- For other people with this or similar names see Russell Johnson (disambiguation).
Russell Johnson at age 35 in Black Saddle (1960)
|Born||Russell David Johnson
November 10, 1924
Ashley, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||January 16, 2014
Bainbridge Island, Washington, U.S.
Cause of death
|Known for||Gilligan's Island as Professor Roy Hinkley|
|Spouse(s)||Edith Cahoon (1943–1948, divorced)
Kay Cousins (1949–1980, her death)
Constance Dane (1982–2014, his death)
Johnson was born on November 10, 1924, in Ashley, in Luzerne County in Northeastern Pennsylvania, just south of Wilkes-Barre. He was a graduate of Girard College, a private boarding school for orphaned children in Philadelphia. His parents Russell J. and Minnie K. Johnson were farmers, as indicated in the 1930 census. Russell David Johnson had a sister, Marian L. Johnson, who was a year older.
After high school, in the midst of World War II, Johnson joined the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He flew 44 combat missions as a bombardier in B-25 twin-engine medium bombers.
While flying as a navigator in a B-25 with the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, 13th Air Force, his plane and two other B-25s were shot down over the Philippines on March 4, 1945 during a low-level bombing and strafing run against Japanese targets. The planes were hit by intense flak and had to ditch in the waters off the port of Zamboanga. During the ditching, he broke both ankles and the radioman next to him was killed. Johnson earned a Purple Heart for this mission. He was also awarded the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three service stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one service star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
He was honorably discharged with the rank of first lieutenant on November 22, 1945. He then joined the Army Reserve and used the G.I. Bill to fund his acting studies at the Actors Lab in Hollywood. At acting school, he met actress Kay Cousins; they married on July 23, 1949.
Movie and television career
Johnson became a close friend of Audie Murphy and later appeared with him in three of his films, Column South and Tumbleweed in 1953 and Ride Clear of Diablo in 1954. Johnson's Hollywood career began in 1952, with the college fraternity hazing exposé For Men Only, and with Loan Shark, also released in 1952 and starring George Raft. His early roles were primarily in westerns such as Law and Order (opposite Ronald Reagan), and science fiction such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), This Island Earth (1955), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1956), and The Space Children (1958). He also appeared in a Ma and Pa Kettle vehicle, Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki (1955).
During the 1950s, he guest starred on Rod Cameron's syndicated crime drama City Detective. He played the head of a gang of crooks in episode 17 of season 1 of The Adventures of Superman (originally broadcast in January, 1953, filmed in 1951). Johnson was also cast on the religion anthology series Crossroads. He also played "The Sundown Kid" in an episode of the 1958 NBC western series Jefferson Drum and guest starred in another NBC western series, The Californians.
Johnson appeared three times on the syndicated military drama The Silent Service, based on actual stories of the submarine section of the United States Navy. Johnson was cast as Hugh Grafton and as Tom Richards in two 1960 episodes, "Intermission" and "The Desperate Challenge", both with June Allyson on her CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. He costarred with William Shatner in "The Hungry Glass", a 1961 episode of Thriller. Johnson was cast as John T. Metcalf in the 1962 episode "Mile-Long Shot to Kill" of CBS's anthology series GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. In 1963, he was cast in an episode of the short-lived ABC/Warner Brothers western series The Dakota. Later in that same year, he was cast in the series premiere of the ABC medical drama Breaking Point, starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz.
From 1959 to 1960, Johnson had a recurring role as Marshal Gib Scott on the ABC half-hour western series Black Saddle, with Peter Breck as the gunslinger-turned-lawyer Clay Culhane, Anna-Lisa as Nora Travers, J. Pat O'Malley as Judge Caleb Marsh, and Walter Burke as Tim Potter.
Twilight Zone episodes
Johnson appeared in two episodes of The Twilight Zone. His character attempted to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in "Back There". He appeared as a college professor in the episode "Execution". The plot of both episodes involved time travel from the 20th to the 19th centuries. In both episodes, Johnson plays a professor, foreshadowing his role on Gilligan's Island.
