

Posted by: Videlicet | September 6, 2005 6:23 PM | Report abuse

If the professor would just keep the radio away from Gilligan when he fixes it ...

Posted by: Bayou Self | September 6, 2005 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Videlicet, that particle/anti-particle comment - ha!

I'll make a case for Gilligan as Everyman, Joel (including you). We see our own ineptitude, well-meaning, genial, trapped in his own all-too-fault-ridden humanity. In our own mind's eye we see ourselves as unchanging and ageless, don't we? How could we not identify with him, as crabgrass overruns our lawns, we're late for meetings, spill drinks, have dumb auguments with our loved ones, burn food, accidentally break things, and generally screw things up on a continuious basis.

For all that, he did have an amazing turn as Hamlet in Harold Hecubah's musical production.

As do we all, in our own way.


Posted by: bc | September 6, 2005 7:59 PM | Report abuse

SCC entry from above: "arguments".

See? Feel free to hit me with your Captian's hat.


Posted by: bc | September 6, 2005 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Maybe that's why I didn't enjoy Gilligan's Island. I saw myself as a bumbling dweeb during those days (Wait...I WAS a bumbling dweeb in those days). I saw too much of myself in Gilligan and it made me cringe. "I Love Lucy" had much the same effect. I could just see myself getting into trouble at the candy factory.

Posted by: CowTown | September 6, 2005 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Gilligan's Island was also a version of the Sisyphus myth (all roads lead back to Albert Camus eventually)--they went through the motions every episode of trying to get off the island, then the plan was foiled, and they were back where they started, but continually doomed, never to give up, but to try again, try again.

Posted by: CyberPerson | September 6, 2005 8:33 PM | Report abuse

I second the significance of Gilligan as a time-killer. We gave our time to Gilligan only because he was the silliest alternative on network television. And by giving him our time we loved him. This is just the way we loved our elementary-school friends. Most of us don't watch Gilligan any more, and we don't hang out with our elementary-school friends. Maybe none of those friends have gone on to great things and maybe Gilligan wasn't a great show. But I would be happy to hear good things about those friends and sad to hear of their passing, and so I mourn Bob Denver today, more than I mourn the loss of our respected and able Chief Justice.

Posted by: ouabacheindian | September 6, 2005 9:10 PM | Report abuse

I always identified more with the Professor than Gilligan. Gilligan was always screwing up while the Professor was building a radio out of coconuts.

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle on your snout.

Posted by: Videlicet | September 6, 2005 9:37 PM | Report abuse

In further support of my particulate theory, I submit that the Chief Justice and the Little Buddy had the same first name:

Posted by: Videlicet | September 6, 2005 10:01 PM | Report abuse


Even now when I hear Bizet's Carmen, part of me starts thinking "Neither a lender, nor a borrower be/Do not forget, stay out of debt." Or "There is just one other thing/You ought to do/To thine own self be true."

I think it's time to go to bed.

Posted by: pj | September 6, 2005 10:03 PM | Report abuse

who's the secret wife? Any guesses out there?

Posted by: FWIW | September 6, 2005 11:26 PM | Report abuse

I still think they are going to get off the island.

Posted by: Michaeldills | September 6, 2005 11:38 PM | Report abuse

doby gillis was the better show i think
and was indeed for that era good television
....gilligans island...the bev hillbilles acres...f troop...hogans heros
etc....were all nonsensical yet i still
laugh out loud to this day watching the
reruns of know the gags and
punch lines....yet just feel happy seeing
them again.....the island was a pretty
nutso place...and i am sure bob denvers
portrayal of the little buddy will give
him a much deserved place in the pantheon
of 1960s american tv ...................

Posted by: an american in siam.... | September 7, 2005 2:46 AM | Report abuse

Hmm. Looks like Paul Farhi and I are thinking the same thing.

pj, glad to hear I'm not the only one who sings that inspired silliness to themselves.

"I ask 'to be/
or not to be'..."


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Dobie Gillis was one of my favorites when I was a teen. That Thalia and Zelda!! I wish they'd play reruns. Another great show, I Love Lucy. My grandgirls love the reruns and have seen probably every episode. We recently rented the video of The Hours. What a dreary tale. The only comic relief was THE NOSE. I'd giggle everytime Nicole Kidman lit a cigarette or took a drag and the g'girls would chide me "Nani, it's not funny, she's sad!" But they forgave me when I reminded them of that old I Love Lucy episode when Lucy, trying to disguise herself so that Bill Holden wouldn't recognize her, dons hornrimmed glasses and a great big old fake nose. When Holden lit Lucy's cigarette, the tip of her fake nose caught fire and she dipped her nose into her coffee to douse the flames.

