Sunday, January 19, 2014



Well, yes, there were technically three of them. First, the terrible theme song used for the pilot episode (which didn't feature some of the show's most popular stars). Then there was the familiar theme that most everyone knows by heart, all about that "fateful trip." It was in the second season that the theme song was revised from "and the rest" to mention "the Professor and Mary Ann," the two "normal" members of the cast.

One of the "normal" ones died, at age 89, a few days ago. Russell Johnson (November 10, 1924-January 16, 2014) made some extra cash just by signing his name on 8x10's. Nice work if you can be remembered, and generations have continued to be entertained by the lovable cast…rather than the feeble jokes and predictable knockabout visual comedy. "We had a great chemistry," Russell Johnson recalled.

Technically his role was the least interesting. He was almost the straight man for everyone else. He certainly was the only member of the cast that had any possible chance with Ginger the movie star. As Tina Louise once told me, "It would've been great if he could've just gotten us off the island." Three years of that career-wrecking show was enough for her. Dawn Wells told me that she viewed it as a "double edged sword," that playing Mary Ann may prevented her from getting good roles afterward, but at least she was well known, and IS well known wherever she goes: "I get on a plane, or go into a restaurant...and people will actually start singing the "Gilligan" theme!" Yike.

I never met Johnson, but I think he felt the same way…that in exchange for a sort of career-ending role, there was enduring fame and life on the memorabilia circuit. There are a lot of respected actors who, in retirement, can't sit at a memorabilia table and get $20 or $30 for signing something. Russell Johnson could. Before "Gilligan," Johnson was best known for playing a sheriff on a few seasons of "Black Saddle," which starred Peter Breck. Let's just say that Breck, and quite a lot of other very fine, handsome and talented actors who starred on a 50-'s or 60's series…couldn't make the same kind of money Johnson could by making public appearances at fairs, store openings or comic book conventions. Heck, once in a while a fan might ask Johnson to sign a photo of himself in an episode of "Twilight Zone" or "This Island Earth" and "It Came From Outer Space."

Russell Johnson was a lucky guy. "The Professor" could've been played by Richard Denning, Guy Madison, Jack Larson, Robert Paige and many other nice looking guys with varying degrees of personality or comic skills. Which isn't to diminish his likability or talents, or that he played the role so ably and amiably, without being the traditional "absent-minded" professor or attempting, ala Bob Cummings, to be hilarious or irressistable.

Tina Louise, who for many years was notoriously uninterested in talking about "Gilligan's Island" or participating in memorabilia events about it, was at least instantly available to pay tribute to the last of the men of the island. "My prayers and condolences go out to his wife Constance and his family. He will always be in our hearts and remembered from 'Gilligan's island' as part of American pop culture history. He will truly be missed."

Missed indeed, because at 89, he was still active, making appearances to sign autographs and greet fans…fans who were dedicated enough to know his full name on the show: Professor Roy Hinkley. His autographed photos on eBay, by the way, go for a lot of money, because it took money to get 'em. Johnson was not prone to freebies, so dealers who had to pay $20 or $30, expect that much and more.

Your download? The awful calypso theme song from the pilot (which had three school teachers in the cast, rather than Ginger, Mary Ann and the Professor), and the complete "real' theme song and end song, including the names of all aboard.

Gilligan's Island TV theme and end theme, including "Professor and Mary Ann"

Gilligan's Island "calypso" TV theme used for the pilot episode which did not include Russell Johnson, Dawn Wells or Tina Louise

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