My first love is dead.
Like millions of girls (and undoubtedly quite a few boys) growing up in the 60s, my first crush was on Russell Johnson, who played Roy Hinkley, known to generations of TV viewers simply as The Professor.
I imagined being held in his arms, smelling the crisp, starchy whiteness of his button-down shirt, as he explained some vaguely scientific to me, like evaporation or one of the more interesting planets. These sensual fantasies pretty much stopped at what I’d imagine smelling and hearing — after all, I was only about seven — though as time went on I became increasingly impressed with his slim, khaki-clad professorial bod.
While I remember having other early crushes on members of the opposite sex – David Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Jesus – it wasn’t until The Professor that I actually felt attracted to anyone. My idea of being in love with Roy Rogers or Jesus vaguely involved me sitting on the sidelines (in Jesus’ case, I’d be sitting cross-legged on the ground on a hill or something) and sort of clapping and making chirpy noises of approval. But like my similar yen for Mr. Rogers, my love for my scholarly castaway imprinted itself on my romantic imagination and my duckling heart has been waddling after his type ever since.
And what the what with that whole “and the rest” B.S? My man was clearly as much a star as movie star Ginger Grant or the dumb ass for whom the island was named. In addition to his sexy starchy studliness, The Professor had a lot going on. He was clearly the most level-headed and rational person on the island. He was everyone’s go-to guy when they needed to settle a dispute or solve a problem. He could always be relied upon to know about stuff, how to make stuff, and how stuff worked. Who wouldn’t like that in a man? But it was his other qualities, perhaps not seen as assets by others, that really got me hot under the Peter Pan collar.
Growing up in a world where stewardesses were supposed to ask, “Coffee, tea or me?” and pinching women’s bottoms was not only acceptable but encouraged, it became clear that a girl should expect men to drool, ogle, and pant after the sexy, and dismiss and dis the not-so-sexy. I knew from sly jokes in Matt Helm movies and the risqué covers of paperbacks that even the meekest men were sex-obsessed and kind of sleazy – the few exceptions being Roy Rogers, Mister Rogers, Mister Deeds, and Jesus. (Abraham Lincoln too, but he was dead. And back then I would have said Martin Luther King…but hey, nobody’s perfect.)
And The Professor. More chaste than chaser, he was always unaffected by the charms of the castaways and occasional guest star intent on bagging him. (For example, he was completely oblivious to Zsa Zsa Gabor’s super overt overtures.) Neither slithering movie star vamps nor perky virginal farmer’s daughters could get a rise out him (literally). Nope, Mr. Johnson’s johnson shall not be moved, for he was far to busy studying flora and fauna to stoop to fondling.
We’re told that Professor Hinkley was a passenger on the ill-fated S.S. Minnow so he could do research for his upcoming book, Fun With Ferns. In the pilot he’s also described as a “well-known scoutmaster. Today only one thing laps to mind that might make a scoutmaster well-known, and it isn’t pretty, but back then it was code for the ultimate in wholesome idealism. (See also Mister Smith, as in Goes to Washington.)
I knew early on that if I were ever to be the competent, clear-headed one in any dyad, we’d be in big trouble. The Professor’s smarts, rational mind, clam demeanor, and his obliviousness to nearby scantily clad slores made him the prototype for a romantic archetype I never abandoned. Mr. Darcy, Mr. De Winter, Dr. Who, Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, Spock, James Burke, various priests that pop up in movies and on TV, I swooned over them all.
But my first love isn’t really dead. He lives on, because my real debt to The Professor can be seen in the wonderful man I chose as my husband. My much better half is as professor-y as they come, from his vast knowledge of just about everything to the way he fills out his chinos. And they say television isn’t good for you. Ironically, television rescued me and guided me to safety, something it was never able to do for the poor Professor “and the rest.”
Postscript: Oh yeah, so what if he couldn’t build a raft or mend a hole in a boat. He could make a radio out of coconuts for Chrissake! Besides, series creator Sherwood Schwartz answered this paradox in a weirdly Zen-like interview where he explained that people often ignore the obvious due to their own biases and filters: “That’s true of mankind; they can do except what they cannot do.” What’s the sound of one half a coconut clapping, huh?
Post-postscript: There were some episodes that hinted at The Professor’s hidden Id. In “Beauty Is As beauty Does”, he emcees a beauty pageant aimed at choosing the most beautiful woman on the island. (I know, right?) He selects Mary-Ann, which was somehow gratifying, though it would have been even better if he’d made Gilligan’s chivalrous choice, Gladys the monkey. Then there ‘s the one where in a silent movie they’re making (I know, I know), he kisses Ginger for a crotch-twitchingly long time, after which he mentions being a scuba diver, which is perhaps a euphemism for something even crotch-twitching-er. In “The Postman Cometh” he does a cute Cary Grant impression. And there’s one episode, I forget which, when they’re all drenched at the end and Mary Anne and the Professor exchange chummy looks after Gilligan does something silly. Not much to hang a wet dream on, but they were wet and the brief glances were dreamy.
Last Post-Script (I promise): Dame Hall of Famer Ida Lupino actually directed an episode of Gilligan’s Island. In fact, it’s one of my faves, “The Producer” starring Phil Silvers as Harold Hecuba. (“Hamlet, dear, your problem is clear, avenging thy father’s death; You seek to harm your uncle and mom, But you’re scaring me to death.”)