R.I.P. Dwayne Hickman, who played all-American teen Dobie Gillis
It's a small world. At Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount) in Los Angeles, one could bump into two young men. They knew of each other. One had once considered becoming a priest. The other studied political science. That's not how the lives of Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver would end up. The two classmates knew of each other in college. They would end up working together in one of the first major teen comedies of television — The Many Loves of Dobie Gilis.
Dwayne's older brother, Darryl, was a child actor. That's how a young Hickman ended up in The Grapes of Wrath (1939), when he was only about five years old. He continued to act throughout his adolescence, working alongside the Little Rascals, Fred MacMurray, Claudette Colbert and Lionel Barrymore. Columbia Pictures launched a whole franchise called the Rusty series, about a boy and his dog, in the 1940s, and Hickman appeared in many of them.
While Hickman was at Loyola, he landed a breakthrough role on television, as the teen lead on The Bob Cummings Show, on which he got to hone his skills alongside Ann B. Davis, long before she became Alice. Hickman had a strong worth ethic. Attending school and acting. He even appeared on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
He hardly missed a step after The Bob Cummings Show ended, jumping immediately into the lead role on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The girl-crazy kid paired with his beatnik pal Maynard G. Krebs, played by his fellow Loyola acquaintance Bob Denver. With its hip slang and attractive cast — Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty in season one — Dobie Gillis became a smash with the Boomers. Even older brother Darryl Hickman joined the show… playing Dobie's older brother! They wrote him out after season one, however.
The sitcom ran for four seasons, following the friends as they joined the Army.
Following the demise of Dobie Gillis, Hickman found himself typecast in youth roles. He was a natural fit alongside Frankie Avalon in American International productions — "beach" (and, well, snow) B-movies aimed at teens — like Ski Party and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.
On the small screen, he found only bit parts, turning up in The Mod Squad and Love, American Style. Dobie returned, in 1977, with Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?, a TV pilot that saw the boy all grown up and married to Zelda. But it ended up being a one-shot, not a series.
Eventually, in the 1970s, he opted to shift to work behind the camera. Hickman became a programming exec at CBS. He returned again to the role of Dobie for the 1988 reunion Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. It was heartwarming to keep checking in on such a beloved, lovestruck character.
On January 9, Hickman died from complications due to Parkinson's disease, his publicist announced, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 87.