Judge P.S. Colbert wants one girl to call his own. That one. And that one. And...
"Dobie wants a gal who's dreamy, Dobie wants a gal who's creamy…"
"Is she blonde, is she tall, is she dark, is she small, is she any kind of dreamboat at all? No matter! He's hers and hers alone. 'Cause Dobie has to have a girl to call his own…"
Dobie Gillis (Dwayne Hickman,Cat Ballou) wasn't TV's first teenager, but The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, which began its four-year run on CBS in the fall of 1959, proved to nervous network programmers that a navel-gazing, poetry-writing, eternally lovelorn teenager could carry his or her own show—as opposed to, say, being the (supporting) cheeky young shaver rattling the last nerve of a frenzied father (My Three Sons), or precocious wisecracker, wearing down a harried housewife (The Donna Reed Show), or a pair of upstarts playing Wack-A-Mole with both parents simultaneously (The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet.).
That's right, Pop Culture historians: for the likes of James At 15, Blossom,Doogie Howser, M.D., My So-Called Life, and Dawson's Creek, to name but a few, you have Dobie to thank, or blame, as the case may be.
If you've ever wished to have all 147 episodes at your fingertips, you have the folks at Shout! Factory to thank for making your wish come true by bundling them all together into The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series, a twenty-one disc set featuring a generous bounty of extras (more on those later).
You'll see the whole bunch: Dobie's sweet-as-pie mother, Winnie (Florida Friebus, The Bob Newhart Show) and big-hearted, blowhard father, Herbert T. Gillis (Frank Faylen, It's A Wonderful Life). Don't blink or you'll miss Dobie's older brother Davey (played by Dwayne's real-life older brother Darryl Hickman, Leaver Her To Heaven), a self-proclaimed lady-killer who's away at college—and after a mere three episodes in the first season, away for good.
There's Dobie's lifelong "good buddy" Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver, Gilligan's Island), a bearded beatnik, eternally clad in a holey sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves, and his arch-nemesis, the suave, handsome and well-built rich boy Milton Armitage (Warren Beatty, Dick Tracy). Milton will disappear after the first year, to be replaced for the duration by equally rich and snobbish (and not a little bit foppish, either!) Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. (Steve Franken, Westworld).
Then, of course, there are Dobie's many loves, including his first, the bewitchingly beautiful Thalia Meninger (Tuesday Weld, Pretty Poison).
Dobie: Now, she's not a Gold digger, mind you. No, she's just kinda greedy, grasping, avaricious, mean, selfish, miserly…
Though he'd be loathe to admit it, there's his foremost love, the tiny, tomboyish Zelda Gilroy (Sheila James, The Stu Erwin Show), who has determined to marry Dobie, even if it's over his dead body. Why is she so dead set on the perpetually resistant Mr. Gillis? In a word: propinquity.
Zelda: Propinquity—nearness, closeness. A Harvard study of 2,900 married couples proved that in eighty-seven percent of cases, the couples first fell in love because of propinquity. You put a boy and a girl close to each other long enough and it's bound to happen—it's a scientific fact.
There are loads of other girls, heavenly beauties with more variety than the "31 celestial flavors" offered by the local Charles Wong Ice Cream Parlor. FYI: Future TV "Batgirl" Yvonne Craig plays a record five different girlfriends over the years!
"Dobie was a very special kind of show because it was about a teen from a teen's point of view," says Hickman, in an interview specially taped for this project.
Actually, however, Dobie's point of view was very much the product of creator Max Shulman, (The Tender Trap), a humorist with a close connection to his own inner adolescent. Shulman (40 years old when the series premiered) first introduced Dobie in a series of short stories, the 1953 feature film The Affairs Of Dobie Gillis, and the novel I Was A Teenage Dwarf, before settling him into weekly series life.
The lyrics of the show's theme song (also penned by Shulman, who had a hand in writing almost every episode) tell you just about everything you need to know, in terms of who Dobie is and what keeps him going. What makes this sitcom such an enduring classic (yes, it holds up just fine 50 years later) is the determination to stay true to its characters; resisting the temptation to have them "jumping sharks" to keep audiences tuning in at any cost. Of course, it's fair to say that the series also ultimately suffers from a sense of sameness (each of the major characters eventually gets at least one tagline to beat to death), but unless you try to cram too many episodes at once, I think you'll agree that The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis is time well spent.
As I mentioned earlier, there are extras galore. First, there's that contemporary interview with Hickman, which I only wish were longer than just under fifteen minutes. There are three vintage episodes of Hickman's previous series, The Bob Cummings Show, a vintage 1955 episode of The Stu Erwin Show featuring Hickman as a guest star (opposite James, a regular, as Erwin's daughter Jackie), and a pair of variety show clips, including a (color) segment of The Dinah Shore Chevy Show from 1960, with Hickman appearing as Dobie, and Denver appearing as Maynard in a 1960 "Coke Time" TV special with Pat Boone and Edd "Kookie" Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip). Finally, there's a DVD-Rom file with several "Dobie" scripts, the pilot for a proposed "Zelda" spin-off, and a Schulman bio.
Half a century gathers a lot of dust and dirt, and there's a fair bit of it spread throughout this collection. My random sampling revealed one episode preceded by a dreaded "The following episode was mastered from the best available source" disclaimer, but even this one wasn't irrevocably marred, and on balance, I'd say these shows look pretty good. The mono sound is pretty solid as well, with a bit of crackle here and there. Unfortunately, no subtitles have been included.
If you're a fan of sitcoms from television's golden age, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how fresh this long-gone favorite has remained. If you're coming to it for the first time, be prepared to have your ribs tickled and your smile stretched, as The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis proves that good television is an ageless treasure.
Love and let love. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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