Bob Denver, whose television roles as Gilligan, the wacky first mate in "Gilligan's Island," and Maynard G. Krebs, the beatnik with a bongo in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," were first hits, then cult classics, died on Friday in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 70.
Mike Eisenstadt, Mr. Denver's agent, announced the death, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Denver was being treated for cancer at Wake Forest University Baptist Hospital. He had undergone quadruple bypass surgery earlier this year.
Mr. Denver's most famous role, shown in continuous reruns since the show's first run ended in 1967, was as Gilligan, first mate of the S.S. Minnow, which is shipwrecked on an uncharted tropical island after a typhoon. Regular whacks on the head by the hat of the skipper, Jonas Grumby, played by Alan Hale Jr., were typical of the indignities that Gilligan endured as part of the show's exuberant physical comedy.
The castaways included a millionaire couple, Thurston Howell III, played by Jim Backus, and Lovey Howell, played by Natalie Schafer. There was a curvaceous starlet, Ginger Grant, played by Tina Louise; a sexy farm girl, Mary Ann Summers, played by Dawn Wells, and a science professor, Roy Hinkley, played by Russell Johnson.
The Denver and Hale interaction was modeled on that of Laurel and Hardy, with Mr. Hale focusing exasperated reactions directly into the camera, just as Oliver Hardy had done. Gilligan's first name, almost never uttered on the show, was Willy.
"Gilligan's Island" began in 1964 and immediately became a commercial hit for CBS on Saturday night. It was rewarded by being moved to Thursday for its second season, and again handily won the biggest audience in its time period. For the third season, it went to Mondays and was again successful.
The cast and crew assumed there would be another season, but CBS canceled the series in order to lengthen "Gunsmoke" from a half-hour to a full hour.
The show never aspired to be more than light mass entertainment, according to Tom Shales in The Washington Post in 2004. He said Sherwood Schwartz, the executive producer of the show, named the S.S. Minnow after Newton N. Minow, the Federal Communications Commission chairman who in 1961 called the prime-time television schedule "a vast wasteland."
But the 98 episodes of the show over its three seasons have thrived in reruns, and spawned two animated series, with Mr. Denver's voice in a starring role, as well as a science-fiction version, also with Mr. Denver. He even played Gilligan in an episode of "Baywatch," and starred in three made-for-TV movies based on "Gilligan's Island."
In "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," which ran from 1959 to 1963, Mr. Denver was the goofy friend of Dobie Gillis, a supposedly typical American teenager played by Dwayne Hickman. Others in the cast included the future stars Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty.
Maynard's laid-back attitude was repeatedly expressed in his wild exclamation "Work!?" whenever anyone uttered the word within hearing distance. His offbeat humor was typified by his explanation of his middle initial: "The G stands for Walter."
In 1970 Mr. Denver made a well-received transition to the stage by replacing Woody Allen in Mr. Allen's Broadway play "Play It Again, Sam." Clive Barnes of The New York Times wrote that Mr. Denver had "a genuine clownlike wistfulness."
Mr. Denver was born on Jan. 9, 1935, in New Rochelle, N.Y., and graduated from high school in Brownwood, Tex. The family moved to California, where Mr. Denver graduated from Loyola University, one of the predecessors to today's Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; Mr. Hickman was also a student there. He acted with the Del Ray Players in Los Angeles and made his first theatrical appearance in "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial." He was given a screen test for the part of Maynard G. Krebs, and to his surprise, won the part.
Among the other television shows in which he appeared were "The Good Guys" (1968-70) and "Dusty's Trail" (1973), a virtual copy of "Gilligan's Island," set on a lost wagon train. He also starred in a children's program, "Far Out Space Nuts" (1975), which was essentially Gilligan in space.
He lived in Princeton, W.Va., where he was co-host of a syndicated radio show with his wife, Dreama Perry Denver. He also did occasional television shows and attended many fan fests dressed as Gilligan.
Mr. Denver was married twice before, In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Patrick and Colin; two daughters, Megan and Emily; and a granddaughter.Correction: An obituary Wednesday about Bob Denver, the star of the 1960's television hit "Gilligan's Island," misstated the broadcast history of "Gunsmoke," which was ensured a full-hour slot on Monday nights when CBS canceled "Gilligan's Island" in 1967. "Gunsmoke" had been a full-hour show since 1961; it was not lengthened to a full hour when "Gilligan's Island" was canceled. The obituary also misidentified Mr. Denver's residence. He lived in Princeton, W.Va., not Princeton, Va.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012