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Russell Johnson


Russell Johnson

Russell Johnson
Russell Johnson at age 35 in Black Saddle (1960)
Born Russell David Johnson
(1924-11-10)November 10, 1924
Ashley, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died January 16, 2014(2014-01-16) (aged 89)
Bainbridge Island, Washington, U.S.
Cause of death Kidney failure
Occupation Actor
Years active 1950–1997
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)
Children David Johnson
Kim Johnson

Russell David Johnson (November 10, 1924 – January 16, 2014) was an American television and film actor, best known for his role as "The Professor" on the CBS television sitcom Gilligan's Island.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Military career 2
  • Movie and television career 3
    • Black Saddle 3.1
    • Twilight Zone episodes 3.2
    • Outer Limits episode 3.3
    • "The Professor" on Gilligan's Island 3.4
    • After Gilligan's Island 3.5
  • Family 4
  • Later years and death 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Johnson was born on November 10, 1924, in Ashley, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.[2][1] 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 later re-married to Thomas S. Lewis. As a teenager, Johnson attended Girard College, a private boarding school for fatherless boys, located in Philadelphia.[1]

Military career

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-engine 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 anti-aircraft fire and all three had to ditch in the sea off Zamboanga. Johnson broke both ankles in the landing, and the radioman seated next to him 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.[1] While there, he met actress Kay Cousins (1923-1980), whom he married in 1949.

Movie and television career

Johnson became a close friend of 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'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, as Eddie Kent 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 Skydiver", the premiere 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 and 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 premiere of another ABC show, Breaking Point, a medical drama series starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz.

Black Saddle

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 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.

Outer Limits episode

Johnson appeared as a crewmember on a U.S. space station in "Specimen: Unknown".

"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 re-runs. 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."[3]

After Gilligan's Island

After Gilligan's Island, Johnson found himself somewhat typecast, making it harder to portray more non-sophisticated roles other than his signature role as the Professor. Nevertheless, he was able to resume a sufficient acting career,[3] 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, 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

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 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.

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.[4] David's longtime partner died of similar causes in 1986.[4] After his son's diagnosis with AIDS, Johnson frequently helped raise money for AIDS charities.[5]

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.[6] His remains were cremated. Johnson's memorial service was held a month later.[7] 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.


  1. ^ a b c d Weber, Bruce (January 16, 2014). "Russell Johnson, the Professor On 'Gilligan’s Island,' Dies at 89".  
  2. ^ Bernstein, Adam (January 16, 2014). "Russell Johnson, Actor Who Played The Professor On 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 89".  
  3. ^ a b William C. Kashatus. "Ashley native Russell Johnson rose to fame on Gilligan's Island". Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Dave Johnson, 39; L.A.'s First AIDS Coordinator, Writer on Gay Issues".  
  5. ^ Chappel, Bill (2014). "Gilligan's 'The Professor' Has Died; Russell Johnson Was 89",, accessed 03 Feb 2014
  6. ^ Messer, Lesley (January 16, 2014). Gilligan's Island' Star Russell Johnson Dies of Kidney Failure"'".  
  7. ^


  • Johnson, Russell and Cox, Steve. Here on Gilligan's Isle. New York: Perennial, 1993.

External links

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