Bob Denver, 70; Brought Goofy Comedy to Role as TV's Gilligan

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Bob Denver, 70, the goofball television comedian who played beatnik Maynard G. "stands for Walter" Krebs on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" and was first mate Gilligan on "Gilligan's Island," died Sept. 2 at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. He had complications from treatment he was receiving for cancer.

Mr. Denver's stint as the clueless Krebs from 1959 to 1963 and the hapless castaway on a deserted island from 1964 to 1967 brought him far greater notice in reruns than during the shows' initial lifespans.

The "Gilligan" characters were supposed to be from a cross section of society, all marooned on a South Pacific island.

Mr. Denver once said he was so busy shooting the series initially that he never saw the reviews, "which was lucky, because they were atrocious. But, if I were a reviewer and saw the show, I'd probably attack it, too, and call it silly and inane -- which it was meant to be."

As one of the most popular programs ever in reruns, "Gilligan's Island" was elevated to iconic status, inspiring existential dissertations. Mr. Denver later drubbed co-star Tina Louise, who played a sexpot actress on the show, for turning down one of the "Gilligan" reunion specials for potentially harming her career as a dramatic star.

"I don't know how she can think one two-hour movie can tarnish her image, when 'Gilligan' is showing five times a day everywhere in the country," he told People magazine.

For better or worse, those early sitcoms overshadowed anything else Mr. Denver ever did, which included years on the dinner-theater circuit and taking over on Broadway for Woody Allen in the comedy "Play It Again, Sam" in 1970. Reviewer Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times that Mr. Denver "has a genuine clown-like wistfulness that Mr. Allen sometimes perspires to with only small success."

He was, above all, a physical comedian who spoke of his great enjoyment working with Alan Hale Jr., who played the burly skipper on "Gilligan's Island."

"I couldn't hurt him," Mr. Denver once told the Los Angeles Times. "I could climb on him, bounce on him, roll all over him and he would go, 'Are you done?' He would never hurt me. He was just too big and strong. You can't rehearse a lot of physical things we did, but you can't do it by the numbers. Whatever happens, you've got to trust each other."

Robert Denver was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., on Jan. 9, 1935. As a pre-law student at what is now Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, he was recruited somewhat unwillingly as house manager for the university theater. He then was asked to audition for the part of a nervous seaman in "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial."

He acted in a handful of other roles, including Falstaff in Shakespeare's "Henry IV," and, after graduating from college with a political science degree, supported himself as a teacher and postal clerk for several years.

In 1959, he auditioned successfully for the part of Krebs, the goateed, bongo-playing dropout who winced at the thought of work. He was in the supporting cast on the CBS sitcom, one of the many friends of Dobie Gillis, played by Dwayne Hickman.

Mr. Denver went on to other television series, including "The Good Guys" (1968-1970), playing taxi driver Rufus Butterworth, and "Dusty's Trail" (1973), a comedy Western reminiscent of "Gilligan's Island" with its varied characters. He wrote a book, "Gilligan, Maynard & Me" (1993).

After many years living in Las Vegas, a city he said he found "really ridiculous," he moved to Princeton, W.Va., in the 1990s with his most recent wife, Dreama Denver. They co-hosted an oldies radio show.

Earlier marriages to Maggie Ryan Denver and Jean Webber Denver ended in divorce. People magazine once reported an additional marriage to a woman whose name he refused to divulge.

He is survived by his wife and four children.


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