Learn more about the beloved actor, Russell Johnson. Is the Professor from Gilligan’s Island the inspiration for Money Heist’s character with the same name?
Russell Johnson was a walking contradiction. His acting career spanned over 50 years, but he was best known for playing only one character—that of The Professor in the American sitcom, Gilligan’s Island.
He appeared as former US President Ronald Reagan’s no-good brother in a film, yet his agent of over 20 years describes him as a considerate and respectful soul.
|Full Name||Russell David Johnson, Jr.|
|Stage Name||Russell Johnson|
|Date of Birth||November 10, 1924|
|Place of Birth||Ashley, Pennsylvania|
|Date of Death||January 16, 2014|
|Father||Russell Kennedy Johnson, Sr. (1901- 1932)|
|Mother||Marion Wenona Smink (1902-1976)|
|Lived in||Bainbridge Island, Washington|
|Hair Color||Dark brown|
|Education||Actors’ Laboratory Theatre (Hollywood)|
|Spouse||Constance Dane (1982- 2014)
Kay Cousins (1949- 1980)
Edith Cahoon (1943-1948)
|Siblings||Kenneth W. Johnson (1925–2012)
David Reed Johnson (1926–1976)
Lois Marion Johnson (1927–1928)
Lorraine Johnson Crosby (1928-2015)
Marion Joan Johnson Reeves (1930–2010)
Paul Wesley Johnson (1932–1933)
|Children||Kim Johnson, David Johnson (died 1994)|
|Total Net worth||$10M|
|Awards & Recognitions||Purple Heart|
|Trivia||He almost died fighting in WWII.|
Russell Johnson Early Life
Johnson was born in Ashley, Pennsylvania, to parents Russell Kennedy Johnson and Marion Wenonah Smink. He was the oldest among seven siblings and was nicknamed Johnny as a child.
His father died of pneumonia at the age of 31, and youngest brother Paul Wesley, only a year old, died soon after. His mother Marion later remarried Thomas S. Lewis.
Russell Johnson in the Army
He joined the United States Army Air Force (then named US Army Air Corps) as an aviation cadet and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. During World War II, Russell flew 44 combat missions in the Pacific as a B-25 bombardier.
The emergency landing killed the bomber’s co-pilot and broke both Johnson’s ankles. Johnson received multiple awards; a Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Russell Johnson: Early Career
He started doing action on screen, appearing as a sailor in the short-lived TV series Fireside Theater in 1950. He also acted as a gangster in an episode of The Adventures of Superman, filmed in 1951, but broadcast only two years later.
His first film was “For Men Only”, a drama about fraternity hazing, where Johnson played a sadistic fraternity head, in 1952.
Succeeding roles for Russell were mainly in Westerns — an action movie genre teeming with cowboys, horses, guns and shootouts. In 1952, he starred with blonde bombshell Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious. He played former US President Ronald Reagan’s brother in Law and Order and also appeared in Badman’s Country.
Russell Johnson: TV Shows
Multiple TV appearances made Johnson a TV staple, having acted in the military drama The Silent Service, four times. He also acted twice with June Allyson on her CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson.
With William Shatner, he was a guest in the 1961 episode of Thriller. As the character named John Metcalf, he was seen in the CBS anthology series GE True. He also starred in other drama shows the Real McCoys, The Dakotas, and Breaking Point, aired by ABC.
Russell Johnson in The Twilight Zone
He appeared twice in the Twilight Zone, with both episodes depicting time travel. In 1960, the aptly titled “Execution” episode saw Russell as a scientist fine-tuning his time machine only to inadvertently send back a 19th century killer. A year later, in 1961, he was discussing time travel with colleagues only to find himself present during Abraham Lincoln‘s assassination.
Russell Johnson in the Gilligan’s Island
Despite his versatile acting skills, Russell is best known as The Professor in the American cultural icon, the Gilligan’s Island TV series. The comedy series ran from 1964 to 1967 and was aired on CBS.
Portrayed by Bob Denver, Gilligan is recognizable for his trademark red shirt, light- colored pants and white sneakers with white navy cap. He is the accident-prone first mate of the fictional ship SS Minnow in the series.
