Family & Companions
Among the first teen idols spawned by the increasing influence of television on American culture during the 1950s, Dwayne Hickman followed older brother Darryl into show business and ended up eclipsing him. Hickman's initial film roles were unmemorable and it seemed like he would not gain enough traction to develop a motion picture career. However, upon being cast in the situation comedy "The Bob Cummings Show" (NBC/CBS, 1955-59), he quickly developed a fan following and displayed an increasing degree of comedic talent. When that program ended, Hickman moved into his own series, "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1959-1963). As the title teenager who spent his days yearning for the love, popularity and privilege enjoyed by the rich students at his high school, Hickman's unforced charm and polished timing went over well with viewers, particularly teenage girls, resulting in a huge fan following. When the show ran its course, however, Hickman found it increasingly difficult to find worthwhile parts and enjoyed a second vocation as a CBS programming executive and sitcom director. In later life, he accepted occasional movie and television assignments, while concentrating on lucrative freelance work as a painter and paid speaker. Hickman remained beloved by the Baby Boomer generation decades after his television fame and displayed a remarkable ability to reinvent himself over the course of an over 60-year career.
The younger brother of actor Darryl Hickman, Dwayne Bernard Hickman was born in Los Angeles on May 18, 1934. With his sibling already performing from a young age, Hickman followed suit and first appeared before movie cameras as an extra in the John Ford classic "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940). His first role of any consequence came in the biographical drama "Captain Eddie" (1945), which also featured his brother. Hickman was utilized in several other pictures throughout that decade, but almost always in minor, uncredited bits. When he reached his late teens, Hickman attended Loyola University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics, but it was not long before he returned to acting and made a much bigger splash than his previous foray. It was not motion pictures, but the developing medium of television where Hickman found fame. He had a handful of TV guest star outings before joining the cast of "The Bob Cummings Show" (NBC/CBS, 1955-59), where he earned laughs as the star's nephew and quickly developed a fan base among the show's younger viewers.
Hickman's newfound notoriety earned him a supporting part in the Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward comedy "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!" (1958), but the ratings for "The Bob Cummings Show" eventually declined and it was cancelled in 1959. Hickman was not out of work for very long, however, as CBS quickly offered him his own series, "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1959-1963). Hickman played the title character, a high school student hoping to score with any number of pretty girls who were way out of his league socially. In between those misadventures, he hung out with his ever idle best friend, beatnik Maynard G. Krebbs (future "Gilligan's Island" star Bob Denver). Hickman was actually in his mid-twenties by that point, but viewers were won over by his charm, and the program was able to hold its own without every becoming a breakout hit. Although Hickman's popularity was now at its height, an attempt to transform him into a pop star met with failure when he proved to be a less than gifted singer. In 1963, he married actress Carol Christensen and the couple had a son together. "Dobie Gillis" left the air following a four-year run, but Hickman found guest work on various network programs and played a supporting role in the popular comic Western "Cat Ballou" (1965). His status as a youth icon also made him a natural for the youth-oriented drive-in fare of the day, including "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" (1965) and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" (1965), but TV work eventually became increasingly scarce and the awful comedy "Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding!" (1967) proved to be his last movie for more than 25 years.
Hickman decided to explore other options and worked for a time as entertainment director at Howard Hughes' Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas. He soon returned to Hollywood, but opted to remain predominantly behind-the-scenes. Just as he had followed Darryl into acting, Hickman once again chose the same career as his brother, joining the program executive ranks at CBS. Over the next decade, Hickman was responsible for such hits as "M*A*S*H" (CBS, 1972-1983) and "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78) as well as the network's daytime line-up. He also rejoined old colleague Bob Denver for the half-hour pilot "Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?" (CBS, 1977), though this venture did not result in a new series. Hickman's marriage to Christensen ended during this period. His second wife worked outside the entertainment industry and their union was over after only four years. However, Hickman's third trip to the altar proved to be the real deal. In 1983, he wed actress Joan Roberts and fathered a son with her. The couple remained together for more than thirty years.
Keeping his hand firmly in the business, Hickman further expanded his repertoire in the late 1980s by working as a director, helming programs like "Charles in Charge" (CBS/syndicated, 1984-1990) and "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993), and starred in a second reunion vehicle, "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1988), a full length made-for-TV feature. In 1994, he penned his autobiography, Forever Dobie.The Many Lives of Dwayne Hickman and had a recurring role on the TV spin-off of "Clueless" (ABC/UPN, 1996-99). He also resumed appearing in motion pictures that decade, but the only one of his movies to receive any notable release was the "Saturday Night Live"-inspired flop "A Night at the Roxbury" (1998). At that point, Hickman largely left acting behind to concentrate on architecture and painting, and the latter pursuit proved to be quite fruitful, both artistically and financially. He also established himself as a professional speaker and worked as a master of ceremonies and professional greeter for corporate functions. In one of his more offbeat assignments, Hickman made a gag cameo as one "Maynard G. Gillis" in the little seen comedy "Angels with Angles" (2005).
By John Charles