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Bob Denver:
'Wake' traces colorful career
By M.V. Moorhead

September 24, 2005

Bob Denver, long beloved as Gilligan, finally escaped this particular cosmic island earlier this month.

Or, to use an image preferable to the regrettably smaller number who treasure Denver for his greatest creation, Dobie Gillis' beatnik pal Maynard G. Krebs, he's gone to watch them eternally tear down that Old Endicott Building In The Sky.

Postmodernists may wish to celebrate Denver's status as an American icon with a reading of Tom Carson's 2003 Gilligan's Wake (Picador), a crazy-quilt send-up of Joyce, Kerouac and Salinger which views the 20th Century, with various levels of jaundice, through the eyes of the Seven Stranded Castaways of TV's Gilligan's Island.

Each of the novel's seven chapters is a monologue by one of the characters: The Skipper recounts his experiences in command of a PT Boat in WII South Pacific, where he hangs out with McHale, Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Millionaire Thurston Howell gets Alger Hiss his job with the Department of Agriculture. Howell's wife ALovey@ recalls her decadedent early days, sharing morphine addiction with a post-Gatsby Daisy Buchanan. Ginger leaves Alabama to make it big in Hollywood, falls in with the Rat Pack, and, after meeting Sammy Davis, Jr., reneges on her promise to her mother never to have an interracial romance.

The Professor, a veteran of Los Alamos, goes on to be a crony of Roy Cohn and to play a part in just about every piece of covert American nastiness of the postwar period. Meanwhile, wholesome Kansan Mary Anne lands in Paris and winds up in an affair with Jean-Luc Godard, yet somehow finds herself, despite repeated attempts to the contrary, mysteriously and miraculously a perpetual virgin.

As for Gilligan himself, his opening monologue places him first in Maynard's identity, as a San Francisco Beat-scene poet, protesting the Bay of Pigs with Ferlinghetti, before waking up to find himself sharing a mental ward with Holden Caulfield, Ira Hayes and Edsel Ford. He's electroshocked into Gilligan-esque infantilism, and there are passages in the subsequent chapters indicating that the exploits of the other castaways are the products of this hapless 20th-Century Everyman's fried brain.

It's all a stunt, of course, and too clever by half. But there are long streches of remarkable, even powerful writing in every chapter, each of which has its own idiomatic style. And Mason, in common with millions of Boomer-era kids, understands something that snooty TV critics could never quite grasp: that for all the undisputed broadness of the acting and plain imbecility of the writing, there's still something mythic and archetypical about Gilligan's Island that can't be dismissed from the imagination.

For those who want a less snarky Bob Denver-related read, Gilligan, Maynard & Me (Carol Publishing Company), the actor's own 1993 memoir, makes an easy three-hour tour of his life.

 
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