Note: I wrote this a few days ago, but am only now posting.
Russell Johnson, “The Professor” on Gilligan’s Island, has died.
I know untold criticism has been leveled at the show. I know some of you may think it’s the dopiest waste of time on the planet. For all I know, you’re right. But there is something more to be said about it: Gilligan’s Island saved my life.
These are the opening words of a short story I recently shared at my women’s writing group: “I was first left alone to babysit my two young sisters when I was 6 years old. As I had no idea what I was doing and in fact needed my very own babysitter, I turned to the only source of comfort in our house: the television. Early on, my TV-sitter of choice was Gilligan’s Island. Those re-runs kept me company and helped me laugh.” You may need to re-read those words in order to understand the gravity of what I’m trying to express. I was 6. Responsibilities larger than my small frame were placed upon my shoulders. I was in the first grade, y’all. It was terrifying and overwhelming to have to care for my 2 small sisters. I was incapable of the task, but no choice was given. I broke down more than once, sobbing because I didn’t know what to do or how to process my situation. To have an escape – in any form – was life-saving. TV was my only escape.
There were other shows, sure. But Gilligan’s Island was my favorite. Here were 7 people in the impossible situation of being stranded on a tropical island, with no means of rescue. They were all different, and yet they somehow managed to survive. No, I take that back. They somehow managed to thrive in the face of their isolation. And “The Professor” was a key player in their lives. He re-charged radio batteries with pennies for cry-eye. “The Professor” rose to every challenge and never showed defeat.
I looked to “The Professor” the way some might have looked to their uncles or big brothers. He was smart and funny. Trustworthy. And when I saw him handling challenges on the island, I was inspired to do my best to handle the nut-job challenges in my little kid world. And the laughter? All I can tell you is I didn’t completely lose my mind during that time. I think laughing had a lot to do with that.
When I watch Gilligan’s Island these days, it is purely for entertainment. I usually pop in a DVD while ironing. It helps to pass the time and yes, it keeps me company. As it happens, I have a fairly decent pile of laundry in need of my ironing attention. Some time in the next few days, maybe I’ll get out my ironing board and my Gilligan’s Island collection. It’s the least I can do for “Roy Hinkley” after all he did for me.