TV Legends Revealed | Jinkies! The Mysterious Origins of ‘Scooby-Doo’

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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?

dobiemaynardzeldaIt sure seems like it.

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.”

scooby-doo-confusedAmusingly 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 …

STATUS: True

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 bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music.

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Comments

  • http://clintjcl.tumblr.com/ ClintJCL

    Amazing!

  • nailsin

    So Shaggy was really Gilligan.

  • MaskedManAICN

    I remember seeing an interview with Joe Ruby, claiming he developed a dog mystery show and during a pitch session with Fred Silverman, Barbara had run out of things to pitch- so Ruby stepped up and pitched his show which Fred liked but it ticked off Barbara. Also, if you checkout the HANNA-BARBARA TREASURY, it has a few pictures of the early Scooby designs (a great dane puppy and a big white dog (not quite a sheep dog).

    Anyway, really nice piece :)

  • demoncat_4

    so shaggy really was based on a bob denver character after all. not gilligan but mynard.

  • twiztor

    how and when did the group come to be called “Mystery Inc”? i never remember them being referred to as such in the shows, but around the time Cartoon Network launched (early 90s) i started hearing them called this. Any ideas?

  • Spike-X

    And is it true that all the ‘monsters’ had to be revealed as fakes due to Standards and Practices not allowing depictions of the supernatural in kids’ cartoons?

  • blackmoses

    I’m pretty sure it originates from the comic books, probably sometime in the late 70s/early 80s.

  • blackmoses

    No, fake monsters in the old-fashioned whodunit mystery style was the original key concept of the series. It was important, however, that the show be nonviolent.

  • blackmoses

    In the Joe Ruby interviews I’ve heard, he and Ken Spears were assigned by Barbera to create what eventually became “Scooby-Doo”. The dog was Ruby’s idea, however – Barbera’s original concept, which he abandoned before bringing in Ruby and Spears, just involved teenagers.

    Ruby may have been referencing pitch meetings to Silverman after Ruby and Spears started their own studio, where Ruby-Spears and Hanna-Barbera were in direct competition until Taft Broadcasting (which already owned HB) bought Ruby-Spears circa 1982, and the two companies became corporate siblings and more friendly rivals.

  • blackmoses

    Watch a season one or two episode of “Dobie Gillis” (one with Zelda in it) and an early episode of “Scooby-Doo” and the similarities are more clear. “Hassle in the Castle”, episode 3 of “Scooby-Doo”, reinterprets the Maynard G. Krebs character’s running gag of popping up saying “you rang?” when someone describes something disgusting by having Shaggy do the same thing whenever Velma mentions something that could be interpreted as an idiom for stupidity (“We’re lost in a fog!” “You buzzed?”)

    Also, via “Dobie”, we can see where Velma’s oversized turtleneck sweater came from – she apparently borrowed it from Zelda, as Sheila James wears such a sweater in several “Dobie” episodes.

  • helmet

    No, Shaggy was Maynard