Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dobie Gillis, Maynard, and The Thinker

My wife and I recently watched the first two seasons of Dobie Gillis, which premiered back in September, 1959, just in time for the school year back then.

Dobie first appears under a reproduction of Rodin's statue, The Thinker, a bit of irony since the show was decidedly anti-intellectual.  It had the ambiance of a high school play on a threadbare stage, using catch-phrases time-after-time, as when Dobie's father repeatedly says, "I gotta kill that boy," with deadpan Freudian overtones.  Dobie's mother is always pointing out that the father was just like Dobie when he was young. 

The series was based upon Max Shulman's 1953 book of campus stories, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  Shulman was also the main scriptwriter for the TV series, for which he added a completely new character, Maynard G. Krebs.  Krebs was supposed to be a beatnik, but as no one at the studio knew what a beatnik was, Shulman said he started hanging out in college campus dives to observe them, and he eventually came up with this composite character.

Maynard started out as comic relief, but when Shulman tried to write him out of the show, it turned out that Maynard was the main reason a lot of people bothered to watch it.  Maynard then became a fixture, America's iconic beatnik.

According to Bill Morgan's biography of Allen Ginsberg, the term "beatnik" wasn't coined by an American newspaperman until 1958, in the surging Red Scare after the Russians launched Sputnik (see the Wikipedia link).  Jack Kerouac had written of "the beat generation" a decade before, of its non-comformist anti-materialism.  Maynard's anti-materialism was equated with good-for-nothingness and sloth on television.
Statuesque teen Tuesday Weld:  Think $

And Dobie too, at least in the early episodes, works harder to get out of work than he would if he actually picked up a broom and started helping his father at the store.  But Dobie's sense of love is certainly materialistic.  He doesn't love, he craves possession, and he judges girls only by their surface beauty.

Thalia, the main object of his desires, is driven by her interest in money and material possessions.  This is nicely played by Tuesday Weld, who Dwayne Hickman remembers as "fifteen going on thirty."  But it seems like the longer the show continued, the more shallow and pointless it became, laugh track and all.

Beatniks may have turned into hippies, as they say, but before the word "beatnik" was coined, there were hipsters.  Max Shulman must have been inspired by Kookie, a character on Roy Huggins' detective show, 77 Sunset Strip, which also used a jazz soundtrack (link).  Perhaps he was also inspired by the jazzy bongo-playing Greenwich Village warlock played by Jack Lemon in Bell, Book, and Candle.

The beats are rightly associated with bebop jazz, and Maynard was often talking about Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.  Perhaps the mere mention of them on the show inspired some college kids to give them a listen.  The success of the show inspired many others, including the Scooby Doo cartoons and perhaps even some of the mindless shows that are around today--if so, we won't be found watching them.


We'd much rather listen to Chano Pozo, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.
Gabriel Solis, author of MONK'S MUSIC

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