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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Six Digress Of Gilligan's Island

As a kid growing up in Toronto, I would watch the comedies on TV after school before ignoring my homework in favor of playing sports (judo and soccer) and then perhaps watching my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs play hockey or some other television programming.

I make no bones about it... I watched a lot of television.

I was a lousy student... but after somehow squeaking in to university and somehow getting a degree, I actually tried when I went to college to do journalism... the university degree, journalism background and an ability to communicate with anybody about anything - thanks to an ability to use what I had learned while watching a lot of television, I was able to con enough people on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme to think I would be perfect for assistant teaching English in Japan.

Turns out I was, but what are you going to do?

Years later, I still watch a lot of television, augment it by reading a book a week, write daily blogs here, and weekly ones for another, and write for a monthly magazine.

I ain't no professor, but I like trying to teach people new things.

Which brings me to Gilligan's Island... a television show from the 1960s that only ran three years, but despite it's completely improbable plots, remains a beacon for comedy writers everywhere.

I was writing about myself a few days ago - about my genetic background, and fell down through a rabbit hole (hello, Alice!), and decided to add a short cartoon video about Bugs Bunny and a genie.

That genie was voiced by Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island. I decided to read up on him, then Natalie Schafer (who played Mrs. Lovey Howell on the show). Because Natalie donated some of her fortune to co-star Dawn Wells (who played Mary Ann on the show) who was once Miss Nevada and was in the 1960 Miss America pageant - and I'm sure we can ALL believe that to be 100% true, so I read up on her... and because her bio mentioned Russell Johnson (The Professor), I read up on him.

By the way... did you know Rack-el, sorry, Raquel Welch also auditioned for the role of Mary Ann in pre-1964?
Okay... I can see Raquel Welch as Mary Ann now.
Her rise to fame came when she donned (sorta) a wet fur bikini as she emerged from the sea in the movie One Million Years BC. It's a classic poster that hung on many a teenaged boy's wall - you can look that up if you like. OMG - she should've tried out for Ginger... though I love Tina Louise (redhead) in that role.

Also, by the way, Gilligan's Island owes its plot to the 1939 Lucille Ball (love I Love Lucy... I have every episode!) movie Five Came Back, that included a wayward pilot and co-pilot, a botanist and his wife, a sultry woman with a shady past, and a rich playboy and his homespun wife.

Rabbit hole. And six hours to write this...

And that's how I come up with these blogs. Thought process? What's that?

So... in Russell Johnson's bio, I saw that he was involved in WWII... the Pacific Theater.. and then learned about his Japanese connection.

First off... some background on The Professor:

His full name on Gilligan's Island was Dr. Roy Hinkley Jr., born in Cleveland, Ohio, US of A, and when the show began he was a 45-year-old high school teacher, who just so happens to hold six university degrees in the fields of chemistry, botany, biology, psychology and geography—but unfortunately not one in boat repair... which makes sense, otherwise the show would have been over in two episodes.

According to background notes from the show's "Bible"... notes about each of the characters a creator will create to better flesh out all of the story/concept.

The professor was a genius from a very early age, and has a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) from USC (University of Southern California), a B.S. (Bachelor of Science) from UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), a M.A. (Masters) from SMU (Southern Methodist University - my ex from Japan, Ashley, went to this university), and a Ph.D from TCU (Texas Christian University) at the age of 15.

The bible says he spent two years on an Egyptian expedition. Along with English, some of the languages he can speak are Marubi (I think it's Albanian, but I can't confirm), Papuan (New Guinea), and Katubi (no frickin' clue)... with the exception of Papuan, the Professor's language abilities were meant to be useless... but then not useless.

His background includes him being the number one man on his chess team, and he was the youngest Eagle Scout in the entire city. At the time of the shipwreck, he was considered to be a Scoutmaster. He has never been married nor is he in a relationship when he boards the SS Minnow (the boat that gets shipwrecked on the show) for this three-hour tour via Gilligan's Island.

He is an author, of sorts, having penned the book "Rust, the Real Red Menace," and was in the process of writing another, "Fun with Ferns," which was why he was taking the three-hour boat tour... research.

