Dwayne Hickman, TV’s Lovelorn Dobie Gillis, Is Dead at 87

Dwayne Hickman, the personable, apple-cheeked actor whose starring role in the revered comedy “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” would haunt him for more than half a century, died Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 87 years old.

The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, said a spokesman for his family.

Aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” was an essential ingredient of adolescence for the baby boomers and remained popular in syndication for years. Hickman became one of television’s early teenage idols for his portrayal of his hero in love, and he remained indelibly identified with the character forever, a fate he endured with great resignation.

“Dobie Gillis” followed the fate of its hero, his friends and family in Central City, a community whose precise location was never specified but which in all its wholesomeness seemed eminently Midwestern.

Dobie, 17 when the show starts, is Everyteen. (At the beginning of the series, Mr. Hickman’s brown hair was bleached blonde to make it look as nourished as possible, until peroxide treatments began to cause his hair to fall out.) He sighs ardently, in the words of the show’s jazz theme song, for “a girl to call his own,” and with the same fervor for the financial means to shield that girl.

Despite her well-scrubbed chastity, the series marked a quietly subversive departure from the standard television fare of the day. He was one of the first to put the current issue of adolescence front and center when telling the story from a teenager’s point of view. He broke the fourth wall weekly, opening with a monologue in which Mr. Hickman, seated in front of a replica of Rodin’s “Thinker,” gave viewers a guided tour of his gently anguished soul.

Many well-known actors received early exposure in the series, notably Bob Denver as Dobie’s best friend, Maynard G. Krebs, a scruffy junior beatnik who yells “Work!” at the slightest suggestion that he seek gainful employment. Denver would go on to star in “Gilligan’s Island.”

Tuesday Weld was regularly seen as the beautiful and greedy Thalia Menninger, the financially unattainable object of Dobie’s affection; Warren Beatty had a recurring role early in the career as a blue-blooded classmate.

Dobie’s curmudgeonly, stingy father and sweet, wacky mother were played by the characters, actors Frank Faylen and Florida Friebus. His deeply intellectual classmate Zelda, burning with unrequited love for Dobie, was played by Sheila James. (Under her full name, Sheila James Kuehl, she became, in 1994, the first openly gay person to be elected to the California state legislature.)

Hickman had reluctantly started his screen career some two decades earlier, following in his brother’s footsteps, Darryl, three years older and initially much better known. Darryl Hickman, whose fame was eventually eclipsed by Dwayne’s, would play Dobie’s older brother Davey in a few episodes of the show’s first season.

By the time “Dobie Gillis” ran its course, Dwayne Hickman had identified so closely with the title character that he had difficulty landing other roles. In any case, he was too old to play a teenager: he was 25 when “Dobie” began and 29 when it ended.

As a result, his career over the next several decades wove in and out of Hollywood, spanning stints as director of entertainment for the Howard Hughes Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, a publicist, a network programming executive and, in later years, a successful painter. of Realistic Landscapes.

But for decades after his series ended, Hickman could barely walk down an American street without a stranger stopping, looking at him, and cheerfully yelling, “Hi, Dobie!” as if greeting a long-lost friend.

Dwayne Bernard Hickman was born in Los Angeles on May 18, 1934. His father, Milton, was an underwriter; her mother, the former Louise Ostertag, had had intentions of stardom, but like Louise Lang, she only got an extra job on a few Hollywood movies.

As an adult, Mr. Hickman said that he had never planned an acting career and that he had never wanted one in particular. He landed his first on-screen role by accident, when his mother brought him to Darryl’s audition for “The Grapes of Wrath,” the 1940 Henry Fonda vehicle. Darryl won a role as one of Joad’s sons; Dwayne was chosen as an extra, winning $ 21.

Dwayne’s other childhood screen appearances included roles in the television series “Public Defender”, “The Loretta Young Show” and “The Lone Ranger” and in the films “The Boy With Green Hair” (1948) and “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!” (1958), based on a novel by Max Shulman, the creator of “Dobie Gillis.”

He received his most extensive exposure to date when he was cast on “The Bob Cummings Show” (also called “Love That Bob”) as Chuck, the nephew of Mr. Cummings’ character; The series aired in various forms on NBC and CBS from 1955 to 1959.

While working on that program, he was also a full-time student at what is now Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Although the demands of his on-screen career caused him to leave before graduation, he later returned and completed a bachelor’s degree in economics there.

Once Hickman became a national heartthrob like Dobie, other actors considered for the role included Tab Hunter and Michael Landon. – His managers tried to profit by turning him into a singing star. By his own admission, Mr. Hickman could not sing. The resulting two albums, “School Dance” and “Dobie,” he later wrote, “didn’t exactly top the Billboard charts.

Her post-“Dobie” credits include the movie “Cat Ballou,” starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin, but mainly consist of such trivia as “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (1965); two television meetings, “What happened to Dobie Gillis?” (1977) and “Bring me the head of Dobie Gillis” (1988); and, in the 1990s, a recurring role on the series “Clueless.”

Beginning in 1977, Hickman spent a decade as a program executive at CBS, where he oversaw the content and development of series that included “Maude,” “Good Times,” “M * A * S * H” and “Alice.” She directed episodes of several television shows, including “Charles in Charge” and “Designing Women.”

Mr. Hickman’s first marriage, to Carol Christensen, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Joanne Papile. His survivors include his third wife, Joan Roberts Hickman; his son, Albert; and a son, John, from his first marriage.

In his 1994 memoir, “Forever Dobie: The Many Lives of Dwayne Hickman,” written with Mrs. Roberts Hickman, Mr. Hickman recounts what happened when he took her to the hospital to await the birth of her son.

“When I walked into the delivery room, a nurse was asking her questions while filling out her chart,” she wrote. “When he finished, he looked up and said, ‘Thank you Ms. Gillis, I’ll be back in a few minutes.’ ‘

Mr. Hickman continued, “Joan took my hand and said, ‘Promise me if something happens to me, you won’t name this kid Dobie!’ “

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