Friday, January 17, 2014
Rant #1,125: And the Rest ...
One of the major icons of the Baby Boomer generation has passed on.
Russell Johnson, who played "The Professor," Roy Hinkley, on the television classic "Gilligan's Island," died yesterday of kidney failure. He has just celebrated his 89th birthday in November.
Although Johnson was best known for his role as the scientific genius who kept the castaways on the uncharted island going for three seasons--without ever figuring out a way to fix the damaged boat that they came there on--he was so much more than that role.
He was in the Air Force during World War II and was a flying ace, piloting a number of major missions. While in the service, he met Audie Murphy, one of the great war heroes of the time. Befriending Murphy, he, like his friend, segued into acting in the 1950s.
Johnson was one of the top actors in B-grade horror movies of the time, and he was one of the stars of a movie that simply scared the heck out of me when I was a little boy, "The Attack of the Crab Monsters."
Anyway, he was also in many, many episodes of major television series, including "The Twilight Zone," and "The Outer Limits," among other shows.
Then came his role as "The Professor," and that was the role, for better or worse, that he will always be remembered for.
The Professor could fix anything, mix up potent concoctions of things to ward off diseases, manage to keep the castaway's electricity going to a certain degree, but alas, he could never figure out how to fix the Minnow.
And the funniest thing about it was that in the original theme song, his character and Mary Ann, the character played by Dawn Wells, weren't even mentioned.
They were known "as the rest" in that song, and I heard Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of the show and the song's writer, later say that in the original concept of "Gilligan's Island," those two characters weren't even supposed to be that prominent on the show.
How that could be, with seven characters on the show all stranded on a desert island, is beyond me, but in the second season, their names were added to the show's theme.
Johnson admitted that he loved the role, but yes, he also felt stymied by it to a certain degree. What he really wanted to do, he said, was to be cast in "Star Trek" during its original run, but that never happened.
After "Gilligan" was surprisingly canceled after just three seasons and less than 100 episodes, he went on to become one of television's busiest character actors, appearing on shows like "Gunsmoke" and "The F.B.I." through the rest of his career.
And yes, he appeared in all of the show's reunion films.
He published his autobiography, "Here on Gilligan's Isle" later on, and it also came out on audio book, which I am happy to say that I have in my collection.
Why his character was never able to fix that boat and get the castaways off the island wasn't really a mystery. If he did figure it out, there would have been no show. And remember, this was a man of science, not a man of fixing up.
If you remember one episode, he developed a compound to fill the hole on the boat, but while it filled the hole, it also was an explosive, eventually exploding everything away in its path.
Back to the drawing board ...
I always thought that Johnson was the best "pure" actor of the seven stars of "Gilligan." Not that the others were not good actors--they all fit their parts perfectly--but in an ensemble cast like this, one of the stars has to rise above the rest. For instance, I always thought that George Takei was the best "pure" actor on the original "Star Trek."
But anyway, now only Tina Louise and Dawn Wells carry the "Gilligan" flame. Jim Backus, Alan Hale, Bob Denver, Natalie Schaefer, and now Johnson are gone.
And with talk of a big screen "Gilligan" picking up steam, I wish that thought would be put to rest.
There is only one "Gilligan's Island," one of its stars was Johnson, and could a movie ever be as good as this show was?
R.I.P. Russell. You will always be the Baby Boomers' lead geek, and that is the way it should be.
(And yes, I have heard that Dave Madden has also passed. He was band manager Reuben Kincaid on "The Partridge Family" and prior to that, was one of the cast members of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In." Another talented guy, I just remember him drinking milk in his sketches on "Laugh-In," and for his run-ins with young Danny Partridge on "The Partridge Family." Another Baby Boomer icon to pass--two in one day is two too much.)
Posted by Larry at 2:29 AM