Russell David Johnson, best known for his portrayal of Professor Roy Hinkley on Gilligan’s Island passed today at the age of 89. A little known fact about Russell, is he was also a WWII Veteran.
After high school, during World War II, Johnson joined the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He flew 44 combat missions as a bombardier in B-24 Liberator bombers.
While flying as a navigator in a B-24 with the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, 13th Air Force, his plane and two other B-24s were shot down in the Philippines in March 1945 during a low-level bombing and strafing run against Japanese targets. The planes were hit by intense flak and had to ditch in the waters off the port of Zamboanga. During the ditching, he broke both his ankles and the radioman next to him was killed, he received a Purple Heart for his injuries. He was also awarded the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three service stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one service star, and the World War II Victory Medal.
He was honorably discharged with the rank of first lieutenant on November 22, 1945. He then joined the Army Reserve and used the GI Bill to fund his acting studies at the Actors Lab in Hollywood. At acting school, he met actress Kay Levey; they married on July 23, 1949
He was shot down over a tropical island, and later portrayed a Professor stranded on one.
Below is a photo of his crew, courtesy of Warbird Information Exchange. Thanks to Andrew for showing us the correct photo of the Professor and his crew.
He 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 asLaw 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 crimedrama 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). He was cast on the religion anthology series Crossroads. He also played “The Sundown Kid” in an episode of the 1958 NBC western series Jefferson Drum and guest starred in another NBC western series, The Californians.
Johnson was cast in the role of Darius in the 1959 episode “The Unwilling” of the NBC western series Riverboat, starring Darren McGavin and Burt Reynolds. In the story line, businessman Dan Simpson, played by Eddie Albert, attempts to open a general store in the American West despite a raid from Mississippi River pirates who stole $20,000 in merchandise from him. Debra Pagetplayed Lela Russell.
Johnson appeared three times on the syndicated military drama The Silent Service, based on real stories of the submarine section of the United States Navy. Johnson was cast as Hugh Grafton and as Tom Richards in two 1960 episodes, “Intermission” and “The Desperate Challenge”, both with June Allyson on her CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. Johnson was cast as John T. Metcalf in the 1962 episode “Mile-Long Shot to Kill” of CBS’s anthology series GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. In 1963, he was cast in an episode of the short-livedABC/Warner Brothers western series The Dakota. Later in that same year, he was cast in the series première of the ABC medical drama Breaking Point, starring Paul Richards and Eduard Franz.
Below is a photo of a petition Russell signed trying to get Audie Murphy awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
He 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. Gilligan’s Island aired from 1964 to 1967, but has been shown in reruns continuously ever since.
RIP “Professor”, and we thank you for your sacrifice.