Here's a list of some of The Professor's inventions on the isle:
  • Island Electrical Generator;
  • Bamboo Island Taxi;
  • Pedal-powered Hacksaw;
  • Pedal-powered Washing Machine;
  • Bomb (a timed-explosive used to relieve the pressure on the island's volcano);
  • Dental Chair;
  • Thermometer;
  • Bowling;
  • Guillotine (to help split coconuts);
  • Fish Scale (for weighing food as well as the Skipper and Gilligan), perhaps an early way to better conserve food?);
  • Hypodermic Needle (for medical needs);
  • Pedal-powered scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) pump;
  • Scale (I think it's just used by The Professor to weigh ingredients for his experiments);
  • Geiger Counter;
  • Alcohol Still;
  • High G Centrifuge (a test to see who can best use a jetpack they find);
  • Island Blowtorch;
  • Island Telephone;
  • Lie Detector;
  • Pedal-powered Fan;
  • Barometer;
  • Seismometer;
  • Sewing Machine;
  • Retinoscope (looking into the eye);
  • Stethoscope;
  • Record Player;
  • Dynamite;
  • Transmitter.
The Professor trying to mix up some jet pack rocket fuel;
Contrary to what we might recall, The Professor simply could not fix the shipwrecked boat. He had tried to make nails with the found ferrous oxide on the Island, but they shattered like glass or exploded... he simply did not have enough of the ore to continue experiments. However, after discovering that Mary Ann's attempt at making syrup for pancakes had created an ultra sticky concoction, he thinks they might be able to use the glue to fasten wooden planks to cover up the hole in the boat that's about the size of a 10-pound rutabaga, if I recall.

To better protect the boat, they apply the adhesive all over the keel of it.

The problem occurs when they find out that the adhesive is not waterproof, turning to dust as soon as it touches water... causing the boat to basically come apart at the seams... luckily while it was still on land and not laden with passengers and crew.

It is the professor's fault for not performing more tests on the adhesive before applying it all over the boat, but it is not his fault that they couldn't fix the SS Minnow. That was TV's.

Some background on Russell Johnson, the person, and the reason for this article:

Born on November 10, 1924 in Ashley, Pennsylvania, US, as Russell David Johnson, after graduating from high school, Johnson enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet.
Military credentials of Russell Johnson:
After finishing his training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, and flew a total of 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater during World War II as a bombardier in B-25 bombers.

On March 4, 1945, while flying as a navigator in a B-25 with the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, 13th Air Force, his B-25 and two others were shot down during a low-level bombing and strafing run against Japanese military targets in the Philippine Islands.

Navigator Russell Johnson, back row, far left.
After coming under heavy anti-aircraft fire, and all three of those B-52s had to ditch in the sea off Zamboanga, Philippines.

Though his bomber's co-pilot was killed on the landing, Johnson survived, but had broken both ankles, which later garnered him a Purple Heart.

He was also awarded the Air Medal (awarded for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight), the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three campaign stars (you are given this for having merely participated in the Asia-Pacific theater), the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one campaign star (a military award of the Republic of the Philippines for help in it achieving its liberation from the Japanese), and the World War II Victory Medal.

After Japan's surrender, Johnson was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant on November 22, 1945.

He joined the United States Air Force Reserve and used the G.I. Bill to pay for his acting studies at the Actors' Lab in Hollywood. While there, he met actress Kay Cousins (1923–1980), whom he married in 1949.

Anyhow, it is thanks to his time spent battling Japan, that he was able to afford acting lessons, which is why I was able to see him in the role that typecast him forever as The Professor.

Russell Johnson died in 2014 at the age of 89... and while his character wasn't the funniest on Gilligan's Island, he was one of the gang and it was always curious to see what crazy invention he was going to come up with next.

I loved watching every single episode of the show... and even have the three DVD season collection - back when it was cool to pay for things legally. I think I'll go watch an episode now.

Andrew Joseph
PS: On the pilot for Gilligan's Island, Russell Johnson was NOT The Professor... that role was played by John Gabriel, who was replaced because they felt he look too young for the role.John is perhaps best known to TV soap opera viewers for his role as Seneca Beaulac in the ABC-TV soap opera series "Ryan's Hope" from 1975 to 1985 and from 1988 to 1989.
PPS: Dabney Coleman also tried out for the role of The Professor.
PPPS: I believe that in the opening shots of the first episode, just after the crew wakes up to find the SS Minnow marooned on the island, we can see the cast members of Bunny and Ginger from the PILOT episode asleep under blankets. Ginger and Bunny were two secretaries in the Pilot).
PPPPS: Gabriel does appear in Season 1, Episode 12's Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk in a flashback, also in re-used footage from the Pilot, during a flashback scene.

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