As one of the stars of CBS’s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, Dawn Wells is an actor most fondly remembered as the simple farm girl Mary Ann Summers. Wells dresses to depict the all-American beauty, complete with tiny shorts and double ponytails to match her character’s charm. The beauty part, in itself, wasn’t a difficult job – after all, Wells was Miss Nevada back in her day. Anyone who’s seen her on-screen would agree her dazzling smile and big blue eyes made her a natural beauty.
While the rest of Wells’ acting career was not as successful as one could hope, the damsel made a lasting impression as Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island – one of the rare productions that manage to live beyond their years, and that too with a plot that was unlikely, at best, along with a side of simplistic humor. Gilligan’s Island releases in 1964 and runs three seasons, spanning 98 episodes, before it canceles. When it began, or even when it ended, neither the cast nor the crew realized the sitcom would become something of a cultural phenomenon. Gilligan’s Island became a rage in the years to come, with reruns fuelling its popularity well beyond its wrap up in 1967.
On December 30, 2020, Dawn Wells died of COVID-19 related causes at the age of 82. Her publicist Harlan Boll confirmed she passed in her sleep at a nursing home in Los Angeles. Let’s look at what other celebrities had to say on the actor’s passing and go over Well’s role on the classic sitcom Gilligan’s Island and her personal life as we remember the original American girl next door.
Remembering Dawn Wells
When Wells’ publicist breaks the news of her passing, co-stars, friends, and fans devastate. The 82-year-old star of the era gone by popular as a kind soul, most often seen smiling – much like her on-screen persona on Gilligan’s Island.
Jon Cryer, who plays the pauper brother in the famous comedy Two and a Half Men, took to Twitter to express his sorrow on hearing Wells’ passing. In the tweet, he remembers the time when Wells comes to see the show, saying he thrills to meet her. Cryer described her as lovely and gracious, saying he was fortunate to have got to enjoy her work.
Jeff Scott Soto, the former singer for Journey, also took to the social media channel to remember the late star. In his Tweet, he says he always knew Wells’ on-screen persona, Mary Anne, was prettier and smarter than the flashy ‘movie star,’ seemingly referring to Louise’s character Ginger.
I Dream of Jeannie
Barbara Eden, of the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, also remembered her friend Wells fondly. She said it was sad to hear of Wells’ passing, but she would remember their laughter-filled good times together. Much like other friends, Eden described Wells as someone who was a lot of fun and loved to laugh.
Actor Maureen McCormick of ABC’s sitcom The Brady Bunch also knew Wells, having met her a few times over the years. She passed her condolences to Wells’ family, thanking her for beautiful memories over the years. In her statement, McCormick said she felt as though Wells was family because of their shared connection to producer Sherwood Schwartz.
Of the seven actors on Gilligan’s Island, the only one alive today is Tina Louise, who portrayed the sultry Hollywood star, Ginger Grant. While the rest of the show’s cast was a unit that frequently came together for reunions, Louise stayed away. Despite the fame, Gilligan’s Island brings her, the actor remains resentful of the show, mostly because she is popular as a sex symbol.
Despite her ill feelings for the show, Louise had nothing against her co-stars, and Wells’ death made her emotional. Continue watching to know what Louise tweeted after hearing Wells was no more.
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Well’s Journey on Gilligan’s Island
Featuring an ensemble cast, Gilligan’s Island was based on the adventures of seven castaways on an island after a shipwreck. The titular character, Gilligan, a clumsy, dim-witted simpleton, was one of the seven and mostly the one responsible for the failure of the group’s attempt to escape their predicament.
Wells’ character, Mary Anne Summers, was a farm girl who seemed like the odd one out since everyone else somewhat belonged on the trip whereas she had won a ticket on a local radio contest. The character has a subtle pull; there’s no real back story and nothing loud about her that catches your attention, but she holds her own on screen in every shot.
The character Mary Anne’s transition from a minor one to a major one is evidenced by the change in the show’s title song. The original title song mentioned five of the seven characters by names, but referred to Mary Anne and the Professor as “the rest.” But the lyrics change to include the two.
Gilligan’s Island’s Fame
Gilligan’s Island’s fame beyond its years led to several reunions. Thus, Wells reprised her role as Marry Anne many times, three of which were the TV movies Rescue From Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. The show’s immense popularity also led to several spin-offs and appearances in other productions.
