You may know Peter Breck as Nick Barkley in The Big Valley and you probably identify Russell Johnson with the Professor in Gilligan’s Island. Both became known, albeit not very well, a few years earlier in The Black Saddle.
Peter Breck, the gun totting lawyer Clay Culhane. Russell Johnson, the lawman Marshall Gib Scott.
It was my pleasure to stand in for Russell Johnson for most of the two season run for this Western series. It was my first stand-in job and led directly to my subsequent stand-in opportunity on Robert Taylor Detectives (which I will blog soon).
Although it was tiring to be standing in the marshall’s office day after day, I enjoyed the excellent comraderie by all members of the cast. I got to see a lot of the bare mountains in the Iverson Ranch where most of the horse chases were filmed. And of course, even though in those days they were only box lunches, the lunch breaks were a welcome 1/2 hour of relaxation from the sun, dust and sweat from the horses.
Russell Johnson had a dry sense of humor, as you saw in Gillligan’s Island.
One episode, he had to climb into the back of a typical Western plains wagon. High sideboards, some kind of cloth covering over the wagon. He had several lines as he climbed up the back of the wagon. He put one foot over the backboard on the back of the wagon and shifted his weight to pull his other foot into the wagon…. not to be…. a rope had swirled around his ankle effectively anchoring his foot in place. This was during a take (live on film). Without a single hesitation or facial tick, Russell continued with his lines in all seriousness while his foot was vigorously trying to shake off the snakelike contracting rope. The entire set, was fighting desperately to keep from bursting out laughing at the spectacle (including myself). Finally the director whose face was turning red from holding in his chuckles yelled cut and we all burst out in hilarity….. Russell with gentlemanly aplomb, released his ankle from the offending rope and took several bows in all directions of the stage.
A nice thing about standing-in is that you get upgraded often to a silent bit (see my SEG blog). Here is one of those cases in which I played the secretary in a trial:
I just heard the news that my former friend Russell Johnson passed away today Jan 16, 2014. Even after 54 years I still remember vividly how much fun Russ was on the set day after day which are a fond remembrance for me. It’s no wonder he was such a hit on Gilligan’s Island. Thanks for a couple of great years working with you on The Black Saddle.