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(1924– ). American actor.

Acted in: It Came from Outer Space (Jack ARNOLD 1953); "The Runaway Robot" (1953), episode of The Adventures of Superman; This Island Earth (Joseph M. NEWMAN and Arnold, uncredited 1954); Attack of the Crab Monsters (Roger CORMAN 1957); "Vicious Circle" (1957), episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; The Space Children (Arnold 1958); "Execution" (1960), "Back There" (1961), episodes of The Twilight Zone; "The Hungry Glass" (1961), episode of Thriller; "Specimen: Unknown" (1964), episode of The Outer Limits; Gilligan's Island (tv series) (1964‑67); The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens 1965); "The Trial" (1967), episode of The Invaders; Vanished (tv movie) (Buzz Kulik 1971); Horror at 37,000 Feet (tv movie) (David Lowell Rich 1972); The New Adventures of Gilligan (animated tv series; voice) (1974‑77); "Disco Devil" (1978), episode of Wonder Woman; The Rescue from Gilligan's Island (tv movie) (Leslie H. MARTINSON 1978); The Castaways on Gilligan's Island (tv movie) (Earl Bellamy 1979); "Take-Over" (1980), episode of Beyond Westworld [unaired in America]; The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island (tv movie) (Peter Baldwin 1981); Gilligan's Planet (animated tv series; voice) (1982); "Somewhere Over the Rerun" ["The Ballad of Gilligan's Island"] (1987), episode of ALF; "Sleeping Dragon" (1988), episode of Monsters; "Gilligan" 1994), episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast; "Sherwood Schwartz: A Loving Tribute" (1995), episode of Roseanne; "Mommy'n'Meego" (1997), episode of Meego [unaired in America]; Gilligan's Island: The E! True Hollywood Story (tv documentary) (2000); Surviving Gilligan's Island: The Incredible True Story of the Longest Three Hour Tour in History (tv documentary) (2001).
A reader asks if I have anything to say about Russell Johnson. And surprisingly, after considering the situation, I realized that there was indeed something worth saying.

Today, because popular opinions of Johnson are so thoroughly Gilliganized, we forget that he had enjoyed an extensive career in film and television long before he emerged as a sitcom star. The sort of man readily described as ruggedly handsome, Johnson had mostly found employment in crime dramas and westerns, where he typically worked in supporting roles on both sides of the law. However, he was also a favorite of science fiction director Jack ARNOLD, who used him in three of his films, and he appeared at least once in several of the series that defined science fiction in the 1950s and early 1960s.

There was, however, a distinct pattern in the science fiction parts that he played. Somehow, unlike other actors, Johnson could not rise above the second-tier status he had endured in other genres; somehow, he could not inspire confidence on the screen. Though often cast as an educated person, he was invariably asked to appear weak, incompetent, and/or overwhelmed. In It Came from Outer Space, he portrayed a man turned into a zombie by alien visitors, and in The Space Children, he was a parent thwarted by alien-inspired children. In This Island Earth, as a scientist who is insufficiently manly to win the love of comely Faith DOMERGUE or to accomplish anything against their Metalunan overseers, he desperately turns to athletic newcomer Rex REASON for assistance, then foolishly sacrifices his own life during a senseless escape attempt. For Roger CORMAN, Johnson couldn't stand up to a Crab Monster; for Rod SERLING, he was involved in two botched endeavors in time travel, first (in "Execution") getting murdered by the Western criminal he inadvertently transported into the present, then (in "Back There") visiting the past and proving unable to save Abraham Lincoln from assassination; and in the Outer Limits episode "Specimen: Unknown," Johnson must quiver in fear facing the threat of Nasty Flowers from Outer Space. Clearly, in the milieu of science fiction film, this actor was not getting any respect.

How ironic it was, then, that Johnson was then called upon to serve as the brilliant Professor of Gilligan's Island, finally surrounded by characters so impossibly inept that even Johnson at last could seem like the cool and capable one, the person who was regularly called upon to deliver absurd explanations and devise makeshift remedies for the series' science-fictional quandaries. In the original theme song, he may have been only part of "the Rest," but he soon earned his star billing as "the Professor" and unexpectedly often was the center of attention.

Still, achieving the status of the most intelligent character on Gilligan's Island isn't exactly the sort of thing that impresses casting directors, and one has to look very hard to find Johnson in any other environment after 1964, though he is briefly observed in the Holy Land during The Greatest Story Ever Told and made unheralded guest appearances on the series The Invaders, Wonder Woman, and Beyond Westworld. When Johnson's telephone rang, though, it was most often an invitation to yet again sleepwalk through the part of the Professor—as a voice for two animated series for kids, in three increasingly awful television movies, in Gilligan-related cameos for other series, in personal appearances at conventions of Gilligan fans, and in nostalgic documentaries respectfully analyzing the most atrocious series in television history to be recognized as a classic. Of course, steady work of any sort can be a blessing to a performer in his declining years, and Johnson appears amicably reconciled to his fate as he greets visitors to his website, "The Professor's Place." Still, there must be moments when Johnson wistfully wonders what might have been if he had never embarked upon that Three Hour Cruise.

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