DVD Review: The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis: Complete Series

STUDIO: Shout! Factory | DIRECTORS: Rod Amateau and others | CAST: Dwayne Hickman, Bob Denver, Frank Faylen, Florida Friebus, Sheila James, Steve Franken
RELEASE DATE: 7/2/13 | PRICE: DVD $139.99
BONUSES:
new interview with Dwayne Hickman, complete pilot episode, episodes of Love That Bob! and The Stu Irwin Show; color Dobie sketch; Bob Denver on “The Coke Time Special,” files from the Max Shulman archive
SPECS:
NR | 3600 min. | Television comedy | 1:33 fullscreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Program | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Offering the perfect counterpoint to the Father Knows Best/Leave It To Beaver school of cutesy family television comedy, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (or Dobie Gillis, as it was later called) was a very different and very new creation for its time (1959-63). It presented the teenage viewpoint without condescension, deftly mixing cartoonlike characters and intentionally outlandish situations with keen social satire and genuine sentiment (minus the hokiness of the family shows of that era).

This 21-disc box continues the Shout! Factory tradition of doing full justice to cult TV series. Included are restored versions of the 147 episodes (including one this reviewer had never seen before in syndication featuring guest star Don Knotts), plus bonuses that will delight the diehard fan.

Watching the series in sequence, one can follow the show’s trajectory, from its utterly perfect first season and a half, to the misguided latter half of the second season (where the lead male characters wound up in the Army), on to the wonderfully funny third year through the fourth season, in which (as all TV series eventually must) the show began to “jump the shark.”

The series was the brainchild of the extremely talented Max Shulman (whose nine humorous novels are sadly all out of print, with one exception). Shulman had an uncanny knack for injecting sharp satire into the most innocent-seeming situations. One of his most commonly used devices was to view events from the perspective of a naïve, gullible character — enter Dobie Gillis.

Shulman introduced Dobie in a series of short stories, some of which were adapted into episodes of this series. The stories were collected into the book The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1951, still in print) and made into the MGM movie The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953).

The most striking aspect of the Dobie TV series came straight from Shulman’s writing — namely the fact that Dobie’s life revolves entirely around the worship of the girls he meets and the acquisition of money so he can date said girls. This surprisingly genuine view of teenage priorities made the series very different from the Ozzie and Harriet model of docile teen behavior.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis scene

Bob Denver (l.), Dwayne Hickman and Sheila James star in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

To add another layer of innovation, Shulman and producer/director Rod Amateau had Dobie directly address the audience, a technique that is now extremely common, but had been used to that time only by George Burns on The Burns and Allen Show.

Most importantly, though, was the fact that, at its best, Dobie was wonderfully funny. Shulman populated the show with several unforgettable characters: Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver), Dobie’s goofy beatnik sidekick; his luscious and greedy object of obsession, Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld, Once Upon a Time in America); the determined nerd girl Zelda Gilroy (Sheila James) who pursued Dobie through all four seasons; the snooty rich teen Chatsworth Osbourne Jr. (Steve Franken); and the ultimate anti-Robert Young figure, Herbert T. Gillis, Dobie’s exasperated dad, whose decades-before-Al-Bundy tagline was “I gotta kill that boy… I just gotta!”

As with any great sitcom, the reason the show gelled so well was its top-notch cast. Dwayne Hickman played the perennially lovesick Dobie as a teenage Jack Benny — something he readily admits to in the new interview conducted for this box. Faylen and Florida Friebus portrayed his parents as a down-to-Earth middle-aged couple (both actors playing ten years younger than their real ages) who retained their affection for each other.

Denver and James became the show’s main scene-stealers, with Denver forging a sitcom career out of the shtick he introduced as Maynard.

One of the treats of watching the show these days is the presence of movie and TV stars before they became famous. Here a roster of familiar faces from later series play Dobie’s classmates and amours: Bill Bixby, Michele Lee, Jo Anne Worley, Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig (who appears in several episodes as different characters), and Ronnie Howard (as a series of precocious kids).

Future movie stars seen here include Sally Kellerman and Ryan O’Neal (Barry Lyndon), but the biggest name to appear on the show was Warren Beatty (The Only Game in Town), who played the role of Dobie’s rich, obnoxious rival before it was taken over by Steve Franken. Beatty has shrugged off his work here in interviews, but one can safely say that he is pitch-perfect as a vain, preening, snobby teen.

Tuesday Weld, on the other hand, became a star as a direct result of her appearances on Dobie, and even consented to come back to the show for two guest appearances later in the run after she had started making movies. Although countless actresses have played teen “princesses” since, Weld’s Thalia was a landmark of sorts — one readily understood why Dobie was obsessed with her, despite her greedy, fickle personality.

A full disc of supplements rounds out the box nicely. The interview with Hickman is as amiable as one would expect it to be (he is the only surviving cast member, besides Weld, who never consents to interviews, and James who, under her real name of Sheila Kuehl, served in the California state legislature for eight years). Episodes from Hickman’s preceding series (Love That Bob!) are included, as well as an earlier series featuring James (The Stu Irwin Show).

Longtime fans will welcome the CD-rom content, which includes the original drafts of scripts by Shulman, plus a fragment of a radio play and a tongue-in-cheek interview with the author. However, the most entertaining bonuses are undoubtedly a sketch from a  1960 installment of The Dinah Shore Chevy Show in which Shore plays Dobie’s teacher (the only instance in which Dobie was seen in color) and a nifty little time-piece from 1960’s The Coke Time Special in which host Pat Boone is taught hep-talk by Edd “Kookie” Byrnes and Bob Denver as Maynard. No further proof is needed of the way this series entered the zeitgeist during the “Camelot” era…

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”