Posted by: Nani | September 7, 2005 8:37 AM | Report abuse

bc: "eponymously named"--Farhi wouldn't get away with that over here in the Achenblog.

Posted by: CyberPerson | September 7, 2005 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I don't know, CyberPerson.

There's been a lot scarier stuff than that in the 'boodle over the past week.


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Krebs didn't quite know where to draw the line when it came to sex. He seemed scared of women, but longed for a tigress. Not reminiscent of females (self-identified in all cases, but you never know) on this blog.

Probably an age thing that we women feel regardless of exogenous stimulation.

Posted by: comehither | September 7, 2005 9:10 AM | Report abuse

this conversation sounds a little overstimulating for me.

I'm getting warm.

Posted by: Ms. Smith | September 7, 2005 9:20 AM | Report abuse

oooo, this thought is too much for me, too. i didn't know this blog had this kind of attaction. I will return.

Posted by: too much for me | September 7, 2005 9:34 AM | Report abuse

If Gilligan is a TV Comedy Immortal, what other characters should we admit into our Pantheon? Surely Lucy Ricardo.

Can't think of any gods from the bev acres...f troop...hogans heroes. They seem to be of lower caliber.

Posted by: Videlicet | September 7, 2005 10:27 AM | Report abuse

A little bit of television trivia thrown into the mix for today:

"While [Loomis descendant Philo T.] Farnsworth took advantage of [early] broadcasts to refine his equipment, his sister Laura plumbed the mysteries of television makeup and costumes. At a time when television performers often appeared with black lipstick and blue face paint to achieve "normal" black-and-white values, it quickly became apparent that the image dissector had an aversion to the color red. This proved especially noticeable one afternoon when [Bill] Eddy [who had the job of booking talent] invited a pair of boxers to spar for the camera. One of the fighters was wearing vivd red trunks that appeaed to melt away on the monitor, creating the impression of a nude boxing match. Farnsworth sent the fighter back to the dressing area to find something more telegenic."

from Daniel Stashower's 2002 book, "The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television"

Posted by: Linda Loomis | September 7, 2005 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Pantheon Nominees for TV Sit-Com Immortality other than Bob Denver/Gilligan(note, sketch comedy will be handled separately):
Lucy - concur
The cast of 'Seinfeld'
Bob Newhart
Redd Foxx
The cast of 'The Honeymooners'
John Cleese (for Fawlty Towers)
The cast of 'Everybody Loves Raymond'
The cast of 'All in the Family'
The cast of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'

Hmm. Some more thinking to do here...


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 10:43 AM | Report abuse

More TV trivia:

Priority on claims relating to the low-velocity scanning camera tube was awarded to Farnsworth. The only ingredient on which the patent office would award ownership to RCA was the name itself, "Image Orthicon," which RCA had registered separately as a trademark. So, the Orthicon tube, the workshorse upon which the television industry was built in the forties and fiftes, was basically a Farnsworth invention wearing an RCA name.

It is a little known fact that television's prestigious "Emmy" Award was named after the Image Orthicon Tube. When the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) was formed, former Farnsworth lab gang member Harry Lubcke was the Academy president. Searching for a name as memorable as "Oscar" was for the Motion Picture Academy's annual awards, Lubcke suggested "Immy," borrowing from the name of the tube that was used in almost all television broadcasts in the 1940s and '50s. When the trophy itself was unveiled, with the outstretched form of a woman holding the orbits of an atom aloft, the name of the statue morphed to "Emmy." Thus, every year, when the Academy bestows its annual awards for outstanding achievements, it does so with an unknowing nod toward the medium's seminal genius.

from Paul Schatzkin's 2002 book, "The Boy Who Invented Television: A Story of Inspiration, Persistence and Quiet Passion"

"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought." --Albert van Szent-Gyorgyi

Posted by: Linda Loomis | September 7, 2005 10:51 AM | Report abuse

where is Omnigasm now that we need him.

Posted by: PaulK | September 7, 2005 10:58 AM | Report abuse

A thought about censorship in the age of television, in Howie Kurtz's column today. Obviously, Mayor Ray Nagin's remarks were "voted off the island," too.

