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Dwayne Hickman Interview
(Dobie Gillis)

Dwayne Hickman will forever be linked to a character he played in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s-----Dobie Gillis.

It was a top-rated show at the time. When it ended, Dwayne Hickman went on to other projects including the 1965 film, “Cat Ballou” with Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, and Nat King Cole.

Dwayne found great success after Dobie Gillis with roles behind the scenes including a stint as a programming executive at C.B.S. and a director on various t.v. shows.

It’s a real privilege to present an interview with someone who brought smiles to so many people in those early days of television-----Mr. Dwayne Hickman.

Q – What is Hickman/ Roberts Productions all about? What do you produce?
A – Well, that’s my wife Joan and I. I’m Hickman. She’s Roberts. That’s her maiden name. We’re partners together, in things we do for movies, television, as actors. Joan’s also an actress. So, we work through that corporation. Also, I’m an artist and I paint landscapes. Joan works with me on promoting it and setting up gallery shows which I have around the country. That’s basically what we do through Hickman-Roberts. In other words, it’s our production co. It’s our co. It can do any business-----it can do art business, entertainment business and so forth.

Q – What have you produced for t.v.?
A – Well, I have not. But, in other words if I were to do something on television, for example I did ‘Surviving Gilligan’s Island’. I loaned myself out. In other words, it’s the co. that contracts for my services. Now, I could produce something for television, but, I haven’t to this date.

Q – Does that mean if someone were to offer you a project that they would go through your co.? You don’t have an agent.
A – No. They would come to me or an agent and then when a deal is made it would be made through the corporation. That’s how it works. Most actors have one of these. Most actors have corporations. It’s just a good way to do business.

Q – And you still have the agent?
A – Yeah. Sure.

Q – Would you consider yourself a full-time producer or a full-time artist/painter?
A – I’m probably a full-time artist and actor. I’m not producing anything at the moment. Joan and I are not producing anything. We’re still involved in things. She’s working all the time as an actress doing voice-overs. So, that comes through the corporation. I occasionally do some acting, but most of the time, in the last couple of years I’ve been painting, doing my art work.

Q – When did you discover you could paint?
A – Well, I did it as a child. I thought about it. I did a lot of drawing growing up. I liked it a lot. I kind of let it go and didn’t do much with it until about 20 years ago. I was working for C.B.S. from ’77 to ’87. When I left C.B.S. to do ‘Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis’ I was gonna concentrate on acting, directing and also my art. So, I decided it was time. I’d put it off for years and hadn’t done anything with it and I wanted to get involved in art. I went to art school and started studying pencil drawing and then moved to painting, oil painting. I paint oil on canvas. I paint mostly landscapes and have for 20 years.

Q – You sell your art at these gallery shows?
A – Yes. I appear at the gallery, talk to the people and enhance the pictures, the paintings, put paint on the print of the pictures. It’s called enhancing. I do that in galleries and we have these shows we promote. People come and we talk to them and sell the art.

Q – You were, according to your website, a reluctant child actor.
A – Yeah.

Q – That means somebody pushed you into show business?
A – My mother kind of took me to the studio. My brother Darryl, my older brother Darryl was an actor as a child. He was in movies. My mother needed a sitter so she took me to the studio with her. I was there and got hired occasionally. That’s how it all started, but I wasn’t really that much interested in acting as a child. And, I just sort of got into it. Sort of by accident.

Q – And it just kept going?
A – Yeah. It kept going. I did quite a few movies as a kid, ‘The Boy with Green Hair’ I did with Dean Stockwell in 1948 I think. Prior to that I was in a movie called ‘Secret Heart’ with Claudette Colbert. I was in a movie with Jeanette McDonald, ‘The Sun Comes Up’. So, I did movies as a child. Then when I was in high school I didn’t do hardly anything. Then I was going to college and finished my first year and I was approached by my former agent who wanted to know if I wanted to go an interview for a Bob Cummings show ‘Love That Bob’, a pilot for that series, which I did and got it. So, that started my career up again. But, I was in college. I really didn’t do much acting all through high school.

Q – You did such a good job portraying this character Dobie Gillis, that I thought you were Dobie Gillis.
A – Well, a lot of people felt that. It was a great part; the teen from the teen’s point of view. I did my monologues and told all my problems. Really a good role. A role that a lot of young actors wanted. Michael Landon for example wanted the part. It was a good role and well written by Max Schulman who created Dobie Gillis. I did my best with it and tried to do it honestly. It worked out very well and became a big success.

Q – How long did that show stay on the air?
A – It was on four years, from ’59 to ’63.

Q – How long of a day did you have to put in to make that half hour show work?
A – Well, it was a 2-3 day show. You either rehearsed one day or two days I think, depending on how big the script was. I mean how much work. Then they’d shoot like all day Tuesday or Wednesday. In other words for a big script they’d rehearse Monday and Tuesday and shoot Wednesday, or rehearse Monday and shoot Tuesday. It was long hours, very long hours and of course I had a large part and I did a lot of work. It went on into the evenings. It was a hard job, but enjoyable.

Q – When you’d leave the set and walk down the street, would people say, “Hi Dobie!”?
A – Oh, yeah. Absolutely. They always did. They have for years. My whole life. Not so much anymore.

Q - What did you think of that?
A – Well, it was kind of strange, but I understood why. You become identified with the character you play. The public begins to know you as that character.