Outer Limits episode
"The Professor" on Gilligan's Island
Johnson was best known for playing the handsome Professor Roy Hinkley (usually called the "Professor"), the very knowledgeable polymath who could build all sorts of inventions out of the most rudimentary materials available on the island. But, as Johnson himself pointed out, he could not fix the hole in the boat. In the first episode, the radio announcer describes the Professor as a research scientist and well-known Scoutmaster. Gilligan's Island aired from 1964 to 1967, but has been shown in reruns continuously ever since.
After Gilligan's Island
After Gilligan's Island, Johnson appeared in several other movies and television shows, especially the latter. He appeared in several dramatic series, including The Big Valley with Peter Breck, The Invaders, Death Valley Days, Lassie, That Girl, Ironside, The F.B.I, and Gunsmoke. He appeared perhaps most notably in the miniseries Vanished, based on a novel by Fletcher Knebel (1971), uncredited in the Robert Redford spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), and on the NBC soap opera Santa Barbara.
In an interview with Starlog magazine in the early 1980s, Johnson said that he had wanted to appear in the original Star Trek during its run on NBC from 1966 to 1969, but he was never cast. An episode of CBS's Newhart featured the Beavers (a men's organization) watching a Gilligan's Island episode on television. When they are suddenly evicted from the room, one of them, portrayed by Johnson, protests, "I want to see how it ends!" He is assured that the castaways don't get off the island.
Johnson played the sheriff in several episodes of season 9 of Dallas; his character did not return in season 10, however, as season 9 turned out to be the infamous "dream season".
Johnson entertained fans at the 1996 MST3K ContevtioConExpoFest-a-Rama 2: Electric Boogaloo on the "Celebrity Panel". Johnson was invited for his role in the movie-within-a-movie of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, This Island Earth, but spent most of the time answering questions about his Gilligan's Island days. He shared an amusing anecdote:
I was at a speaking engagement for MIT ... and I said ... the Professor has all sorts of degrees, including one from this very institution [MIT]! And that's why I can make a radio out of a coconut, and not fix a hole in a boat!—Russell Johnson
Johnson also had a brief appearance in MacArthur, in which he played United States Navy Admiral Ernest J. King. Russell provided the narration for the animated short episodes of The Adventures of Stevie and Zoya that appeared on MTV during the mid-1980s.
Johnson once participated in the Ig Nobel award presentation ceremony, credited as "The Professor Emeritus of Gilligan's Island".
Johnson was married three times.
He had a daughter Kim and son David with his second wife Kay Cousins, whom he married in 1949 and who died on January 20, 1980, in Century City, California. David Johnson died of AIDS-related complications on October 27, 1994. David's lover died of similar causes in 1986. After his son's diagnosis with AIDS, Johnson frequently helped raise money for AIDS charities.
In 1982, Johnson married Constance "Connie" Dane.
Later years and death
Johnson published his memoirs, Here on Gilligan's Isle in 1993. He died from kidney failure at his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington, on January 16, 2014, at the age of 89. He was one of three original surviving cast members of Gilligan's Island, the other two being Tina Louise, who played Ginger, and Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann.
- Weber, Bruce (January 16, 2014). "Russell Johnson, the Professor On 'Gilligan’s Island,' Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
- Bernstein, Adam (January 16, 2014). "Russell Johnson, Actor Who Played The Professor On 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 89". Associated Press. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
- "Dave Johnson, 39; L.A.'s First AIDS Coordinator, Writer on Gay Issues". Los Angeles Times. October 29, 1994. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
- Chappel, Bill (2014). "Gilligan's 'The Professor' Has Died; Russell Johnson Was 89", NPR.org, accessed 03 Feb 2014
- Messer, Lesley (January 16, 2014). "'Gilligan's Island' Star Russell Johnson Dies of Kidney Failure". ABC News. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- Johnson, Russell and Cox, Steve. Here on Gilligan's Isle. New York: Perennial, 1993.
- Official website[dead link]
- Russell Johnson at the Internet Movie Database
- Russell Johnson Interview with the Archive of American Television