Russell Johnson As The Professor
While auditioning for the role, he was asked to take his shirt off. He refused but still got the job. The unusual request was to balance the two female characters (Ginger and Mary Ann) who were deliberately chosen to play as sex symbols.
Russell, as The Professor Ron Hinkley, was a high school teacher whose reason for being in the SS Minnow was to write a book on botany. In the show, he invented stuff from coconuts and bamboo. Apart from being a Science geek, he was also the most logical character, called in to settle castaway disputes.
Russell Johnson: Typecast in Comedy Roles
Being in the show was both a blessing and a curse to Russell. In several interviews, he mentioned having wonderful memories from starring in the show. When it stopped airing though, he had difficulty getting dramatic roles. He was so associated with his role as the Professor that he could not seem to shake it off.
He, however, said that he doesn’t regret playing the character.
Russell Johnson in Gilligan Spin-offs
Gilligan’s Island filmed 98 episodes in three seasons, but it was so popular that in 1978, a two-part made-for-TV movie Rescue From Gilligan’s Island was aired. In the movie, the castaways were successfully rescued but found themselves back on the island after a botched Hawaiian cruise reunion.
Another spin off was aired a year later, where the castaways were entangled with stuntman cagers in The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan’s Island.
Russell appeared in these movies and in other movies such as The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island and Surviving Gilligan’s Island. He also lent his voice to The New Adventures of Gilligan and Gilligan’s Planet.
The cast and creators of the series did not think the series would last long. Fifty years on, however, the show’s spin- offs and reruns still enjoy high viewership on television and social media channels like YouTube.
Russell Johnson Relationships
Johnson married three women in his lifetime. Edith Cahoon was his first, they married in 1943, and divorced five years later. In 1949, he married fellow Actors’ Lab student Kay Cousins. Russell and Kay had a daughter and a son, Kim and David, respectively. In 1980, Kay died.
Two years later, Russell wed Constance “Connie” Dane, who was to be his wife until his death in 2014. Marrying Connie, Russell became a stepfather to Courtney Dane.
After living in Los Angeles since their union, Johnson and Dane moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1988.
Russell Johnson’s Retirement
The overall vibe of Bainbridge Island allowed Johnson to work with writer Steve Cox on the memoir, “Here on Gilligan’s Isle,” published in 1993. The book was a behind the scenes look on the set of the over 50-year-old show.
While he seemed to have concluded his acting career, Johnson remained active lending his voice to characters and commercials on TV and radio.
In October 1994, Russell’s son David, the Los Angeles HIV-AIDS coordinator, died of HIV-related complications. Eight years prior, in 1986, David’s longtime partner had also died of similar causes. Following this, Russell became an activist for HIV research and fundraising activities.
How Did Russell Johnson Die?
The doctor declared Johnson died from kidney failure. His remains were cremated, and the memorial service was held a month later.
His death came unexpectedly somehow, as days prior, he was still signing autographs and showed up for public appearances over the holidays.
Russell Johnson Net Worth
|Estimated Net Worth (when he was alive)||$10M|
|What were Russell Johnson’s Income Sources?||Film and TV appearances, Voice acting, autographed trading & baseball cards|
Unfortunately, actors did not earn in syndicated shows they starred in until the 1970s. So it is unlikely that Johnson got anything from Gilligan’s Island syndications.
With his ample earnings in acting, he was able to build this house in Bainbridge:
Apart from appearing in films and television, Russell Johnson shifted to voice acting years prior to his death. He also guest-starred in the late 1990s on TV shows “My Two Dads,” ”Dynasty” and “Newhart”.
He also signed Topps trading, and baseball cards such as 2007 Americana Private Signings, 2012 Panini Golden Age Historic Signatures and 2012 Press Pass Platinum Cuts.
Weeks prior to his death in 2014, Russell signed 2013 Topps 75th Anniversary cards.
According to a discussion forum, a signature for Topps cards probably fetches up to $20 each. Others charge per set, for instance, $100K for 300 cards. Johnson’s autographed cards have likely increased its value following his death.
The Professor in Money Heist
Netflix’s Money Heist also has a fictional character named The Professor. Both represent mental brilliance, but while The Professor in Gilligan’s Island was a level-headed inventor, Money Heist’s character is wickedly cunning. Thus, the similarity ends in both having the same moniker.