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Dave Madden and Russell Johnson, R.I.P.

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I'm afraid I have no decent anecdotes about Dave Madden or Russell Johnson, both of whom have just died. Madden was out of the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In by the time I started poaching on the set of that show. In fact, he was co-starring on The Partridge Family, a show of which I was never too fond. The few times I did watch, I thought he was the best thing about it but the kids got all the screen time.

But I always thought he was funny…just naturally funny. In 1985, I cast him to do a voice on a CBS Storybreak and he sure made my words sound better than they were. He was funny. He was professional. And he was Dave Madden. Nobody was ever better at that kind of dry delivery. I wish I had more to tell you about him but that's about it.

I'm not sure whether we should feel sorry, career-wise, for Russell Johnson. I read this in one of his obits today…

He admitted he had trouble finding work after Gilligan's Island, having become typecast as the egg-headed professor. But he harbored no resentment for the show, and in later years he and other cast members, including Bob Denver, who had played the bumbling first mate Gilligan, often appeared together at fan conventions.

You can look at this two ways. One is that the three-season sitcom — which has rerun indefinitely, probably paying close-to-bupkis to its stars — lessened his opportunities for other work. Or you can say that it gave him a signature role, one that made him famous. Today as folks are saying, "The Professor from Gilligan's Island died," everyone knows who that is. The kind of roles he got before and after that series didn't do that for him. When I've seen him at conventions and autograph shows, he usually has a long line of folks who want to buy his pic and signature. They're not there because he was on a couple episodes of Death Valley Days.

I only met him once briefly at one of those. He was an awfully nice, friendly guy not just to me but to everyone. He sat patiently next to Mary Ann and answered all the same questions for eighty-millionth time. Elsewhere in the room, there were actors with no customers for their signed photos. Some of them were fine actors who'd played hundreds of roles on TV shows…but they never managed to snag that regular part on a popular series. I hope Russell Johnson looked around that room and decided he was a successful man.