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Russell Johnson


"And the rest" ... the three worst words in the history of TV themes.


Watching Gilligan's Island repeats as a young kid in the late '60s/early '70s, I always hated when a season-one episode aired. Not because it was the only season filmed in black and white. Not because the plots were any different. No, I hated that the opening theme left out the Professor and Mary Ann. It was one of the greatest TV themes ever recorded, one that neatly summed up the premise of the show in less than 90 seconds, and yet it relegated two out of the seven characters to also-ran status.


And why slight the Professor? He certainly was as important a character as any of the others. He may have been a geek (who else would be traveling with a library of reference books?), and he may not have been adept at everything (for example, he had no talent for boat-building), but there is little doubt that the castaways wouldn't have survived 14 years on that island without him. It was the Professor who kept the radio charged, acted as an interpreter when they encountered headhunters and other natives, and developed inventions to get them through their everyday lives and serums to counter mysterious diseases and killer insects.


Like his most famous character, Russell Johnson didn't seem to receive the respect he deserved. After being discharged from the army as a decorated World War II hero, he set his sights on Hollywood. He worked steadily as a guest actor in many TV Westerns, usually as a heavy, as well as a couple of memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone. His big break came in 1964, when Sherwood Schwartz cast him on Gilligan's Island. Although the role brought him lifelong recognition, it also hindered his ability to find new roles afterward, as he found himself typecast. But Johnson took it in stride, embracing his role as the Professor in reunion movies, cartoons, and even an episode of Roseanne. It remains to be seen whether his career is deemed worthy of the 2014 Emmy "in memoriam" segment or if he will once again be relegated to "and the rest."


Johnson was 89 when he died on January 16. Brigid Nelson, Grin Reaper, Headless Horseman, and Where's My Damn List? get 5 points each.

--Ed V

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