Thanks to her fame as Mary Anne on Gilligan’s Island, Wells was able to try her luck as an author. She published Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook in 1993, and if you’re looking for a sense of authenticity there, look up Skipper’s Coconut Pie. In 2014, she came up with a memoir alongside Steve Stinson, titled ‘What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life.’
Unlike some cast members, Wells was happy with her on-screen persona on Gilligan’s Island. When asked during an interview to name her favorite episode, she named ‘ And Then There Were None.’ We can’t help but think her preference had something to do with the fact that she put on a Cockney accent for the said episode.
For Wells, a career in acting wasn’t a lifelong dream. In a Forbes interview, the actor confirmed she always wanted to be a chemist, and her next career option was a ballerina. It seems young Wells was already on her path to being a chemist before life happened. She majored in chemistry in college, but she developed an interest in drama later. She then pursued a degree in theater arts and design at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Wells’ Win As Miss Nevada In 1959
Of course, Wells’ win as Miss Nevada in 1959 made it easier for casting teams to notice her. But Wells always underplayed the title. In an interview with Forbes magazine in 2016, Wells said it wasn’t a big deal to win Miss Nevada back then. She further underplayed it by saying there were barely ten contestants in those days. Whatever the case, Wells tries her hand at acting in smaller productions quite a few times before she offers the role of Mary Anne in Gilligan’s Island. Some of these productions include Surfside Six, Maverick, and The Roaring Twenties.
Sadly, Gilligan’s Island was a one-off hit for Wells when it came to the small screen. She tried quite a few other small roles, but eventually gave up since success seemed to elude her. Wells then turned her efforts to theatre, which was pretty much a guaranteed success for the star given her prior experience. She performed in more than 100 theater productions over the years.
Netflix Production The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants
In recent years, she lent her voice to the 2019 animated Netflix production The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants. The year 2018 was when she was last seen on screen; she appeared in one episode on the TV series Kaplan’s Korner. A few years before that, she was seen in an episode of The Bold and The Beautiful.
On the personal front, Wells was married only once. She wed Larry Rosen in 1962, and the two divorced almost five years later. Coincidentally, the divorce was finalized the same year as Gilligan’s Island was canceled – it seems Wells’ life entered a new phase then.
Wells was also keen on contributing to society. She operated the business Wishing Wells Collections for several years, which provided clothing for those with limited mobility. Over the years, she lent her support to several non-profit initiatives. In one such initiative, she taught acting. Funnily enough, when Wells was asked in an interview what she would want to do in life if she could start all over – she said she would get into genetic medicine.
Tina Louise’s Memory of Wells
Tina Louise, the last surviving member of the cast of Gilligan’s Island, remembered Dawn Wells in a Tweet. She said she would always remember how kind Wells was to her. Also, she added that together, they created a ‘cultural landmark,’ referring to the show, which still brought smiles to people’s faces. She concluded by hoping that everyone remembered Wells as she did, with a smile on her face.
In an interview with the New York Post, Louise revealed that the late Wells was just as down-to-earth off screen as her on-screen persona Mary Anne. She added that Wells was a wonderful person, calling her family.
The remaining cast of Gilligan’s Island is no more. Bob Denver, who played the titular character Gilligan, was a heavy smoker and passed in 2005 at the age of 70 of complications arising from a throat cancer surgery.
Alan Hale Jr
The character of Captain Jonas Grumby, or the ‘skipper,’ was played by Alan Hale Jr., son of the famous actor Alan Hale Sr. Hale Jr. died relatively early at the age of 68 in 1990. Hale and Wells were good friends. The duo stayed in touch and were neighbors on and off. Their friendship grew stronger when Hale’s mother passed in 1969.
Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island, died in 1989 from pneumonia after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. Natalie Schafer, who played the rich spoiled socialite Mrs. Howell, died from liver cancer at the age of 90. Russell Johnson, who portrayed the Professor, died of kidney failure at the age of 89.
Gilligan’s Island is a timeless classic that continues to entertain audiences even today, more than 50 years since it went on air. And Dawn Wells’ character, Mary Anne, was the original girl next door. Even if you watch the show today, you can’t deny her youthful charm. If you haven’t seen Gilligan’s Island yet, we suggest you at least watch one episode, just to know why the show became such a phenomenon.
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