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Paean to the Professor: How I found first love on 'Gilligan's Island'

January 18, 2014|By Mary McNamara
  • The cast of Gilligan's Island. Which man would you date?
The cast of Gilligan's Island. Which man would you date? (Associated Press )

It was a bumpy week for television news — TCA, the Golden Globes, the premiere of Lifetime’s “Flowers in the Attic” — and then to top it off, we lost the Professor.

Russell Johnson, who played Dr. Roy Hinkley on the comedy classic “Gilligan’s Island,” was 89 when he died of natural causes in his home on Washington state’s Bainbridge Island, a good age for any mortal. But I am heartbroken none the less.

The Professor was the first man I ever loved.

My earliest television-viewing memory is of watching “Gilligan’s Island,” on our black and white TV, with its rabbit ears and aluminum stand. I was only 5 but he stood out like a beacon, wavy-haired and tan against his white shirt, impeccably khakied with those fabulous deck shoes.

The Professor Knew Things, and Built Things, and Stayed Calm when all others lost their heads. That he could engineer a condo complex and water system out of bamboo but not make a raft or repair the S.S. Minnow did not register with me any more than it did with the rest of the marooned citizenry. No matter what happened, the Professor was a point of deference, the Go To Guy.

My hero.

Frankly, he was pretty much the only option. Boys could vacillate between Ginger and Mary Ann, and I admit Mary Ann offered attractions of her own. But what choice did girls have back then? Gilligan? The Skipper? Please.

My little duckling heart imprinted on the Professor so fast and strong he formed the template for most of my dating life, which, with a few notable exceptions, leaned hard to older men.

“Is this my fault,” my poor father asked at one point, after I had presented yet another man closer to his age than mine, all in some state of emotional or mental dishevelment or other. “Do we need to see a therapist together?”

Well probably, but it’s too late for that, and anyway I wasn’t so much seeking Daddy as I was the Professor. The man who knew things, who built things, even if those things weren't what anyone really needed, didn’t result in rescue.

Over the years, that clean-cut calm was overlaid with other characteristics that grew, like the general trend in romance, increasingly dark. The broodiness of Mr. Rochester, the sad-sack twinkle of Jim Rockford, the madness of Mick Belker resolved to the more overtly troubled charms of Gregory House, who was my last real television crush.

And, it must be noted, very close to my own age. I’ve been out of the dating pool for some time now, but I’ve recently noticed that all those older men characters I still gravitate toward are now my contemporaries. Johnson had just turned 40 when “Gilligan’s Island” debuted, a milestone I passed a while ago.

Like many women with some life experience tucked away, I find myself less and less drawn to the darker notions of romance; the men I once considered tantalizingly haunted I now see as self-absorbed, too busy fingering their wounds or neuroses to look up and see the rest of the wide and much more interesting world.

Slowly but surely I have returned to a more traditional view of strength in both men and women. People who know things and build things and stay calm in times of crisis. 

They say there is no love like the first love, and it’s true; I’ll still take a man in a white button-down and khakis any day.

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