Mention the name Russell Johnson and most people will give you a blank stare in the face. Mention that Johnson played the Professor on the 1960’s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” and most people will give you a warm “oh yeah, I remember him.”
Johnson, who passed away on January 16th at the age of 89 at his home in Washington State, was born in the small upstate Pennsylvania community of Ashley. He was one of seven children attending the borough’s public schools until his father, a detective for the Reading Railroad, died. That is when he and his brothers left Luzerne County and went to Girard College, a boarding school in Philadelphia.
Johnson joined the Army Air Corps and served in World War II as a B-24 bombardier on missions over the Pacific war zone. He broke his ankles in one mission in 1945 when his plane was shot down over the Philippine island of Mindanao. He was discharged as a first lieutenant in November 1945 having earned a Purple Heart and other military honors.
Once stateside, Johnson enrolled at the Actors Lab in Hollywood under the G.I. Bill where he was bitten by the acting bug. His show-biz career was launched in the early 1950’s with roles as a character actor. He played Marshal Gib Scott in two seasons of “Black Saddle,” a television western that ran in 1959 and 1960. He also had roles in “The Adventures of Superman,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and “The Twilight Zone.”
The Pennsylvania native however got his big break in Hollywood when he was cast in the role of Professor Roy Hinkley in the CBS sitcom “Gilligan’s Island.” The show aired from 1964 through 1967. He like many other sitcom stars of the 60’s seemed to have very few acting opportunities after his initial television success.
There have been a few attempts over the years to celebrate Ashley, Pennsylvania’s favorite son and now it appears that the borough council will take some action to pay tribute to Johnson. Council President Donald Sipple said the borough may erect a sign nothing that Johnson was born in Ashley or perhaps naming an island in Solomon Creek after him. Up for consideration is also a “three-hour tour” of Ashley’s eateries and pubs.