Although Russell Johnson was best known for playing the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, his military service to this country has to be a great source of pride to him. Russell Johnson almost didn’t survive the war when the B-25 bomber he was a navigator in was shot down by flak fire during a low flying accurate bombing mission against Japanese army targets in the Philippines. Johnson’s plane and two other B-25s were lost on that mission. Johnson broke both ankles in the plane’s crash landing and the crew member serving next to him was killed in the wreckage of the plane. It was a very close call for Johnson who previously was a member of 44 other successful bombing missions meant to win the Pacific theater war.
Certainly Johnson was decorated with a Purple Heart medal for his heroic service to this country. Johnson was awarded many other medals and awards for his military service as well. And after his honorable discharge from the service, Johnson reenlisted in the Army Reserves.
Johnson also was a close friend of highly decorated war hero and actor/singer, Audie Murphy. The two had appeared in a few films together, Johnson was mostly a star in Westerns in the early 50’s, but then a number of roles in Sci Fi began to follow, including two time travel stories on THE TWILIGHT ZONE for Johnson. In one memorable one, Johnson attempts to rescue Lincoln from assassination. Other Sci Fi and Western roles also following including THE OUTER LIMITS, but no role has become more famous for Johnson than his role as The Professor, on GILLIGAN”S ISLAND.
BTW, it seems that The Professor’s name was only brought up once on GILLIGAN”S ISLAND. A pilot for show was shot using a school teacher character instead of Johnson’s character, and two other female costars. Strangely, after the show was recast, the actor playing the school teacher was still seen knocked unconscious in the wreck of the S.S. Minnow during the opening scene of the first actual episode of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, although Johnson’s character was actually used in the three years of the actual series. Look for this major faux pas next time the first episode of the series airs in syndication somewhere or buy the DVD of season one.
Russell Johnson is now 87 and lives up in Washington state, but has continued to remain active, still acting as a volunteer for AIDS after his son was diagnosed and later died from the disease.