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||Kidney failure|
|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, Pennsylvania. His parents were Russell Kennedy Johnson (1901-1932) and Minnie Wenonah Smink-Johnson (1902-1976). Johnson was the second-oldest of six children. His siblings were brothers Kenneth (1925-2012), David (1926-1976), and Paul Wesley (1932-1933) [Paul died from pneumonia only weeks after Johnson's father], and sisters Lorraine Johnson-Crosby (b. about 1929)[who was still living at the time of Johnson's death], and Marian L. Johnson-Reeves (1923-2010). Johnson's father died of pneumonia in December 1932. His mother was later remarried to Thomas S. Lewis. As a teenager, Johnson attended Girard College, a private boarding school for fatherless boys, located in Philadelphia.
After graduating from high school, Johnson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet. On completing his training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. He flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater during World War II as a bombardier in B-25 twin-engined medium bombers.
On March 4, 1945, while flying as a navigator in a B-25 with the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, 13th Air Force, his B-25 and two others were shot down during a low-level bombing and strafing run against Japanese military targets in the Philippine Islands. The B-25s encountered heavy antiaircraft fire and all three had to ditch in the sea off Zamboanga. Johnson broke both ankles in the landing, and his bomber's co-pilot was killed. Johnson received a Purple Heart for his injuries. He was also awarded the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three campaign stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one campaign star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
After Japan's surrender, Johnson was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant on November 22, 1945. He joined the United States Air Force Reserve and used the G.I. Bill to pay for his acting studies at the Actors' Lab in Hollywood. While there, he met actress Kay Cousins (1923-1980), whom he married in 1949.
Movie and television career
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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 Seminole (1953), Law and Order (1953, opposite Ronald Reagan), and Badman's Country (1958), and science fiction films 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) and Roger Corman's rock 'n' roll crime drama Rock All Night (1957).
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's Western series Jefferson Drum and guest-starred in another NBC Western series, The Californians.
He appeared four times on the first-run syndicated military drama The Silent Service, based on actual stories of the submarine section of the United States Navy. He was cast as Hugh Grafton in episode 28, "The Gar Story", and as Tom Richards in two 1960 episodes, "Intermission" and "The Desperate Challenge", and twice with June Allyson on her CBS' anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. Also he guest starred with William Shatner in "The Hungry Glass", a 1961 episode of Thriller, and in "The Sky Diver", the première episode of Ripcord of that same year. Then, Johnson was cast as John T. Metcalf in the 1962 episode "Mile-Long Shot to Kill" of the CBS 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 première of another ABC show, Breaking Point, a medical drama series starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz.
From 1959 to 1960, Johnson had a recurring role as Marshal Gib Scott on ABC's 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 three episodes of The Twilight Zone. His character brought a murderer from 1880 into the present via a time machine ("Execution"), and 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
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 of the show, 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. He reprised this character for three Gilligan's Island movies and two animated series.
Retrospectively, Johnson commented on the role, "It used to make me upset to be typecast as the Professor...But as the years have gone by, I've given in. I am the Professor, and that's the way it is...Besides, the show went into syndication and parents are happy to have their children watch the reruns. No one gets hurt. There are no murders, no car crashes. Just good, plain, silly fun. It's brought a lot of joy to people, and that's not a bad legacy."
After Gilligan's Island
After Gilligan's Island, Johnson found himself somewhat typecast, making it harder to portray more nonsophisticated roles other than his signature role as the Professor. Nevertheless, he was able to resume a sufficient acting career, appearing in several other movies and television shows, especially the latter. He appeared as a guest star in several dramatic series, including The Big Valley with Peter Breck, The Invaders, Death Valley Days, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, Lassie, That Girl, Ironside, The F.B.I, and Gunsmoke. He appeared in the miniseries Vanished, based on a novel by Fletcher Knebel (1971), the TV horror movie The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973), uncredited in the Robert Redford spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), the low-budget thriller Hitch Hike to Hell (1977), and appeared on the episode "Coffee, Tea or Cyanide"' on McMillan and Wife in 1977, and on the NBC soap opera Santa Barbara. Johnson also had a brief appearance in MacArthur (1977), in which he played United States Navy Admiral Ernest J. King, and appeared in the all-star miniseries The Bastard (1978). Russell provided the narration for the animated-short episodes of The Adventures of Stevie and Zoya that appeared on MTV during the mid-1980s.
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' 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 do not 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 Conventio-Con-Expo-Fest-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 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 longtime partner 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. His remains were cremated. Johnson's memorial service was held a month later. He was the last surviving male and one of three 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.
- William C. Kashatus. "Ashley native Russell Johnson rose to fame on Gilligan's Island". citizensvoice.com. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
- "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.
- "Memorial service announced for Russell Johnson, the Professor - Bainbridge Island Review".
- Johnson, Russell and Cox, Steve. Here on Gilligan's Isle. New York: Perennial, 1993.