Friday, January 17, 2014

Russell Johnson (1924-2014)

I was saddened to see the passing of another one of my personal childhood icons.  Russell Johnson (1924-2014) is best remembered as the adored Professor for three seasons of our beloved series Gilligan's Island (1964-1967) by Sherwood Schwartz (The Brady Bunch).  He was like the tech and gadgets genius of a generation - one that would inspire doctors and scientists in our favorite sci-fi for years to come.  Isn't there a little Professor in all of them?

In fact, Johnson also appeared in a number of genre favorites. In film, he enjoyed feature roles in It Came From Outer Space (1953), This Island Earth (1955), Roger Corman's Attack Of The Crab Monsters (1957) and The Space Children (1958).  In television, apart from westerns, Johnson starred in The Twilight Zone for Back There (Season Two, 1961) and Execution (Season One, 1960). He also starred in The Outer Limits for Specimen: Unknown (Season One, 1964) and guested on The Invaders (1967-1968).

Bob Denver (1935-2005) as First Mate Gilligan, Alan Hale, Jr. (1921-1990) as The Skipper Jonas Grumby, Jim Backus (1913-1989) as Thurston Howell III and Natalie Schafer (1900-1991) as Eunice Lovelle Wentworth Howell have all since passed away along with Johnson.

All that remains of those crazy castaways and the memories of their seemingly endless antics are those two positively gorgeous birds from the cult favorite.  Dawn Wells as perky, sexy Mary Ann Summers and Tina Louise as sensual, sexy, starlet Ginger Grant are very much with us.

Johnson and the others provided seemingly endless comedic adventure for me as a kid after school. Fortunately for me, Gilligan's Island was stuck in syndication making it a fairly lengthy stay.  Many school day afternoons were filled with the joys of their simple survival tales on that deserted island.  In fact, when you think about it, the seven passengers that sailed that day couldn't have been a more unlikely lot.  What Gilligan's Island did explore beautifully amidst all of the comedy was how seven complete strangers and, more importantly, of markedly diverse backgrounds with different personalities came together and worked as a unit to survive as a kind of makeshift family.  Once again, Schwartz, light-heartedly explored family and human behavior and how we are indeed social creatures by nature regardless of our socio-economic or geographical heritage.

Looking back, I laugh now, at the sheer number of visitors who came and went by happenstance from that island over the course of 98 episodes.  Dumb luck would have had a better time of getting off that uncharted place.  No matter how many people came and promised to take them away or meet them at the lagoon the seven survivors were always left behind.

That intended three-hour tour unexpectedly turned out hours of fun.

Sadly, David Madden who played Reuben Kincaid on The Partridge Family (1970-1974), which lasted four seasons, also passed away this day along with Johnson who will be best remembered as the beloved Professor. 


El Vox said...

Yeah, sorry to hear of his passing. I used to watch Gillian's Island too, but don't have the patience for them today. The Professor could do so many things with the coconuts, but couldn't fix the darn boat. Ha.

Actually Johnson did play better parts. I've seen him The Twilight Zone and some others (probably westerns). He was pretty versatile, but it seems he's remembered best as the Prof.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Yes, those cocunuts were quite versatile. Yes, I beefed up the entry on his genre output. Hope all is well El Vox.

Roman J. Martel said...

Yeah it was sad news. As a kid I loved "Gilligan's Island", and the Professor and Mary-anne were my favorites (was always a Mary Anne fan!)

We held a mini tribute to Johnson by watching the "Twilight Zone" episode with him as well as the MST3K versions of "This Island Earth" and "The Space Children". One of my favorite riffs with him from "This Island Earth" is when he walks up to Ruth and Tom says "What's with this 'and the rest' crap!"

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I was always a Mary ann guy as well. love her.

Funny, I just watched a Twilight Zone episode myself moments ago. Execution was a nice performance. I'm going to check the others out later as well.

Have a good day Roman.