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As a kid, a favorite television show of mine was "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963. It also appeared in syndication many years afterwards. I'm not sure many adults followed it at the time, but the kids became addicted to it as it was one of the few shows examining the trials and tribulations of a teenager transitioning into adulthood. Dobie (played by Dwayne Hickman) would usually open the show next to a statue of Rodin's "The Thinker" where he would give a monologue to the television audience pondering a specific aspect of life. Although it was intended to be a comedy, Dobie questioned such things as family relationships, attracting the opposite sex, money, education, ethics; questions we all ask ourselves particularly at a young age. Even though it was done with humor, there was usually a profound message to each episode, at least to Dobie, which is why youth gravitated to the show. As an aside, I particularly enjoyed Dobie's father, Herbert T. Gillis (played by Frank Faylen), a cantankerous, hard-working WW2 vet who owned a local grocery store. We could all relate to the family dynamics in the Gillis household.
Not long ago, I was pleased to discover the show was played on an "oldies" cable channel but in the wee hours of the morning. Fortunately, I was able to DVR it, and watch it at my leisure. There was one episode which I found particularly interesting, "Names My Mother Called Me," where Dobie is invited to meet a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who inspired his unusual first name, Dr. D.W. Klein, whose character was based on Albert Einstein, the great physicist. Today's generation would compare him to British physicist Stephen Hawking.
In this particular episode, Dr. Klein wants to retire and pursue other interests. As Dr. Klein has greatly influenced how people think and view the world around them, the press is hounding him for one final statement regarding the meaning of life. A press conference is arranged, but prior to attending it, Dr. Klein calls for a meeting with Dobie Gillis (of all people), who is surprised by the invitation. As it turns out, Dobie's mother (played by Florida Friebus) knew Dr. Klein many years ago and asked his permission to use his first name. Dr. Klein was flattered by the request and, consequently, quietly watched Dobie grow up from afar. This, of course, surprises Dobie, but he wonders how he can help the doctor:
KLEIN: "I spent a lifetime trying to make the world a better place to live in, but what is the world except the people who live in it? And what are the people who live in it except a lot of individuals, like you."
DOBIE: "Dr. Klein, you've done a wonderful job of making the world a better place to live."
KLEIN: "Is it much of a place to live in right now?"
KLEIN: "The truth."
DOBIE: "It's miserable."
KLEIN: "You bet it is, and part of the reason is that people like me who try to improve life have been too busy to live it and learn what it's all about."
KLEIN: "Dobie, at the age when you were dancing with Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld), I was locked in a laboratory working out a theory that only a few eggheads like me even cared about. While I was standing by observing, you were living, you were part of life, I was outside it. Now tell me, which of us is in a better position to give advice on what the world needs?"
DOBIE: "Me? Oh, no..."
KLEIN: "You, yes, that's why I'm going back to fundamentals, to the basic primitive things. I've got to try to learn the things you already know. And that's the advice I want from you Dobie: What does the world really want from life?"
DOBIE: "Oh, come on Dr. Klein, what does a kid like me know about that?"
KLEIN: "Plenty, because you lived life. Now speak up Dobie, don't be a prima donna."
DOBIE: "Well, I guess I want what everybody wants, happiness."
KLEIN: "What is happiness?"
DOBIE: "Honestly, Dr. Klein..."
KLEIN: "Don't poke along Dobie, get to the point."
DOBIE: "Well, one part of happiness is having a girl."
KLEIN: "A girl? Well, a girl, of course."
DOBIE: "And friends, people you care about, people who care about you."
KLEIN: "Yes, that we know."
DOBIE: "Well, everybody wants a chance for an education, so they can learn how to make a living, and they want some time to enjoy themselves after they're through working so they can make that living mean something. And, of course, they want peace, or else none of the rest of it means anything."
KLEIN: "Peace? Well we've all tried; how would you go about achieving that Dobie?"
DOBIE: "Well, for openers, I'd try to make people more polite."
KLEIN: "Well, I'm all for that, but how do you think politeness would bring about peace?"
DOBIE: "Oh, sure it would! Well, I don't mean polite only on the surface like taking your hat off on elevators or using the right fork. I mean polite inside, in your heart, an honest respect for the other guy's feelings and opinions, even if you don't agree with him."
KLEIN: "Ah-ha, that doesn't seem like too much to ask, yet it's everything isn't it?"
DOBIE: "They need one more thing, one more thing, time to dream about better days, about a fine new world."
KLEIN: "That's a heck of a fine dream."
DOBIE: "It's a heck of a necessary dream, because, well, we've got to dream before we can plan."
KLEIN: "Indeed, you do. Dobie, those people out there, they're waiting for some final word from me, some memorable message."
DOBIE: "They sure are. They made me promise to get it to them."
KLEIN: "So you will."
DOBIE: "Yes sir. I'll get a pencil and write it down."
KLEIN: "No Dobie, you're going to give them the message, your own message."
DOBIE: "Me? Oh no, come on now Doctor..."
KLEIN: "You, of course; Dobie, you're the hope of the world, you and millions of others like you. Young enough to dream, young enough to make those dreams come true. Now go Dobie, give them the message they're waiting for. I'm going to sneak out the back door; crowds bug me."
DOBIE: "But I can't speak for you."
KLEIN: "Says who? What they want from me, I can no longer give them. You can; you can give them hope. Now go on son. And son, speak up, now don't mumble, I'm counting on you."
As implausible a scenario as this episode represents, that a scientific genius would seek the advice of a young adult, it does offer a simple yet profound message, that the world would be a better place if we just treated ourselves with a little love and respect. It may sound corny, but there is nothing wrong with what Dobie is proposing. If you read the dialog closely, you discover the characters considered the world a mess, as well as their socialization skills and discourse at the time, something we have all been feeling lately. I was pleasantly surprised by the show's message and was startled by the parallel between now and back then (51 years ago).
A little politeness, eh? I'm not sure that will play any better in the 21st century than it did in the 20th. I can only hope.
Keep the Faith!
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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.