Thursday, January 16, 2014

Professor, R.I.P.

What one is exposed to as a youth can have a tremendous impact on future life paths.   I have spent my full working life as a college professor, but did not come from an academic family. During my youth, there was only one professor I was really aware of, and his model no doubt influenced my choice of career in ways that I am not fully aware of.

I feel moved to acknowledge the influence of Russell Johnson, the Professor on the TV show ``Gilligan's Island'', who passed away today.  He never seemed constrained by disciplinary boundaries; a generalist with deep knowledge of every subject, and a flair for creating high technology items out of coconut shells.  His model of the nerdy academic wandering his tropical island paradise was so compelling that maybe it helped turn me into a nerdy academic wandering my not-so-tropical, Long Island not-so-paradise...

This seems an appropriate opportunity to rank the seven stars of Gilligan's Island by their historical significance:
  • Jim Backus (Mr. Howell) 15,374.
  • Alan Hale, Jr. (The Captain) 23,841.
  • Bob Denver (Gilligan) 26,025.
  • Tina Louise (Ginger) 28,365.
  • Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) 35,815.
  • Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell) 43,321.
  • Russell Johnson (The Professor) 48,384.
These actor rankings grossly reflect my sense of reality.   Jim Backus was a genuine movie star (remember him as the father in ``Rebel without a Cause''?) who achieved his greatest cultural role as the voice of Mr. Magoo.  I would have ranked Bob Denver ahead of Alan Hale, but the captain appeared in several movies prior to his role on the show.   None of the four supporting actors ever had any really significant roles outside the show, a typecasting fate which seemed to strike many of the television actors of the era.