Do you remember The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis? It was a great sitcom that followed teenager Dobie Gillis and his many aspirations. Dobie Gillis was played by Dwayne Hickman, who passed away on January 9th, 2022, at the age of 87.
Though he didn’t act much following his role as Dobie Gillis, his death was a great loss for fans of the sitcom. He portrayed one of the most memorable and unique characters from American television, and he’ll be sorely missed.
But did you know that the young Dwayne Hickman had to compete with several other actors to win the role? He even beat out another heartthrob of the time to win over the role.
How did the show come about? And what did Dwayne Hickman do after the show ended?
Let’s learn about Dwayne Hickman’s life and career and how he came to become Dobie Gillis …
Dwayne Hickman came into this world on the 18th of May in 1934, in Los Angeles. His father, Milton, was an insurance salesman, while his mother, Katherine, was a housewife. Dwayne’s elder brother is fellow actor, Darryl Hickman.
Dwayne began acting at a young age. He first appeared as an extra in the films The Grapes of Wrath and Men of Boys Town – both films in which Darryl also acted. His earliest speaking roles were in films such as Our Gang – Melodies Old and New, Captain Eddie, and The Hoodlum Saint.
He also appeared in different roles in the “Rusty” film series. He appeared in 7 of the 8 “Rusty” films. In 1947, he had an uncredited role as a Heavenly Pageboy in the film Heaven Only Knows. While this was a small role, he was introduced to actor Bob Cummings who would later offer him acting opportunities.
Oddly enough, Dwayne’s original plan wasn’t to follow in his brother’s footsteps. He graduated from Cathedral High School in 1952. Initially he had set out to become a priest. And he eventually dismissed this idea and went on to study at Loyola University.
However, it was clear that he enjoyed his time as an actor during his childhood. Upon graduating from Loyola University, he continued to pursue acting as his full-time career.
When he returned to acting, he took on bit parts in various popular TV shows, including The Loretta Young Show and Lux Video Theatre. His big break came when he got re-acquainted with actor Bob Cummings…
Before we tell you more about Dwayne Hickman’s life and career and about The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW
In 1955, Bob Cummings became the star of his own show The Bob Cummings Show. Dwayne Hickman had been given the role as ‘Chuck’ – a role he played while he was still a student at Loyola University.
This role made Dwayne Hickman a household name and a recognized face on American television. Dwayne also loved working with Bob Cummings once again and considered the actor his mentor.
With his newfound popularity, Dwayne offer a small role in other popular TV shows. These included roles on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Men of Annapolis – the latter of which he co-starred with his brother, Darryl.
He also had a supporting role in the film Rally Round The Flag, Boys! alongside Paul Newman!
He was growing his presence as an actor and showed audiences that he had a flair for playing comedic and charming characters. But his biggest role was just around the corner…
THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS
In 1959, Dwayne Hickman casted as the lead character Dobie Gillis in the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis – which is based on the short stories by Max Shulman.
The show was groundbreaking for its time and depicted the growing countercultural movement known as Beatnik culture in the United States. It ran from 1959 to 1963 and showed the transition between the idyllic and conservative America of the 1950s to the wild and rebellious America of the 1960s.
Dobie Gillis was a typical American teenager who had big aspirations – attain popularity, amass a small fortune, and date beautiful girls. He often failed miserably in achieving all 3 of these things! This trope has become rather popular in American TV shows and films, but Dobie Gillis was one of the first iterations of this popular theme.
In fact, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis has served as an inspiration for many popular TV shows. The character of ‘Fred’ in the Scooby-Doo films and TV shows is partially based on Dobie Gillis!
Dwayne Hickman beat out several popular actors to win the role of Dobie Gillis. He even beat out another famous heartthrob of the time – Michael Landon! Looking back on the show, one can clearly see that Dwayne Hickman was born to play Dobie Gillis, and this is the role that he’s best known for.
Dwayne was actually 24 when he was cast as the 17-year-old Dobie Gillis! Nevertheless, he played the role convincingly. He was also involved with other aspects of the show. There were quite a few episodes where he had to sing songs for the show.
He later produced the TV movie “Bring Me The Head of Dobie Gillis” released in 1988. He reprised his role in the TV movie and this time played an adult version of his beloved character. Dwayne never tired of the character and loved the stories by Max Shulman.
The original TV series ran for 4 seasons and had close to 150 episodes! It remains one of America’s most popular and influential sitcoms.
Throughout his career, Dwayne would often give interviews where he fondly reminisced about playing the character and his work on the sitcom. He discussed how the show and the stories by Max Shulman were well-written and were ahead of its time. Looking back on the show, one can see how the show managed to defy the usual themes and style popular among American sitcoms of the 50s and 60s.
His biggest success was as Dobie Gillis and it seems that Dwayne fully embraced it. While there wasn’t another role that lived up to Dobie Gillis, this didn’t seem to upset Dwayne. He was clearly a fan of the character and was grateful to have been a part of one of America’s most unique sitcoms.
He continued working in the entertainment industry and kept himself busy in film and television – both on camera and behind the scenes.
But for many fans, Dwayne Hickman will always be seen as the one and only Dobie Gillis!
DWAYNE’S CAREER AFTER DOBIE GILLIS
As ‘Dobie Gillis’ was arguably Dwayne Hickman’s most popular character, not much is normally discussed about his career following the show’s end.
But he still kept himself busy and worked in the entertainment industry until the mid-2000s. Following the end of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Dwayne found himself getting typecast in teenager roles. Even though he was entering his 30s when the show ended! As such, he became selective with the roles he chose.
He played small parts in popular TV shows such as The Greatest Show on Earth, Valentine’s Day, Vacation Playhouse, and Wagon Train. He also focused on films more – appearing in a supporting role in the comedy film Cat Ballou – alongside Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin.
This was one of the most popular film releases of 1965 and even went on to become one of the year’s highest-grossing film and well-received by critics. The success of the film helped Dwayne secure more roles in B-movies and exploitation films which were becoming popular throughout the 1960s.
He signed a deal with American International Pictures and appeared in the films Ski Party, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and Sergeant Deadhead.
He also had a supporting role in the comedy film Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding! – released in 1967.
Throughout the remainder of the 60s and into the 70s, he had many small roles in popular TV shows. These included roles in Vacation Playhouse, Ironside, The Flying Nun, My Friend Tony, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, America Style, Karen, Perry Mason and Ellery Queen.
In 1977, he starred in a pilot for a reprisal of Dobbie Gillis called Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis? Unfortunately, the pilot wasn’t a success, and the show never came to fruition. Luckily, Bring Me The Head of Dobie Gillis released in 1988, was popular among audiences!
In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked a bit behind the scenes. He directed episodes of the TV shows Duet, Open House, Designing Women, Harry and the Hendersons, and Sister, Sister.
In the 1990s, he had supporting roles in the films Cops n Roberts and A Night at the Roxbury. His last film role was as a Hotel Receptionist in the 2005 film Angels with Angles – alongside Frank Gorshin, Adam West, Henry Darrow, Jerry Mathers, and Rodney Dangerfield.
His last TV credit was as Tripp Marlens – a recurring character in the show Clueless.
Dwayne Hickman died on January 9th, 2022, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 87 years old.
Are you a fan of Dwayne Hickman’s and of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis?
Do you think that Dwayne’s best work was, in fact, in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis? Or are there other roles of his that deserve more attention?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.