Russell Johnson

Russell David Johnson (November 10, 1924 – January 16, 2014) was an American actor, known for his role as Professor Roy Hinkley in Gilligan's Island. He was also known for Marshal Gib Scott in Black Saddle.

Russell Johnson
Johnson in Black Saddle (1960)
Russell David Johnson

(1924-11-10)November 10, 1924
DiedJanuary 16, 2014(2014-01-16) (aged 89)
Years active1950–1997
Known forGilligan's Island as Professor Roy Hinkley
Spouse(s)Edith Cahoon (1943–1948; divorced)
Kay Cousins Johnson (1949–1980; her death)
Constance Dane (1982–2014; his death)

Early life

Johnson was born in Ashley, Pennsylvania, on November 10, 1924,[1][2] to Russell Kennedy Johnson (1901–1932) and Marion Wenonah Smink Johnson (1902–1976).[3]

Johnson was the oldest of seven siblings: Kenneth W. Johnson (1925–2012), David Reed Johnson (1926–1976), Lois Marion Johnson (1927–1928), Lorraine Johnson Crosby (1928-2015), Marion Joan Johnson Reeves (1930–2010), and Paul Wesley Johnson (1932–1933).[2][3] Their father died of pneumonia in December 1932, and Paul Wesley died not long after. Minnie Johnson later remarried Thomas S. Lewis.[3]

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-engined medium bombers.[4]

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 his bomber's co-pilot was killed. Johnson received a Purple Heart for his injuries.[5] 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, then joined the United States Air Force Reserve.[6]

Movie and television career

After his honorable discharge from the military, Johnson used the G.I. Bill to pay for his acting studies at the Actors' Lab in Hollywood.

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 Rancho Notorious (1952, starring Marlene Dietrich), 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), as well as in Roger Corman's rock-'n'-roll crime drama Rock All Night (1957). In 1955, he had a role in Many Rivers to Cross along with Alan Hale Jr., later the Skipper from Gilligan's Island.

During the 1950s, he played the head of a gang of crooks in episode 17 of season one 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 in an episode of Wagon Train, “The Cliff Grundy Story”.

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", twice played submarine officer and later author Edward L. Beach Jr., 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 with Joan Evans and Harvey Stephens in "The Sky Diver", the unaired pilot episode of Ripcord of that same year. Then he was casted 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 April 1962, he was cast as Doctor Ross in Season 5 Ep 24 of the Real McCoys. In 1963, he was cast in an episode of the short-lived ABC/Warner Bros.' Western series The Dakotas, and later that same year, he performed in the première of another ABC show, Breaking Point, a medical drama series starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz.

Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes

Johnson appeared in two episodes of The Twilight Zone. His character brings a murderer from 1880 into the present via a time machine in the season-one episode "Execution". In the season-two episode "Back There", he portrays a man who attempts to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The plot of both episodes involved time travel from the 20th to the 19th centuries. Johnson also appeared on The Outer Limits in 1964, playing a crewmember on a United States space station in the episode "Specimen: Unknown".

"The Professor" on Gilligan's Island

Johnson was best known for playing 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. As Johnson himself pointed out, though, 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 1964-67, but has been shown in reruns continuously ever since. He reprised this character for three Gilligan's Island made-for-television movies and two animated series. In a 2004 interview, Johnson commented about the role and shared his perspective regarding Gilligan's Island and the situation comedy's place in television history:

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.[7]

After Gilligan's Island

After Gilligan's Island, Johnson found himself somewhat typecast, making portraying more unsophisticated roles other than his signature role as the Professor more difficult. Nevertheless, he was able to resume a sufficient acting career,[7] 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 (marking a reunion of sorts, since they co-starred together in Black Saddle, an earlier Four Star Productions series), The Invaders, Death Valley Days, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, Lassie, That Girl, Ironside, The F.B.I, and Gunsmoke. He was cast 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 had a brief appearance in MacArthur (1977), in which he played United States Navy Admiral Ernest J. King, and he appeared in the 1978 made-for-television movies The Ghost of Flight 401 and The Bastard. 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 also played the sheriff in several episodes of season 9 of Dallas. His character in that series 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! 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 also guest-starred in many episodes of Laramie.

Personal life

Johnson was married three times. His first marriage to Edith Cahoon in 1943 ended in divorce in 1948.[2]

In 1949 he married his second wife, Kay Cousins, whom he had met while at the Actors' Lab in Hollywood. Together they had a daughter, Kim, and a son, David. Cousins died on January 20, 1980, in Century City, California.

