Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bob Denver

Lately what I have had on my mind is Bob Denver and Dusty’s Trail. For those of you who have never seen this TV show it was really a western version of Gilligan’s Island. In his autobiography “Gilligan, Maynard & Me”, Mr. Denver admits that it was Gilligan goes west. Mr. Denver played Dusty the guide of a wagon train headed to California. Of course it turned out Dusty was a rotten guide and they were just going around in circles. Forrest Tucker was the Wagon Master. He was like the Skipper on a horse. Ivor Francis and Lynn Wood played Mr. & Mrs. Brookhaven the wealthy Howell types. Jeannine Riley played Lulu the saloon girl. She was something of a less glamorous Ginger. Lori Saunders was the Mary Ann of the show as the school teacher named Betsy and Bill Cort the Professor as the engineer named Andy. Ironically both Jeannine Riley and Lori Saunders had starred in Petticoat Junction in the 1960's. Miss. Riley was on it from 1963-1965 and Miss Saunders was from 1966 till the end of the series run. Dusty's Trail was shot on a syndicated budget since it was not on the network schedule. The humor was the same but the quality, and yes for the 60’s Gilligan’s Island was a very good quality show, was not. The chemistry between the actors is good but at times it seemed forced when compared to GI. Rumor has it that Forrest Tucker was half drunk when they shot the episodes. Only 26 of them aired in 1973 and then the show was seemingly forgotten.
One of Mr. Denver’s best memories from the show was the run bys. It meant that all of them had to run by the cameras in one shot. It was so huge they had to stop traffic on the lot and people came from all over to watch. Forrest Tucker rode out first then Bob. The stagecoach was next and finally the covered wagon. As the wagon came out one side Forrest Tucker has circled around and was re-entering on the other side. When the covered wagon was coming back in Mr. Tucker and Bob were coming out on the other side again.
Bob said the show was canceled as it was seen by few and disappeared. He said he hoped that it would be resurrected one day as some of the episodes were pretty funny. He is right. While it pale when compared to GI there were some funny moments. Unfortunately Mr. Denver is dead but I did find some of the episodes on DVD. You can get them if you click here. Also you can get some of the episodes edited together as a movie called the Wackiest Wagon Train in the West.
Bob Denver’s career in TV started out on a high note when he played Maynard in the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He was the break out character as he played Jughead to Dwayne Hickman’s Archie like character of Dobie. His next show was Gilligan’s Island when he was cast after Jerry Van Dyke turned down the part to star in My Mother the Car. GI was a big hit with kids and stayed on for three years but runs forever in syndication. Since then Mr. Denver had a hard time getting cast in anything that didn’t resemble Gilligan’s Island. Even as Maynard he was a little bit like a teenage Gilligan and Dobie like the Skipper. Except Gilligan didn’t mind working but Maynard worked hard to avoid working. Other people who stood next to him in the Skipper type of role were Herb Edelman on the Good Guys, the above mentioned Forrest Tucker, Chuck McCann on the live Saturday Morning show Far Out Space Nuts. That was sort of like Gilligan and the Skipper in space. Alan Hale Jr. played Skipper once more in the TV movies as well as on the two cartoon versions. One was the New Adventures of Gilligan which was a faithful transition of the show for Saturday morning audiences. Later they took them on another cartoon adventure to Gilligan’s Planet.
Mr. Denver was a good actor but never got to do any drama. The closest that he got was when he played himself on the comedy Evening Shade and gave a speech to the high school graduation class. He did make people laugh and was closely associated with two successful characters. That is pretty good for any actor.

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