Bob Denver's near miss with military service could've changed TV history

His career was almost over before it really took off.

Warner Brothers

The "almosts" and "could've been's" of television are so fun to speculate about. Did you know Macaulay Culkin was supposed to be in The Big Bang Theory? He was in talks to play Leonard! Ellen DeGeneres was reportedly offered the role of Phoebe in Friends! Things could've played out very differently on our TVs, at several points over the years. Bob Odenkirk could've been Michael Scott on The Office! Who knows what the world would look like under these strange Twilight Zone circumstances?

Here's another point where history could've diverged forever: Bob Denver's acting career was nearly interrupted before Gilligan's Island. Fans will recall that before becoming our little buddy, Denver starred as Maynard G. Krebs in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Shortly after landing the role, the U.S. Army came a-knockin'. It was 1959, early into the show's first season, when Denver's number was called.

Denver explained what nearly happened in a 1978 interview with The Akron Beacon Journal.

"Everybody thought, 'Well, that's it," Denver recalled. "They even hired [Michael J.] Pollard to play Maynard's cousin and eventually move into Maynard's place, complete with a contract for 25 shows."

However, unbeknownst to Denver, he'd been living with a broken neck since a childhood accident. His Army physical revealed that he'd be unfit for service, and the military gave him a 4-F classification, meaning he was exempt from duty. 

"They had to pay off Michael [J. Pollard]'s contract," said Denver. "He thought it was terrific; work for a couple of shows and get paid for 25."

Thank goodness for that broken neck, too. If he hadn't made such an impact as Maynard G. Krebs, who knows if Denver would've been allowed to be Gilligan?

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7 Comments

nightshade 2 days ago
how do you not know you have/had a broken neck ?
Wiseguy70005 15 days ago
My favorite what-if moment concerns actor Roger Bowen and what if he hadn't been on the series Arnie in early 1972. Bowen, who played Col. Blake in the movie MASH (no asterisks in the movie title), most certainly would have been asked to play the part on TV. Bowen, who appeared often on TV, probably would not have left after three seasons. There would have been no reason to replace the character so no Harry Morgan or Col. Potter. Whether the series would have eleven seasons is debatable. All because of the series Arnie which most people don't even remember today.
BorisK 19 days ago
I can't see Pollard as Maynard OR Gilligan. With all respect, a little Michael J Pollard goes a long way ... don't believe he'd have Denver's energy and likeability for either character.
15inchBlackandWhite 20 days ago
I recently heard Tommy James give an interview where he recounted how the mobbed-up record label he worked for used their....umm.....influence to get his New York draft board to reclassify him as 4F.
JHP 20 days ago
could have changed US history too:)
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