Nov 9, 2015

Russell Johnson: The Professor and His Gay Son

Everyone in West Hollywood knew Russell Johnson, who played the Professor on Gilligan's Island.  I met him once, and saw him a few times at events.  He was a gay ally, primarily due to his son David..

Everyone in West Hollywood knew David, too -- Alan (my ex-porn star roommate) dated him.  He was a fixture in the bars, at the French Quarter, and at the AIDS Project of Los Angeles.  Later he was named AIDS Coordinator of the City of Los Angeles (he died in 1994).

Russell's career began during the 1950s, with lots of roles in Westerns and sci-fi movies: look for him in the MST3K rendition of The Space Children (1958). 

In the late 1950s, he moved into tv, with guest spots on Twilight Zone, Thriller, Laramie, Rawhide, and such hip-detective series as Adventures in Paradise and Hawaiian Eye.  But Boomers will always remember him for Gilligan's Island, a "trapped far from home" sitcom about seven people who set sail from Honolulu for a "three hour tour" and end up trapped on a desert island.

The Professor was an egghead of the old school, an expert in every field of science from astronomy to zoology, who constantly amazed kids in the 1960s by concocting radios from coconuts.  His utter lack of interest in the two female castaways, Ginger and Mary Anne, gave me some of my first gay subtexts.

And some of my first beefcake, in his occasional shirtless scenes.

Although typecast as the Professor, Russell continued to work steadily during the 1970s and 1980s.  But he devoted most of his time to raising AIDS awareness and taking care of David.

His last screen role was in 1997, in Meego, about an alien boy hiding out on Earth. He played "The Professor."

Russell died in 2014.