Only the truly devoted will recall Prof. Roy Hinkley, but legions remember “the Professor” from the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island. The actor who brought the Professor to life, Russell Johnson, passed away earlier this week. He was 89.
One never knows what will impress upon them as a child. Most likely those things that are at hand or oft repeated stand the greatest chance. Johnson’s Island character made a big dent in my young mind.
Every school day I had a routine of sorts. I was up early enough that I caught an episode of the old Lone Ranger serial (occasionally a Cisco Kid would also make the rotation). After school, there was Gilligan.
I haven’t seen an episode in years, but back then I was transfixed. Even as a child I gleaned the formula: A way off the island presents itself. The castaways get ready to leave. Gilligan messes it up. Lather, rinse, repeat.
In the middle of the predictable course, the Professor builds myriad gadgets, gizmos and contraptions. Of course the unassailable elephant in the room resides in the fact that he could build a radio out of a coconut and palm fronds. Yet he couldn’t patch a hole in a wooden boat — a fact, according to the New York Times, Johnson often mused in interviews about the show.
The Times obit also explored the Professor’s academic credentials. Again, such trivia is likely the purview of fanatics alone.
“Professor, what exactly are your degrees?” Mr. Howell once asked.
“Well,” the Professor replied, “I have a B. A. from U.S.C., a B.S. from U.C.L.A., an M.A. from S.M.U. and a Ph.D. from T.C.U.”
Howell laughs, “Well, I don’t know much about your education, but it sounds like a marvelous recipe for alphabet soup.”
I don’t think the Professor’s scholarly achievements inspired my own trek through the academy, but I was impressed by his ability to rattle off Latin and complex equations. He seemed to have an answer no matter what the question.
Of course, I know now (as I did then) no one can have all the answers. At best, even really smart people only have a few of them.
Somewhere along the way, I ran into this thought form Nietzsche: “I want, once and for all, not to know many things. Wisdom requires moderation in knowledge as in other things.”
I think this may be Nietzsche’s way of saying “don’t be too smart for your own good.”
Even so, I kept churning through books and classes, papers and projects. Was this path wise? Opinions likely vary. I probably couldn’t have patched the boat either.
There was also something else I liked about the Professor: his shoes. I’ve never seen a confirmation, but I’ve always assumed they were blue Sperry canvas deck shoes. Over the past 30 years, I’ve owned more than a dozen pair — my own little silly homage. More than once I’ve worn them with khakis and a white oxford.
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Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Albany and who has advised police agencies around the country. He writes from Pine Bluff. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.