Thursday, January 16, 2014

So Long, Professor and Manager

Between them, Russell Johnson and Dave Madden are known, pretty much, for two television characters.

That doesn't mean they were flashes in the pan---it just means that the folks they played made an impression that was almost indelible.

Johnson was The Professor on "Gilligan's Island." Madden played the "Partridge Family"'s manager, Reuben Kinkaid.

Both passed away today. Johnson was 89; Madden was 82.

As is typical when lightning strikes and you find yourself in a role that is enormously popular, Johnson was a little known character actor when he signed on to play the Professor on "Gilligan" in 1964. His life, of course, was then changed forever.

In Madden's case, he first showed up on the small screen as one of the ensemble members of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," which debuted in 1967. But the real money and notoriety came a few years later, when he joined the cast of "The Partridge Family," playing the exasperated manager to the performing family, led by matriarch Shirley Jones.

Where Russell Johnson's character was perhaps the most cerebral on his show, Madden was no fool on his, but he was often the foil and the butt of the sassy humor of son Danny (played by Danny Bonaduce).

Johnson's Professor tried to ground his co-island inhabitants, while Madden's Kinkaid just tried to survive each day managing the Partridges.

Madden also did a lot of commercials, his pop-eyed, disarming looks and distinctive voice lending themselves well to the world of advertising and voice-over work.



But despite the more variety in Madden's career versus Johnson's, it's doubtless that an overwhelming number of viewers who are old enough to remember, will correctly identify Reuben Kinkaid with Dave Madden, just as they attach Russell Johnson to the Professor.

The Professor did have a name, by the way---Roy Hinkley. Use that to win a nice bet in a bar someday.

Johnson was a veteran of TV shows, ranging from science fiction to westerns, before he got the role of Professor Hinkley on "Gilligan." And then, in three years, Johnson pretty much erased his career, before and after "Gilligan," from the minds of TV viewers everywhere.

Johnson was the Professor, period.



Even Johnson was hard-pressed to figure out why "Gilligan's Island"---a nonsensical show about castaways who somehow always seem to have what they need to survive yet who cannot gain rescue---was so popular and has such long-lasting appeal.

"It's a phenomenon that we don't really understand," Johnson once said of his and his cast mates' amazement.

Madden, forever dressed in his rumpled suit while managing the Partridges, was much more blunt and candid about playing Reuben Kinkaid.

"What did I like about playing Reuben? The money! Any TV actor who answers differently is probably lying. Face it, it's not exactly Shakespeare," Madden said in a 2008 interview.

No, not Shakespeare, but I bet more people can recall episodes of "Gilligan's Island" and "The Partridge Family" than can recite from "Hamlet."

Not saying that's good or bad. Just, true.

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