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TV URBAN LEGEND: Was Scooby-Doo really based on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis?
Pinpointing what inspires the creation of a TV series can often be a difficult proposition. I’ve done a number of legends on it over the years, like how a disc jockey’s joke inadvertently relaunched Alvin and the Chipmunks in the 1980s (including their hit TV series) or how a strange contract clause on a cop show led to the creation of Baretta. Today we look at the creation of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and whether the cartoon was based on the early 1960s TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was based on Max Shulman’s Dobie Gillis college student character, whom he introduced in a series of short stories in the early 1950s. Shulman then adapted the character into a hit 1953 film starring Bobby Van as Dobie and Debbie Reynolds as his love interest. In 1959, Shulman then adapted the character to TV with tThe Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, with a shift from a college setting to high school. The series starred Dwayne Hickman as the “every teen” Dobie Gillis, with a pre-Gilligan Bob Denver as his beatnik best friend Maynard G. Krebs. Warren Beatty was the rich jerk Milton, Tuesday Weld was the rich girl Thalia, whom Dobie desperately wants to impress, and Sheila James was Dobie’s brainiac friend Zelda, who’s smitten with Dobie. The high-school comedy reminded a lot of people of the adventures of Archie Andrews and his friends (I delved into the possibility of an Archie/Dobie connection in a Comic Book Legends Revealed a while back).
So did Scooby Doo simply take the characters of Dobie, Maynard, Thalia and Zelda and give them a Great Dane?
Scooby Doo, Where Are You! launched in 1969. It was created at the request of Fred Silverman, then head of daytime programming at CBS, who wanted Hanna-Barbara to give him a mixture of The Archie Show (a 1968 CBS animated series based on the Archie characters with the gang playing in their band, The Archies; it launched the hit song “Sugar, Sugar”) with a mystery show. Essentially, it would have a band that would solve mysteries in its spare time (with the mysteries taking on a bit of a horror feel to them, as Silverman was a big fan of the old-school Universal horror films). William Hanna and Joseph Barbara delegated production of the show to writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears and artist Iwao Takamoto. Their first effort was pretty much a literal translation of what Silverman asked for, a show based on The Archie Show, only the teens would fight crime between gigs. It was dubbed Mysteries Five and had five teens (just like The Archies) and their dog, Two Much, who were all members of a band named (shockingly enough) Mysteries Five. Two Much would play bongos. They originally designed Two Much as a Great Dane but then changed him to a sheepdog, like Hot Dog from The Archie Show.
Silverman sent them back to the drawing board.
Although the Archie characters were initially suggested as inspiration, Silverman had also mentioned the cast of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, so this time around, Ruby, Spears and Takamoto decided to go with that idea. They reduced the members of the band to four members and then based them on Dobie, Maynard, Thalia and Zelda. They kept Two Much and went back to their original Great Dane design. They pitched the concept again, and Silverman liked it, except he wanted a name change — to Who’s S-S-Scared?
However, when Silverman then pitched the projected to his bosses as CBS, they didn’t like the idea, as they felt that it was TOO scary. So Silverman had Hanna-Barbera re-tool the show and make the dog the focus to play up the comedic aspects. Silverman also suggested the name of the dog, based on the famous scat line from Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” (which had only come out a few years earlier), “doo-be-doo-be-doo.”
Amusingly enough, the show debuted opposite another new animated series on ABC, The Hardy Boys, which was about a band that — you guessed it — solved crimes between gigs! The Hardy Boys actually is noteworthy for being the first animated TV series to feature an African-American cast member. Scooby Doo, Where Are You! crushed its competition in the ratings and went on to become one of the most popular animated series ever, and it’s still going strong more than 40 years later.
And they owe a lot of it to The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis!
The legend is …
Thanks to reader Hank for suggesting this a while back on Comic Book Legends Revealed.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music.