"It's shocking -- it's downright obscene -- that journalists acting as self-appointed nannies censored New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's angry speech demanding help for his city. The New York Times did it. TV did it. Journalists charged with reporting accurately bleeped 'ass' and 'goddamn' and they wouldn't let him say 'BS.' . . .

"What makes them think they should tone down his anger? He said these words for a reason. These words need to be said. Anger is justified. Shock is needed. These words are part of the story. But in our nannified culture today, in the era of the FCC and the PTC thinking they should control our speech, in this age of offense, these people think they need to protect us from words -- and thus from anger, from bluntness, from honesty. That is dishonest."

He's got a #@$&!!* point.

Posted by: Linda Loomis | September 7, 2005 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Oh! Bob Newhart! I love him. When I was a kid I used to listen to my mom's Buttoned-Down Man records, I used to love the one about Sir Walter Rahliegh calling back to England trying to explain tobacco.

I saw him on MadTV a little while ago doing his therapist bit. Classic.

Posted by: jw | September 7, 2005 11:06 AM | Report abuse

That's cool stuff, Linda, thanks. The development and evolution of televison is very interesting to me. I'm definitely putting that book on my 'To Read' list.

Note to self: do not play "Six Degrees" with Linda.


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I have a nice Bob Denver memory...for my eighth birthday my parents took me to a dinner theater (I was then, and now, a drama queen, so it was the perfect gift) where he was performing. He found out it was my bday and came over and shook my hand and signed my program. Imagine me at 8 meeting GILLIGAN! It was cool. I'm sorry he's gone.

Posted by: govtwriter | September 7, 2005 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Linda Loomis:

I share your sentiments about the broadcast media censoring Mayor Nagin's swear words. On the other hand, I could see his use of colorful language being seized upon by the Roverites and turned into the sole Object of Our Attention in their continuous attempts to distract the public. "Look at the foul language the Mayor has used, has he no shame?"

Posted by: CowTown | September 7, 2005 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Don't blame the media, blame the FCC. When even FOX is pixelating an animated characters behind, there's a definite problem.

Posted by: jw | September 7, 2005 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I looked at the Mayor's rant last week as "Honest, unvarnished anger.", and I still think that clip could be treated as the broadcast networks do films like "Saving Private Ryan", and "The Color Purple", and "Schindler's List".

The message is more important than some uncomfortable scenes or some colorful langauage.


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I feel so left out...
Not because the original 15 don't care about me, but because Gilligan's island is one of the few big American shows that never ran in Belgium (or if it did, it was never repeated.)
Other stuff I can't relate with is the three stooges and the Marx brothers. Never saw the Stooges and I think I missed the one Marx brothers movie they showed in about a decade.

I'll wait a while until real crap like The A-Team gets the iconic status given to Gilligan's Island. Then I'll be able to share thoughts about Face, BA Baraccus etc. That's my Gilligan's island. So many Wednesday afternoons spend watching that show.
"In 1973 a crack commando unit was sent to jail for a crime they didn't commit. Bla,bla,bla (I never remembered the middle part) .... THEY BECAME "THE A-TEAM"
So many memories.

By the way, Scots will claim that Logie Baird was the inventor of television. Any thoughts on that?

Posted by: Eurotrash | September 7, 2005 11:25 AM | Report abuse

SCC entry: "language".

My brain continues to be faster than my fingers, though neither are noted for accuracy.


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Bob Denver had a third, albeit short-lived, show in the 70's called "Dusty's Trail", which, IIRC was essentially "Gilligan's Island" in a Conestoga wagon. Seven people, including Forrest Tucker, who somehow get separated from their wagon train thanks to Dusty (Gilligan), have to find their way to California alone.

When I think about the amount of time I spent after school watching reruns of Hogan's Heroes and Gilligan's Island, I wonder what I could have made of my life if I'd have used that time to study or do something useful. Or working instead of Achenblogging.

Posted by: Pixel | September 7, 2005 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Here's a Denver show I completely missed. It came out in 1975 and was apparently a children's show, called "Far Out Space Nuts." Sounds like a breakfast cereal. Here's a link to Bob's own webpage describing the show:

G'Bye, Little Buddy...

Posted by: CowTown | September 7, 2005 11:43 AM | Report abuse

eurotrash - i'm not the original 15 but i care babe! i care! i'm with you on feeling left out of the GI thing - i was never a big fan even tho i did get it on tv. i was a big A-team fan! "i pity the fool" - also shows big for me were McGuyver, Family Ties and The Greatest American Hero.

