Before appearing on “Gilligan’s Island” as the “Professor,” actor Russell Johnson served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
In fact, Johnson was shot down over the Solomon Islands. Costar Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann during the show’s three-season run on CBS, talked about Johnson in an interview with Herbie J Pilato.
“He was the funniest person on the set, he had the greatest sense of humor,” Wells said. “But I did not know until the funeral, I knew he fought in World War II as a navigator.
“I knew he was shot down on the Solomon Islands,” she said. “[But] I did not know until the funeral he got a Purple Heart. He never mentioned it. He was wonderful.”
Johnson died on Jan. 16, 2014, at 89 years old. Wells died on Dec. 30, 2020, at 82 years old.
‘Gilligan’s Island’ Actor’s Character Actually Had Full Name
Back to Johnson as his “Gilligan’s Island” character’s full name was Professor Roy Hinkley, but he was simply called the “Professor.”
Prior to his role on the CBS sitcom created by Sherwood Schwartz, Johnson appeared in a number of movies. His first role was in 1952’s “For Men Only” as Ky Walker. Another 1952 movie, “Law and Order,” finds Johnson playing next to actors Dennis Weaver and Ronald Reagan. This, obviously, was before Reagan became President of the United States. As for Weaver, three years later he would start playing Chester Goode on CBS’s “Gunsmoke.”
Johnson last appeared in a movie in 1988’s “Blue Movies” as Mr. Martin.
He also has two appearances on “The Twilight Zone” to his credit, one in a first-season episode called “Execution” and a second-season episode called “Back There.” Johnson also appeared in “The Outer Limits.”
Johnson, Wells Get Into Show Opening Credits Thanks To Denver
Yet Johnson’s career always comes back to his role on “Gilligan’s Island.” Here’s an interesting tidbit. Did you know that Johnson and Wells were not part of the show’s first-season credits?
If you remember the theme song, which is easy to hum, then you might get stuck singing “a movie star and the rest.” That’s how the classic TV show’s theme closed without showing Johnson and Wells. This didn’t sit too well with “Gilligan’s Island” star Bob Denver.
Before the show opened its second season, Denver went to the show producers and pretty much demanded Johnson and Wells be included. There was some balking to the idea. Show producers said contractually that’s how it would be done. Denver said contractually, he’s the lead actor and gets to pick where he’s billed. Denver tells them to put him at the end. Guess who wins that battle?
Now think for a minute about the theme as you may remember it more clearly. What’s added? “The Professor and Mary Ann.” Yep, right after “a movie star” with Tina Louise, who played Ginger Grant, showing up getting her credit.
It took the lead actor on the show to stick up and get Johnson’s and Wells’ names on the opening. He did it and the show producers had to rerecord the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song.