||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2013)|
- For other people with this or similar names see Russell Johnson (disambiguation).
Russell Johnson at 35 in Black Saddle (1960)
|Born||Russell David Johnson
November 10, 1924
Ashley Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Known for||Gilligan's Island as Professor Roy Hinkley, Jr.|
|Spouse(s)||Edith Cahoon (1943–1948, divorced)
Kay Levey (1949–1980, her death)
Constance Dane (1982–present)
Russell David Johnson (born November 10, 1924) is an American television and film actor best known as "The Professor" on the CBS television sitcom Gilligan's Island. He is one of three remaining cast members from that series, the last surviving male.
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 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 in the Philippines in March 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 his 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 Good Conduct 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 GI Bill to fund his acting studies at the Actors Lab in Hollywood. At acting school he met actress Kay Levey, and they married on July 23, 1949.
Movie and television career
He 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 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 (January, 1953). He was cast on the religion anthology series, Crossroads. He played "The Sundown Kid" in an episode of the 1958 NBC western series, Jefferson Drum. He guest starred too in another NBC western series, The Californians.
Late in 1958, Johnson and Joe Flynn were cast in the episode "The Bells of Fear" of the syndicated adventure series, Rescue 8, starring Jim Davis and Lang Jeffries. In the story line, an elderly clockmaker trying to repair the chimes in a church clock is trapped inside the instrument just before Christmas Eve.
Johnson was cast in the role of Darius in the 1959 episode, "The Unwilling", of the NBC western series, Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin and Burt Reynolds. In the story line, businessman Dan Simpson, played by Eddie Albert, attempts to open a general store in the American West despite a raid from Mississippi River pirates who stole from him $20,000 in merchandise. Debra Paget is cast in this episode as Lela Russell; John M. Pickard, uncredited, as a river pirate.
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. 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 in The Twilight Zone. He 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.
Outer Limits episode
"The Professor" on Gilligan's Island
He is best known for playing Professor Roy Hinkley (usually referred to as "The Professor"), the erudite polymath who could build all sorts of inventions out of the most rudimentary materials available on the island, but, as Johnson himself pointed out, could not fix the hole in the boat. Gilligan's Island aired from 1964 to 1967, but has been shown in reruns continuously ever since.
Johnson was asked to take off his shirt when auditioning for the Gilligan's Island role; he refused, but still got the job. Before accepting the role of Roy Hinkley, he made Gilligan's Island producer Sherwood Schwartz promise him that when he made scientific statements they would be accurate.
After Gilligan's Island
After Gilligan's Island, he appeared in several other movies and television shows, especially the latter. He appeared in several dramatic series, including The Invaders, Death Valley Days, Lassie, 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 in the series. 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!||”|
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".
His son, David, ran the AIDS program for Los Angeles, California, until David's own death from complications of AIDS in 1994. Johnson has been a full-time volunteer for AIDS research fundraising since his son was diagnosed. He also has a daughter, Kim Johnson.
- Johnson, Russell; Steve Cox (July 1993). Here on Gilligan's Isle (1st edition ed.). Perennial. ISBN 0-06-096993-8.
- ""The Bells of Fear" on Rescue 8, December 9, 1958". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
- ""The Unwilling", Riverboat, October 11, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 21, 2013.
- Official website
- Russell Johnson at the Internet Movie Database
- Russell Johnson Interview with the Archive of American Television