Q – Were you then type-cast?
A – Yeah, I was. Yeah, I was very type-cast. Most people that play a role like that where it’s a title role become very identified with the role. That’s just the nature of the business. I was very type-cast to the extent that when I got out of Dobie, it was hard to get the right roles and I had difficulty getting parts and that’s one of the reasons I went to C.B.S. in ’77, and worked in the Program Department because I thought I should develop my talents and learn how to be a producer, and learn how to put shows together, so that’s what happened.

Q – You didn’t go the route of some of these child actors and become an alcoholic or a drug addict.
A – No, I didn’t. Thank-God. I feel very sorry for some of these people. They go from making a ton of money to making no money. They’re identified with their roles. It’s very difficult. It’s a hard thing for a child I think. That’s why I’m glad that most of my success with Cummings and Dobie Gillis came after I was like 19, 20 years old. I was older and it helps. A lot of pressure for a kid.

Q – So, you had control of the money you made?
A – Yeah. I did. A lot of time the parents control the child’s money. That’s not so good I don’t think.

Q – During the time you played Dobie Gillis, did you ever meet T.V.’s “Superman” George Reeves?
A – No. I never met him. I knew about him of course.

Q – Someone along the way tried to make you a teenage singing star? Did you put out a record?
A – In those days everybody recorded. Tas Hunter was one of the first. Sal Mineo and all of the contemporary actors. It was just a gimmick thing they were doing in those days. Some became successful and others like myself weren’t very good singers. For example, Ricky Nelson became a big star, but, he had a musical background with his father who was a band leader, Ozzie Nelson. It was the thing to take a person who was on t.v. or in movies and promote them to singers. It was the thing to do in the 50’s and early 60’s. So, I reluctantly tried and did the best I could. I had an album. I had one single called ‘School Dance’ for ABC Paramount Records. It didn’t for very well at all. Then I did a whole L.P. for Capital Records and it didn’t do very well, but, it was better. It was a better album. I did my best and parts didn’t sound that bad. It was pretty good, but it didn’t catch on, which is just as well because it’s a hard deal, being a singer. It’s a whole different career than being an actor. And, it’s very hard to be both.

Q – You once worked with Frank Sinatra. What was that like?
A – It was a Short Subject made by MGM about songs from around the world. They had a bunch of kids dressed from different parts of the world. I forgot what I was, what part of the world I was supposed to be from. Anyway, he sang of course. We were all there with him on the set. He was very nice, the little bit I recall (of) him. He was very pleasant. He bought the kids ice-cream. It was hot. A hard day. He bought us all ice-cream, so he was a great man. Then later I knew him. His daughter Nancy was represented by my manager at the time. So I got to know Tommy Sands and Nancy Sinatra. I met him through that. Frank was always very pleasant. I didn’t know him very well, but he seemed pleasant.

Q – You worked for Howard Hughes?
A – In 1970, I went to work for Hughes Tool Co. through a friend and went to Las Vegas and booked entertainment at the Landmark Hotel which has since been torn down. That was a nice get-away for a year or two. I booked a lot of Country-Western people. In fact, I introduced Country-Western music to the Strip. It was very successful. I enjoyed that. It was a good departure from my career. I’d always been acting and it was fun to book and promote talent.

Q – What did you know about Country music before you got that job? How did you know to book Tammy Wynette and Roy Clark?
A – I didn’t. I was just following instincts, my instincts about it. I had ideas to what might go well and not go well, people that I liked and it worked out very well. But, I didn’t have any training in booking big entertainment. I booked Bobby Darin, Patti Page, Jimmy Dean, Bobbie Gentry. Some had contracts with the Hughes Tool Co. That’s who owned the hotels, Howard Hughes Tool Co. out of Texas. Houston, I think. I kind of enjoyed it.

Q – During your time at C.B.S. you were an Executive who worked on shows like M.A.S.H. and “Designing Women”. What was your contribution to these shows?
A – I was assigned to those shows as a program executive to supervise the production. I worked in the Program Department. I was a Program Executive. I had a bunch of different shows over the years: M.A.S.H., Good Times, All in the Family, Designing Women, Dukes of Hazzard. It was my job to work with the producers and supervise the scripts and casting, the actors, the whole thing. I enjoyed that too.

Q – I almost forgot to ask you about Bob Denver.
A – Bob was a good friend. We knew each other at Loyola University where we went to school. Then he came into test for the part of Maynard in Dobie Gillis. I was thrilled to see him. He was really good and got the part. Then we worked together for the 4 years of the show, and stayed in touch over the years. We were always friends. We never had any disagreements. We got along very well. I liked Bob. He was wonderfully talented. He was very funny. Very clever. I really enjoyed his comedy. I used to have all the straight lines and I used to kid about that. I really did. ‘What is that Maynard’? ‘Why would you say that Maynard’? I had all those kinds of lines. He had all the jokes. He was so funny. He used to crack me up. I felt very bad that he passed away.

Q – Is Dobie Gillis in syndication these days?
A – No. It’s not being run. It’s owned by Fox and they haven’t sold it into syndication. It ran forever. It ran for years and years. Then lately, in the last few years, it hasn’t run. I don’t know why really because it seems to me it would play very well.

Official website: www.dwaynehickman.com
© Gary James All Rights Reserved