Russell Johnson, the film and television actor best known for playing “The Professor” on the classic 1960s TV series Gilligan’s Island, has died earlier today of natural causes at his home in Washington state. He was 89.
Born in the Wilkes-Barre, PA suburb of Ashley, Johnson fought in World War Two as a member of the Army Air Corps, flying 44 combat missions as a bombardier in B-24 Liberator bombers. Following the end of the war, he used hi GI Bill to finance his acting studies at the Actors Lab in Hollywood.
Johnson’s film career started in 1952 and appeared in a number of supporting roles through a number of genre films throughout the decade. Perhaps his most visible roles were in a number of science-fiction films that were the rage, including It Came from Outer Space (1953), This Island Earth (1955), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1956), and The Space Children (1958).
As television rose in popularity, Johnson found his career gravitating towards the new medium. He appeared on a number of series including two episodes of The Twilight Zone and had a supporting role on the western series Black Saddle. In 1964, he was cast as Professor Roy Hinkley, one of the seven castaways who found themselves shipwrecked on Gilligan’s Island. Johnson stated that he never expected it to last past its initial 13 episodes. Instead, the series ran for three full seasons.
Johnson probably had the strongest post-Gilligan’s Island career, and was able to get work guest starring on numerous television series in roles that did not trade on his connection to the classic series. Additionally, he appeared in a few feature films including the Robert Redford thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) and the 1977 biopic MacArthur, in which he played United States Navy Admiral Ernest J. King.