Russell Johnson (1924-2014)

Russell Johnson, 89, best known as “The Professor” on Gilligan’s Island, died January 16.

While by no means excluding his role on Gilligan’s Island from sf/fantasy, his credits also included numerous traditional genre productions – Ray Bradbury’s It Came From Outer Space (1953), two episodes of Twilight Zone (“Back There” and “Execution”), and the Outer Limits episode “Specimen: Unknown.”

He also played a nuclear physicist in This Island Earth (1955). And after that film was reprised as the movie-within-the-movie in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996), Johnson was brought to the 1996 MST3K ConventioCon Expo Fest-a-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo where he proved to have a surprisingly faannish sense of humor. When asked about Gilligan’s Island by someone in the MST3K convention audience he told this anecdote —

I was at a speaking engagement for MIT … and I said … the Professor has all sorts of degrees, including one from this very institution [MIT]! And that’s why I can make a radio out of a coconut, and not fix a hole in a boat!

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

4 thoughts on “Russell Johnson (1924-2014)

  1. That’s “ConventioCon Expo Fest-a-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo”– I have the T-shirt and the badge…

    I remember standing in the huge line at that con to get my MST3K movie poster signed by him and Rex Reed. I shook their hands and thanked them for being such good sports about it. Reed smiled and said, “You’re welcome”; Johnson gestured at the line and said, “Hey, the fans…” in a tone of voice that communicated that of course he was going to show up if this many people were interested, never mind that it was all about a guy and two robots making fun of one of his performances.

  2. Thanks for the correction on the name. The other spelling comes from the Wikipedia article. Using the correct spelling I found there are even YouTube videos of the 1996 con online — but not of Russell Johnson’s appearance.

  3. You’re welcome. “Boogaloo” still needs to be changed to “Bugaloo” though.

    (Yes, the movie title being played on uses “Boogaloo”, but the official con spelling is “Bugaloo”, because someone got it wrong and it was too late by the time the mistake was noticed. IIRC, the fan club newsletter got a whole article out of justifying it with (knowingly) dubious linguistics.)

  4. I can confirm the MIT anecdote; said appearance was at one of the first Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies, when they were held at MIT rather than the current Harvard location, and I was in the audience for that. He got considerable applause for it.

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