"THE Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," an early '60s situation comedy, was a breeding ground for young actors, spawning names like Warren Beatty (who played Dobie's rival, the wealthy and insufferable Milton Armitage), Tuesday Weld (the mercenary Thalia Menninger), Bob Denver (the original TV beatnik, Maynard G. Krebs), plus Ryan O'Neal, Bill Bixby and Marlo Thomas.
"There weren't that many shows that used teen-agey-type people for the main parts," says Dwayne Hickman, who played Dobie. "So 'Dobie Gillis' was a gold mine for us." The TV series ended production 20 years ago, but has gone into reruns many times.
These days, Hickman, 48, is on the other side of the camera at his old network. As a program executive for CBS Television, which aired "Dobie Gillis," he supervises shows from idea to development. "I get a show after it's been made into a pilot and put it on the schedule; supervise production, see that the promos are right." Some of Hickman's projects have included "Alice," "M*A*S*H" and "Dukes of Hazzard."
"A lot of me then went into Dobie," Hickman says, describing that character as "kind of naive and middle American, a universal young guy that wanted to meet a girl . . . and not work." Dobie was also always worried about his future, and began and ended each episode in Central City Park, mimicking the pose of Rodin's "The Thinker."
Hickman himself almost passed up his chance at the role with a Dobie-like laziness. Asked to audition for the part of nephew Chuck in "The Bob Cummings Show," Hickman at first turned it down because he had a job with the Los Angeles Department of Water. But he ultimately took the Cummings role, which lasted five years and led to his being cast for his own series.
Perhaps "Dobie Gillis" was more sophisticated than the average '60s situation comedy (it was certainly more sophisticated than many of Hickman's new projects) because the series was based on characters created by novelist/short-story writer/screenwriter Max Schulman, author of a collection of short stories titled "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" and its sequel, "I Was a Teenage Dwarf."
Hickman began acting at an early age--his mother, actress Louise Hickman, and older brother Daryl Hickman had been at it for a while and had the connections. Daryl Hickman is still acting--his last movie was "Sharky's Machine" with Burt Reynolds.
After "Dobie Gillis," Hickman says he did a few movies, "Cat Ballou" among them, dinner theaters with "a lot of Neil Simon stuff," and some episodic television.
"I have done nothing but act all my life, but I decided about six years ago that I wanted to get into the executive area," Hickman says, adding with a touch of Dobie Gillis' ingenuousness, "so I went to the right people and said I'd like to join. Now I'm at the point where I could do either one--be behind the cameras or in front of them.
"I think knowing the problems of day-to-day filming of a show is just invaluable," Hickman says. "You can't just sit behind a desk all day." Hickman says he thinks that producing a television series is just about the same today as it was 20 years ago, but "it's a little more elaborate and expensive now and the public demands more."
Two weeks ago, Hickman married actress Joan Roberts, of McLean. Roberts played Pvt. Barbara Glass on the short-lived CBS series "Private Benjamin," one of the programs Hickman is responsible for. The couple lives in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.
"I would act again," says Hickman, who admits to hankering after a role in a sophisticated comedy or a really meaty dramatic part. "But it would have to be a part I really wanted. I would never again just be an actor. I'd have to have more control. I've learned too much."