By SUZANNE HIGGINS
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
PRINCETON (AP) — Dreama Peery, a native of Mercer County, was a young, single, stage actress in 1977 when she met actor Bob Denver, known internationally for his title character in the 1960’s “Gilligan’s Island” television series.
In the lovely home they eventually shared in Princeton, Dreama talked about their life together and how she believes they were meant to find each other.
Dreama recalled how she had auditioned and won the female lead in a production of Woody Allen’s “Play it Again, Sam” to be staged in Florida.
She asked the producers who was playing the lead male role.
“And they said Bob Denver. And my honest reaction was, ‘Gilligan? Are you’re kidding me? I have to do love scenes with Gilligan?”’ she laughed.
Dreama said on the first day of rehearsals she arrived to see the marquee had misspelled her name, calling her Dreamer Peery. So she went into the theater look for a producer to correct the sign.
“And suddenly I heard Bob’s voice shouting ‘I’m going to be working with a dreamer! What is that?”’
“So I walked over and I said ‘I’m the dreamer you’re going to be working with, but it’s actually Dreama.”’
“He said ‘your name is Dreama? Well, that’s a beautiful name, nice to meet you.’
“And he put his hand out and we shook hands and I’m telling you, lust at first sight, love and first sight, I don’t know what you want to call it, but sparks flew!”
They were together for almost 30 years. Dreama said the beginning of the marriage was nothing but great fun, Hollywood events, and elbow-rubbing with the biggest celebrities of the day.
“I was this little girl from West Virginia asking myself what was I doing here at CBS’s 50th Anniversary looking at Alfred Hitchcock and Walter Cronkite and Bob Newhart and all the Waltons and Mary Tyler Moore?,” she said.
“We were leading a charmed life, spent a lot of time in Hawaii, and then we decided we were going to have a baby.”
And that started the Denvers on a journey that tested them as individuals and as a couple. Their lives and lifestyle would change forever, but according to Dreama, their commitment and love never wavered.
Their beloved son Colin was born with autism.
“At the beginning, we didn’t suspect anything was wrong, but by 6 months we knew something wasn’t quite right. But the doctors said, ‘don’t worry, he’s going at his own pace,”’ Dreama recalled. “So you run with that! You desperately want to believe your baby is fine.”
At age 2, Colin was initially diagnosed as severely retarded. The diagnosis of autism came later.
“I don’t need to tell you what that does to a mother. I’ll have to show you a picture. He was an absolutely beautiful child. But he didn’t walk until he was 31/2, and he still doesn’t talk,” said Dreama.
“I’ve never heard ‘I love you, Mom.’ I don’t know what his dreams are, I don’t know what he thinks or what he feels about things. Can you imagine not having a conversation with your child ever?”
For the next 21 years, Bob and Dreama were Colin’s sole caregivers. Dreama said Bob was absolutely devoted to his wife and son, worked tirelessly for his family, and always kept an amazing sense of humor throughout those challenging years.
“Bob loved me, we both loved our son, he was not going to leave me alone to do this by myself. And so he set aside his career,” said Dreama. “He would do personal appearances, guest-starring roles on shows where he could go and be gone for one night, maybe two, and then get right back home.
“He didn’t pursue any more series work or anything; he set it all aside to take care of his son. For 21 years. I think that speaks volumes about who he was.
“That was Bob Denver, the man.”
The Denvers moved to southern West Virginia, where Dreama still had family. She says Bob loved his adopted home state and loved the Princeton community. He appreciated the way residents welcomed him as well as the way they respected his privacy.
In honor of Colin, Dreama and Bob founded the nonprofit Denver Foundation, to assist special needs individuals in West Virginia and their families.
Recently, Dreama’s book about her life with Bob and Colin became available through Amazon; it’s also a Kindle book. It’s called “Gilligan’s Dreams: The Other Side of the Island.”
“And the reason it’s called that, you know Bob always called me Dreams, so that sort of encompassed not only Gilligan’s dreams, writing the book, but his dreams for our son, and his foundation, and all the work we set out to do together,” said Dreama.
“It’s about unconditional love; it’s about making vows, and sticking with them in the face of everything difficult. It’s about unconditional love for a son with autism.”
“It’s daunting and difficult, but somewhere along the way, you find a way to accept what you can’t change, you dig down and start pulling up the strength to get through it,” said Dreama. “You find it somewhere, to get through it with somebody you love.”
Bob Denver died in 2005 at age 70 of complications following cancer treatment.
Dreama now has the assistance of caregivers as she continues to care for Colin in Princeton. She also continues the work of the Denver Foundation.