In 1982, Johnson married Constance "Connie" Dane, and became stepfather to her son Courtney Dane.[8] In 1988, Johnson and Dane moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, to "get away from the heat, smog and crowds" of Los Angeles. It was here that Johnson collaborated with writer Steve Cox on the memoir, "Here on Gilligan's Isle," published in 1993.[2][9]

Russell's son David Johnson died of AIDS-related complications on October 27, 1994,[10] after David's longtime partner had died of similar causes in 1986.[10] After his son's diagnosis with AIDS, Johnson frequently helped raise money for AIDS charities.[11]


Johnson died from kidney failure at his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington, on January 16, 2014, aged 89.[12] His remains were cremated. Johnson's memorial service was held a month later.[13]


Year Title Role Notes
1952For Men OnlyKy Walker
1952Rancho NotoriousChuck-a-Luck Wheel SpinnerUncredited
1952Loan SharkCharlie Thompson
1952Back at the FrontJohnny Redondo - Smuggler
1952The Turning PointHermanUncredited
1953SeminoleLt. Hamilton
1953Law and OrderJimmy Johnson
1953Column SouthCpl. Biddle
1953It Came from Outer SpaceGeorge
1953The Stand at Apache RiverGreiner
1953TumbleweedLam Blanden
1954Ride Clear of DiabloJed Ringer
1954Taza, Son of CochiseNarratorVoice, Uncredited
1954Demetrius and the GladiatorsGladiatorUncredited
1954Johnny DarkEmory
1954Rogue CopPatrolman CarlandUncredited
1954Black TuesdayHoward Sloane
1955Many Rivers to CrossBanks Cherne
1955Strange Lady in TownShadduck
1955Ma and Pa Kettle at WaikikiEddie Nelson
1955This Island EarthDr. Steve Carlson
1957Attack of the Crab MonstersHank Chapman
1957Rock All NightJigger
1957Courage of Black BeautyBen Farraday
1958The Space ChildrenJoe Gamble
1958Badman's CountrySundance
1958The Saga of Hemp BrownHook
1964A Distant TrumpetCapt. Brinker - Judge Advocate's office
1964Invitation to a GunfighterJohn MedfordUncredited
1965The Greatest Story Ever ToldScribe
1969Cry for Poor WallyGaines
1974The Man from IndependenceLinaver
1975Three Days of the CondorIntelligence Officer at BriefingUncredited
1977Hitch Hike to HellCaptain J.W. Shaw
1977MacArthurAdmiral King
1980The Great Skycopter RescueProfessor Benson
1982Kill SquadVoice, Uncredited
1983Off the WallMr. Whitby
1984Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindLord Yupa('Warriors of the Wind' dub), English version, Voice, Uncredited
1986Dôwa meita senshi WindariaAlan1987, English version, Voice, Uncredited
1988Blue MoviesMr. Martin


  1. Weber, Bruce (2014-01-16). "Russell Johnson, the Professor On 'Gilligan's Island', Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-19.
  2. Bernstein, Adam (2014-01-16). "Russell Johnson, actor who played the Professor on 'Gilligan's Island,' dies at 89". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  3. "Marion Wenonah Smink Lewis". Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  4. "Russell Johnson, Professor on Gilligan's Island, and WWII Hero Passes at 89 - Guardian Of Valor". Guardian Of Valor. 2014-01-16. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  5. "Col. Russell Johnson". Washington Post. 2002-08-28. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  6. Together We served Russell David Johnson
  7. William C. Kashatus. "Ashley native Russell Johnson rose to fame on Gilligan's Island". Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  8. Lowe, Lindsay (2014-01-16). "Gilligan's Island Actor Russell Johnson, 'The Professor', Dies at 89". Parade. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  9. Thomas, Bob; et al. (2016-03-25). "Russell Johnson Obituary". Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  10. "Dave Johnson, 39; L.A.'s First AIDS Coordinator, Writer on Gay Issues". Los Angeles Times. 1994-10-29. Retrieved 2014-01-19.
  11. Chappell, Bill (2019-01-19). "Gilligan's 'The Professor' Has Died; Russell Johnson Was 89". NPR. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  12. Messer, Lesley (January 16, 2014). "Gilligan's Island Star Russell Johnson Dies of Kidney Failure". ABC News. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  13. "Memorial service announced for Russell Johnson, the Professor – Bainbridge Island Review". 2014-01-31. Retrieved November 11, 2017.

Further reading

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