Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sad News For Dusty: Bob Denver Passes Away, Aged 70


Bob Denver, star of TV's DUSTY'S TRAILS, 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 and underwent quadruple bypass surgery earlier this year.

Seen here in his role of Dusty, Denver had a television career that spanned several decades. Staring with his portrayal as Maynard G Krebs on the cult classic The many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, Denver became on of the most recognisable, and possibly one of the best loved television icons of the 20th century, becoming as recognisable as Lucille Ball. After appearing in a little known television show named Gilligan's Island, Denver exploded onto the screen in a ground breaking western named Dusty's trail.

Dusty's Trail ran September the 11th, 1973 to March 12th, 1974 . Created by Sherwood Schwartz (who also gave us such classics as The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, and Gilligan's Island: The Muscial) , the show revolved around the adventures of a wayward wagon train, lost in the wilderness thanks to Dusty, its inept scout. The backstory is explained in the now legendary theme song ("Dusty's the reason for their plight/Thanks to him, nothing's right"). Also appearing in the show was Forrest Tucker as Mr. Callahan, the wagonmaster, who would commonly refer to Dusty as his "little pal", in direct reference to the size difference between the slight Denver and the hefty Tucker.

Others in the series included wealthy travelers Mr. and Mrs. Brookhaven, played by Ivor Francis and Lynn Wood, Andy the engineer, played by Bill Cort, sexy dance hall girl Lulu McQueen, played by Jeannine Riley, and Lori Saunders, who had just come off a successful five-year run as Bobbie Jo Bradley on Petticoat Junction, rounded out the cast as Betsy, the sweet brunette schoolteacher. Saunders remembered, "Mr. Schwartz knew I was becoming available and offered me the part. It was interesting working with Jeannine Riley, as she was a former Petticoat Junction cast member."

The show was shot on a double soundstage at 20th Century-Fox, complete with outdoor prairie sets. When the stagecoach had to be filmed in motion, the cast would pile into the wagon and the horses would gallop across the set and out into the studio backlot, then around in front of the stage and back in through the opposite doors. In an incredible display of productivity the cast turned out two shows a week, ending one episode at noon on Wednesday and beginning the next an hour later after lunch. Denver recalled seeing people from other shows turning out to watch the show being shot and remembered, "I had always wanted to do a Western just so I could shoot myself in the foot. I got what I wanted. More than a few times."

There were treasure map episodes, escaped outlaw episodes, and other stories including a memorable episode which saw a pair of thieves demanding a date with the women, only to be met instead by Denver and Tucker in drag. With sparkling dialogue ("What kind of scout wears women's clothes?" asks Denver. "A girl scout," says Tucker), in true sitcom fashion the crooks don't know the difference, and actually try to molest a girl who looks like Forrest Tucker, until his wig falls off.

Dusty's Trail lasted just 26 episodes, but three of its stories were repackaged for a well recieved theatrical release, titled The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West.

Says Lori Saunders, "I did love the crew. Forrest Tucker was an interesting guy, full of life and loved to drink. I don't think he ever did a show sober, but he could handle it and God bless him."

Said Denver, "It ran briefly, was seen by few, disappeared from the airwaves and it rests now in a vault somewhere, Peacefully, I hope." In the late 1990s the first eight episodes were finally released on home video, giving a new generation to discover this western television classic. Denver then moved into the field of animation, providing his voice to the cartoon Far Out Space Nuts in 1975.

Said Sherwood Schwartz, "Dusty's Trail taught me a very valuable lesson. Don't ever do the same thing twice, if you did it right the first time."

Rest easy Bob Denver, you've deserved it.

No comments: