Friday, January 06, 2006

Bob Denver, Finally

To start, I digress into politics (which I usually try to avoid here) a little bit. I've kind of fallen off reading Lileks lately, but this from yesterday caught my attention. And when I read the linked piece, it was like someone taking things I had thought and felt and tried to express a couple of times in the last few years, and actually made them make sense. Especially this part, which is a much clearer version of what I tried to express to a friend over lunch two years ago when he asked me if I didn't think bad things were happening all over and Islam was just being made into a convenient scapegoat by the current Administration.

"We know it's not really a "war on terror." Nor is it, at heart, a war against Islam, or even "radical Islam." The Muslim faith, whatever its merits for the believers, is a problematic business for the rest of us. There are many trouble spots around the world, but as a general rule, it's easy to make an educated guess at one of the participants: Muslims vs. Jews in "Palestine," Muslims vs. Hindus in Kashmir, Muslims vs. Christians in Africa, Muslims vs. Buddhists in Thailand, Muslims vs. Russians in the Caucasus, Muslims vs. backpacking tourists in Bali. Like the environmentalists, these guys think globally but act locally."

I've also had the same thoughts as the ones Steyn expresses about population trends, although I've never troubled myself to look up the actual stats. Much better just to have a vague fear that I then feel slightly guilty about, because it has such a racist overtone (Those brown people are having more kids than we are! Pretty soon we're going to be knee-deep in them!), but at the same time, this bit from his piece strikes me as exactly on target:

"The refined antennae of Western liberals mean that whenever one raises the question of whether there will be any Italians living in the geographical zone marked as Italy a generation or three hence, they cry, "Racism!" To fret about what proportion of the population is "white" is grotesque and inappropriate. But it's not about race, it's about culture. If 100% of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy, it doesn't matter whether 70% of them are "white" or only 5% are. But if one part of your population believes in liberal pluralist democracy and the other doesn't, then it becomes a matter of great importance whether the part that does is 90% of the population or only 60%, 50%, 45%."

Which is why I had always told The Wife I wanted to raise two kids. Let's at least replace ourselves for the sake of the planet. But she seems content to stick with the one. Oh well.

So anyway, Bob Denver: Entertainment Weekly had an end-of-year review issue a couple of weeks ago, and one of the featured pieces was remembrances of the celebrities that had died during the year. Tina Louise wrote one about Bob Denver, and for some reason, it got me thinking about typecasting.

If you look at Bob Denver's career, he didn't start out as Gilligan. In fact, his first real notoriety was as second fiddle Maynard G. Krebs on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." His starring role as Gilligan was a direct result of his popularity on the former show. The point is, Gilligan as a character was not a direct retread of Maynard G. Krebs.

However, if you lok at Denver's career post-Gilligan, you'll see that about half of his roles (and almost all of the starring roles) have been Gilligan warmed over, either directly or indirectly. There are the three Gilligan TV movies and the two Gilligan animated series, and then there are the two shameless rip-offs.

The later one was "Far Out Space Nuts," about a pair of space janitors who accidentally launch themselves into the unknown and spend every episode trying to find their way back to Earth. Since this was a super-low-budget Krofft kids' show, they jettisoned the supporting cast (except for a wacky alien creature sidekick) and just kept the central Gilligan conceit (which was at heart just a recasting of Laurel and Hardy): a good-natured dim-bulb set adrift with his partner, a physically imposing man who excelled at doing the slow burn. On "Gilligan's Island," that role was filled by Alan Hale, Jr.* On "Space Nuts,"it was Chuck McCann. Like Hale, McCann took his cues from Oliver Hardy in crafting his role (in fact, McCann channelled Hardy's mannerisms so completely, he later ended up impersonating Oliver Hardy in several television commercials).

But before "Far Out Space Nuts," there was "Dusty's Trail," which I might not even remember if I hadn't named my dog after the show. About the time this was on the air, I got a tan-and-white beagle (not a speck of black on her) whom I considered naming Sandy, until the morning after we brought her home. We put her in a box in the living room for the night. The next morning, I woke to find her beside the bed, with piles of puppy poop drawing a line from her box to my bedside. She was promply christened Dusty, and the line of poop piles was, of course, Dusty's Trail (an apt metaphor for hte show, now that I think of it).

"Dusty's Trail" was Gilligan in the old West, starring Denver as a member of a wagon train wandering hopelessly through the Great American Desert like the Israelites trying to find Canaan (and wouldn't that have been a neat idea for a Denver series - "Zach's Oasis," about a lost group of Israelites trying to find their way back to Moses's band, having wacky encounters with Egyptian soldiers and runaway harem girls and traveling camel salesmen played by Phil Silvers or somebody? But I digress).

"Dusty's Trail" was almost completely the same show (from the same executive producer), but it disappeared without a trace, while Gilligan became a television icon. Why? Several reasons, I think. Forrest Tucker (edited after mtreiten caught an oversight on my part)was a talented guy, but his gruff style didn't mesh as well with Denver as Hale's did. And the supporting cast didn't have any of the charisma or chemistry of the "Gilligan" cast. And, I think, there was the question of the characters' ultimate fate. You always knew that, the nature of series television being what it was at the time, you would never see the conclusion of the characters' story. But at least with "Gilligan's Island," you could imagine that at some point, they would be rescued and return to civilization. With "Dusty's Trail," hapless as these guys were, you could just as easily imagine them ending up like the Donner party. Not a pleasant thought.

Not sure where I was going with this. I guess it's easy to get lost when you're discussing this subject, huh?

*Quick Alan Hale story: A high school friend of mine was eating at a restaurant in L.A. called the Lobster Barrel with some friends, and as can happen when four college guys are out together, they passed some of the time quizzing each other on useless trivia. My friend says, "I've got one. What was the Skipper's real name on 'Gilligan's Island?'" And before any of them could even hazard a guess, a familiar voice from behind him says, "Jonas Grumby." My friend turns around, and there's Alan Hale, Jr, the Skipper himself in the flesh. Turns out the restaurant was actually Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel, and the best way to get on the big man's good side was to bring up his best known role, so my friend and co. got to hang with him for a while. Somehow, I don't think the same thing would have happened if you'd mentioned Opie at Ron Howard's Lobster Barrel. And if you'd mentioned Meathead at Rob Reiner's Lobster Barrel, you might well have ended up being shot.


Barbara Davis said...

I've met several women who used to want more than one child but stopped after number one. Because pregnancy, and especially childbirth, is a real bitch of a bum deal.

Even though I too have had vague stirrings of regret and a few minor guilty feelings about the ever shrinking fertility rates of actual Western type Americans, it has never got past the "I have NO desire to deal with pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a kid" feeling that I've had pretty much my whole conscious life.

All in all I'm really glad I live in a time and place where I have the freedom and technology to not be pregnant a good deal of my life just because I might happen to want to be married.

mtreiten said...

Um, not to be a nitpicker, but I was confused by the Forrest Whittaker reference. I'm assuming you meant Forest Tucker?

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

Yeah, I did. Gimme a break, I was working overnight shifts last week when I wrote this. No excuse, really. Sorry, Forrest. It's fixed now.