Posted by: mo | September 7, 2005 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Check it out! bc made it into the highlight reel!

Posted by: jw | September 7, 2005 11:45 AM | Report abuse

When my sister and I watched Gilligan's Island and Hogan's Heroes in their twice-in-a-row rerun heyday, we would have a contest to see who could be the first to figure out which episode it was.

Sometimes the theme song would just be fading out and the first scene would just appear on the screen when we would call out "This is the one where...!" and we were usually right.

So predictable.. so wonderful.

Posted by: TBG | September 7, 2005 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Good heavens!

Thanks for that link, jw.

Please note that I'm not the only one who made the "reel".


Posted by: bc | September 7, 2005 11:56 AM | Report abuse

What do you think of Krebs' prurient interests and womanizing?

Posted by: Ms. Smith | September 7, 2005 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I think he was having a sexual identify crisis, like some people here.

Posted by: longtimeblogger | September 7, 2005 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Far Out Space Nuts -- Ok, I watched this show when I was a kid along with Sigmund the Sea Monster, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, the Bugaloos, H.R. Puff & Stuff, the Electric Company and Zoom!!! I am officially and forever, a nerd!! Interesting though, that at 8 (in 1978) I only thought of Bob Denver as Gilligan.

Posted by: govtwriter | September 7, 2005 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Peggy -- my thoughts entirely. I loved the Dobie Gillis show, and never watched Gilligan. Tried it once and fell asleep, if I recall correctly. But Maynard G. Krebs was wonderful.

And, yes, that dates us. Considerably.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | September 7, 2005 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Peggy and First timer -- my votes go to Dobey Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs. I never got into the Gilligan's Island thing, mainly because the theme song took up the first 20 minutes of the show. Maynard, however, was everyman's best friend, even though they'd always welcome him with "Oh, it's only you, Maynard."

Posted by: Styrofoam peanuts | September 7, 2005 4:21 PM | Report abuse

in followup.....the shows i pointed out all
went into heavy rerun cycles after they
left production....the reruns listing i
show is surely incomplete................
irene ryan...buddy ebsen...eddy albert....
larry hagman just a few more names i can becomes a tv trivia memory
another interesting part of 60s tv was all
the comedy shows with military themes.....
mchales navy...phil silvers show...gomer
pyle....i dream of jeannie...all had some
element of dysfunctional military goofups
that seemed to play well with viewers.....
i wonder if such themes would survive in
the current era of military might and
can doism of shocking and awing..........

Posted by: an american in siam.... | September 7, 2005 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I read in the IMDB that Sherwood Schwartz tried to recspture the Gilligan magic by recycling the Island as a lost wagon in a Wild West wagon train called Dusty's Trail.

Posted by: Videlicet | September 7, 2005 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Ooh, sorry, Pixel posted about Dusty's Trail already!

Posted by: Vkdelicet | September 7, 2005 9:59 PM | Report abuse

I never watched Gilligan but believe Bob Denver's summit was Maynard G. Krebs, the only beatnik ever to be a regular TV cast member. When I was about 12 I remember him telling Dobie he sat in on bongos with Thelonious Monk. Being a novice bongo player myself, I had to find out who Thelonious Monk was...I borrowed a record from the library and had a musical epiphany which continues to this day. I don't know if Bob Denver knew who Thelonious Monk was or if he even liked jazz, but he definitely convinced me.

Posted by: mrzuzax | September 14, 2005 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I was saddened to learn Bob Denver has graduated to the final stage. I am saddened that I never saw him in person.

He was an excellent comic actor. Comedy isn't appreciated as much as tragedy in America.
I would like to see re-run of Dobbie Gillis on Nick at Night. I was more of a Maynard man than a Gilliagn person. His brilliance shined through in both roles. He even made an impression in A private Affair, which I saw as a child.

The late Dan Blocker, best known as Hoss Cartright in Bonanza, less well known for being a Ph.D in Theatre, said in Look "If Shakespeare was alive today(1964) he would write for television because that's where the audience is."

Denver performed to more people than Shakespeare's entire troup probably did. In being a clown he performed in his character what most of us are more times than then care to admit. By focusing on the clown we think it's he not us. Hence the brilliance of the acting.

Would anyone like to build a statue of Gilliagan where the Minnow took off? Attention Nick at Night's statue committee. David @ Boston

Posted by: Reno@Boston | September 15, 2005 10:13 AM | Report abuse

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