Russell Johnson died Thursday, January 16, at his home. He lived in Washington with his wife, Constance, and daughter, Kim, by his side. Johnson, 89, had been in good health and had appeared at a trade show just before Christmas to sign autographs. He was the last surviving male star of the hit show, ‘Gilligan’s Island’.
Before becoming an actor, Johnson joined the US Air Force, called the US Army Air Force at the time, as an aviation cadet. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he flew 44 missions as a bombardier on B-25s on bombing runs over Japan.
In March 1945, Johnson’s plane and two other B-25s were shot down over the Philippines. The radio operator beside him killed while Johnson broke both ankles. Awarded a Purple Heart for this mission, Johnson also received the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon and the World War II Victory Medal. Honorably discharged as first lieutenant in November 1945, Johnson joined the Army Reserve. Using the GI Bill for financing, he studied acting at the Actors Lab in Hollywood.
Johnson, a television and movie actor, was best known for his starring role as ‘the Professor’ on the 1960s hit show, ‘Gilligan’s Island’.
As played by Johnson, the Professor was the most level-headed castaway. Displaying more patience with Gilligan than the rest, the Professor was called on to settle disputes. Although seldom mentioned, the castaways respected the Professor because of a wealth of knowledge and wisdom which resulted in him often being the leader of the group.
For reasons that were never made clear, the Professor brought a large number of books with him for a “three hour tour”. Many times, he would mysteriously pull out just the book that is needed to either fix or explain a problem the castaways were facing. The Professor had the ability to build anything from bamboo and coconuts. Despite his skills, he was unable to build a raft or anything that would help them escape the island.
Despite four decades having passed since Gilligan’s Island first premiered, many people still watch it in reruns today. Annual Gilligan Island ‘conventions are held throughout the world. One of the featured activities is a Q&A game show. Think Jeopardy-meets-Paradise. Here are four things that someone might not know about Johnson:
1. When he was auditioning for the role, Johnson was asked to take his shirt off. He refused but still got the part.
2. During the first season, the Professor and Mary Ann were left out of the theme song and just referred to as “the rest”.
3. The scene showing the S.S. Minnow setting sail has a flag at half mast on the shore in the background. It was filmed on November 22, 1963 the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
4. The favorite scenes of Russell Johnson and the rest of the cast were the dream sequences. A story telling device that was often used to take the castaways off of the island.
Despite a long movie and television career, Johnson was best known for portraying Roy Hinkley on the hit show, Gilligan’s Island from 1964 to 1967. Known on the show as just “the Professor”, his character could build almost anything out of the most basic materials found on the island. Despite all of his inventions, he could never figure out how to fix the hole on the boat.
Russell Johnson was kept busy as a television guest and some starring roles went to him when Gilligan’s Island went off the air. When he was not filming, Johnson served as a volunteer for AIDS research fundraising in memory of his son, David, who had died in 1994 of complications related to AIDS.
Russell Johnson, aka ‘the Professor’, dies at 89. He has now set sail on a cruise lasting longer than three hours.
By Jerry Nelson