Thursday, June 7, 2012

Yessir, Professor!

In each generation there comes a time when every young male has had to take a stand and make his choice known: Ginger – or Mary Ann? Sexpot Ginger might have been the supposedly obvious choice to share a hut on Gilligan’s Island with, but year after year, homespun hottie Mary Ann emerges the winner whenever a poll is given on the question.

But for some of us, the answer was neither of these sex kittens. For some of us, the only choice that made sense was... the Professor.

Russell Johnson played Professor Roy Hinkley on Gilligan's Island.

Johnson co-starred in the western, Black Saddle.
Portrayed by veteran movie and television actor Russell Johnson, the Professor was the only good looking male on Gilligan’s Island. With his nice firm body and handsome, masculine face, Johnson’s Professor provided the closest thing to beefcake on a show famous for its cheesecake. I long believed this was this was just a fortunate accident in casting – everyone knew “professors” (“Professor” Roy Hinkley was actually a high school science teacher) were supposed to be scrawny, balding, bespectacled nebbishes. I assumed that the producers just didn’t realize that they were casting a handsome man as the Professor, that they just picked some guy they thought was average-looking to play a Don Knotts-type role. But I was wrong – seems that were looking for a hottie. In interviews, Russell Johnson has himself told the story of how the casting director tried to get him to take off his shirt during his audition, to judge his “sex appeal” (Johnson refused, but got the part anyway). And recently the pilot for Gilligan’s Island has surfaced, with a different actor playing the Professor – hairy-chested soap stud John Gabriel. It seems the Professor was always intended to be the sexy male castaway. He was by design the first adorkable nerd stud.

In a dream sequence, the Professor fantasizes that he is ravished by the women of Gilligan's Isle.
And the producers succeeded in this aim, and not just with me. I once heard an interview on a public radio show, I think with Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann. It seems she and Russell Johnson were doing a public service speaking engagement at a federal prison. When they got there, the men were chanting for their favorite Gilligan’s Island hottie. But no, they weren’t demanding to see Wells’ character Mary Ann. And they weren’t asking for the absent Ginger. They were chanting, “We want the professor.” This freaked Johnson and Wells out a little, and they canceled the engagement, if I remember the story correctly.

But if the producers wanted a guy with sex appeal, a guy who looked good shirtless, they didn’t seem to pursue the idea when they went into production on the show itself. Of the nearly one hundred episodes of Gilligan’s Island, the professor appears shirtless just twice in the first season and once in the third. The best appearance was the first, in an episode called “St. Gilligan and the Dragon”. In a dream sequence, the Professor fantasizes that he is a movie star and the Ginger and Mary Ann are fans that rip his clothes off. As he dreams, the Professor strokes his bare chest in a way that makes me think the early 60s censors were asleep during the episode.

The only other episodes where Johnson appeared shirtless had him dressed up like a "native" - because pink skinned people are often natives of uncharted Pacific islands.

Handsome soap star John Gabriel, shown here in a still from the Gilligan's Island pilot, was originally cast as the Professor.