November 5, 2011
Dreama's island: Gilligan's legacy is alive
Douglas Imbrogno
Douglas Imbrogno
Of her late husband, Bob Denver, "I feel a huge responsibility to represent him," Dreama Denver says, standing on the deck of the Mercer County house where they raised their severely disabled child.

PRINCETON, W.Va. -- If you live in West Virginia, you likely already knew the curious fact that "Gilligan" had come to live in these hills, moving here in 1990.

You may even know that Bob Denver, made world famous by his adventures on "Gilligan's Island," had fallen for a West Virginia woman named Dreama and that they'd moved to a house near her old stomping grounds.

But if that's about all you know, read on.

Because the full story of how an iconic actor ended up living out his days in West Virginia is not just a true-love romance, although it certainly is that. It's also the drama of a couple faced with life-shaking decisions after the birth of a profoundly disabled boy.

And it's a tale that unfolds to this day, six years after Denver's death. Through Little Buddy Radio and the Denver Foundation, Dreama Denver devotes her waking life to her husband's legacy not just as a beloved TV character, but as a parent confronting the difficult hand dealt his family.

Kissing Gilligan

One day in 1977, the phone rang with a call that would redirect Dreama Peery's life.

"You should try out for this theater production of 'Play It Again, Sam' in St. Petersburg," a friend told her.

Peery, a Bluefield native who then called Florida home, was a busy professional actress at the time. "I think I will," she said.

She landed the female lead of Linda, who's in a relationship with a character named Allan, so there'd be some kissing during the show's six-week run.

"Who's playing Allan?" she asked the director.

"Bob Denver," replied the director.

"Gilligan?" she said. "I'm going to have to kiss Gilligan?"

Within two years from the time their lips first met onstage, Dreama Peery had become Mrs. Denver.

It must have been some kiss.

Sitting at her Southern West Virginia home in the Mercer County hills, Dreama Denver picks up the tale of how a small-city girl ended up marrying a cultural touchstone known around the globe.

"I came to rehearsal the first day and got there first," she recalled. "They had a marquee on the theater that said: 'Bob Denver starring in 'Play it Again, Sam.' Also starring 'Dreamer Peery.'" Bob walked into rehearsal, going kind of at the top of his lungs: 'What the hell is a Dreamer?'"

She walked up to introduce herself. They shook hands.

"The minute we shook hands it was like, 'Ah, there you are!' It was like we'd been looking for each other forever. I was 26. He was 42, but looked 30," she said.

Their onstage romance in "Play It Again, Sam" soon led offstage.

"We got together and kissed personally, not onstage, at the opening-night party. From that moment on we were pretty much together for the next 28 years. We both knew the moment we saw each other we were meant to be together.

"Corny as it sounds," she added with a smile, "it was true."

They married in Las Vegas, during the filming of one of the several movies spun off from the "Gilligan's Island" TV show, "The Castaways on Gilligan's Island." That was in 1979, yet when asked in interviews in what year he and Dreama were married, Denver would reply '1977,' she said. "Bob always answered '77, since we felt married from the get-go."

Someplace peaceful

Bob Denver was not the first prominent actor with whom Dreama had worked onstage.

"I'd been on the road for about eight years working with all kinds of celebrities," she said. "Sal Mineo. Gale Gordon from 'The Lucy Show.' Robert Horton from 'The Virginians.' Bob Cummings from 'The Bob Cummings Show.' Al Lewis from 'The Munsters.'"

She continued working even as she began to experience her husband's circle of fame. At one point, she even got a small role in one of the "Gilligan" made-for-TV movies. It was a movie with one of the more absurd premises inspired by a show that traded in absurdity: "The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island."

"I was Mrs. Howell's social secretary in 'Globetrotters.' Kind of a cult fave," she recalled of the 1981 production. "Silly movie. But so much fun!"

In 1984, they had a child. It was Dreama's first and would be her only child. Denver already had three children from two previous marriages. They named their newborn son Colin.

"We were living in Santa Barbara [Calif.] when Colin was born," Dreama recalled. "We moved from there to Las Vegas and lived there for about five years."

It soon became apparent that Colin was not passing the usual developmental benchmarks of a growing infant and youth. He was eventually diagnosed as being severely autistic.

He would need full-time care, the doctors said, for the rest of his life.

The couple had little hesitation about who Colin's full-time caregivers would be. Where that care would take place was the question.

"When we knew he had problems and the two of us were going to have to give full-time care for him, we decided we wanted to do it someplace quiet and off the beaten path. Bob suggested West Virginia. I said: 'Really? You would want to live in West Virginia?'"

"Sure," he answered. "Someplace beautiful, someplace peaceful."

All right, then.

She was going home.

"We had a Realtor start looking for a house for us. And we moved here, mainly to take care of Colin."

Is Gilligan home?

The house sits at the end of a curving road up in the Mercer County hills, with a deck overlooking a small pond.

With the couple's move to the state in 1990, both gave up their acting careers, although Denver would continue to do celebrity appearances as Gilligan.

It was difficult for Dreama, who still has the Equity card of a professional actress, to walk away from the stage.

"That was really hard. I mean really, really hard for me to let that go. I liked it more than Bob did. But you do what you have to do."

Word got around that Dreama was back in the area and that she'd brought a certain someone with her.

"I went to some store, and somebody who had known me from the past and that I didn't recognize was like, 'Dreama?!' And I'm like, 'Yeah?' And she goes: 'Oh my god, it's Dreama! She came back and she brought Gilligan with her!'

"So, I'm like, 'Yeah.'"

Then, the gawkers started driving up their road. They were hunting for Gilligan.

"One time, an SUV pulled up in the driveway and it was a family -- kids and parents. So I yelled out, 'Can I help you?' The man got out of the car and said, 'We hoped to be able to meet Gilligan.' He caught me in a good mood. Sometimes it was really invasive to have people coming up here all the time."

She said she could maybe get them an autographed picture.

"He was like, 'OK.' And I say, 'How did you find out that this is where Bob lived?'"

His family was vacationing at nearby Pipestem State Resort, the man said. He'd asked at the front desk whether it was true the "Gilligan" guy lived in the area.

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