Mary Ann a favourite on Gilligan's Island
Dawn Wells, an actress best known as the pigtailed farm girl turned castaway on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island, died Wednesday at an assisted-living facility in Woodland Hills, Calif. She was 82.
The cause was complications from COVID-19.
A drama major who was crowned Miss Nevada in 1959, Wells parlayed her pageant success into a show-business career. She made scores of screen and stage appearances over five decades, but none as memorable as her role as Mary Ann on the show about a motley group of tour-boat passengers marooned on an uncharted South Pacific island.
Every week, viewers followed the misadventures of the goofy first mate Gilligan, his buffoonish Skipper, the haughty millionaire couple Thurston and Lovey Howell, a scientist known as the Professor, a sultry movie star named Ginger, and Mary Ann Summers, the girl-nextdoor whose wardrobe of choice was short shorts and midriff tops.
“It's not my ego talking, but Mary Ann wasn't just a silly and sweet ingenue,” Wells observed in her 2014 self-help book, What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life, written with Steve Stinson. “She was bright, fair-minded and reasonable, and I like to think that's what I brought to her.”
She told the Vancouver Sun in 2014 that “you can go anywhere and say `Ginger or Mary Ann?' You don't have to say what show it is. Everybody gets it. And I always win.”
Dawn Elberta Wells was born in Reno, Nev., on Oct. 18, 1938. She planned to study chemistry but developed an interest in the arts.
She gave herself two years to make a mark as an actress — or otherwise return to college for medical-school training.
After small roles on series such as 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye, Wells found herself up against another obscure actress for the role of Mary Ann. “That's the only time I could beat Raquel Welch out of anything,” she later quipped.
She married and divorced her agent, Larry Rosen, in the 1960s and had no immediate survivors.
Struggling to find challenging work after Gilligan's Island, Wells turned to stage productions, often appearing in Neil Simon plays.
She told the New York Times that certain doors were closed to her, one of them being a staging of the play The Vagina Monologues.
“Are you out of your mind?” she recalled producers asking. “Mary Ann?”