Remembering ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Actor Dawn Wells and the Legacy She Hoped to Leave Behind
Wells, who played “girl next door” Mary Ann Summers, reportedly died of complications from Covid-19.
Here’s what the actor had to say about how she wanted to be remembered.
Wells’ death was announced today
The actor was most well-known for her portrayal of castaway Mary Ann on the classic television comedy Gilligan’s Island.
She played the wholesome, pretty island resident along with Gilligan (Bob Denver), the Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.), Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer), Ginger (Tina Louise) and the Professor (Russell Johnson).
She died today at age 82 of reported complications from coronavirus (covid-19) in an assisted-living facility in California.
With Wells’ death, Tina Louise is the final living member of the show’s cast.
The show’s theme song and how it changed thanks to Mary Ann and the Professor
Wells spoke with the Archive of American Television in 2008 about the show’s original theme song that omitted mentioning her character, as well as the Professor’s. At first, they were simply “and the rest,” but this was changed to include them, as she explained.
“Ginger was cast first,” she said. “Hence, ‘and the rest!’ Her agent negotiated that she would be in fifth position billing and nobody after her. So by the time the Professor and Mary Ann got cast, our agents’ hands were tied,” Wells said.
“After the first season,” she said, “they changed the title [song] and [show creator] Sherwood Schwartz took credit for it, [Gilligan actor] Bob Denver, and [director] John Rich took credit for it, saying that ‘we put you both in front,’ but I don’t know who did it, really.”
Wells dispelled rumors of rivalry between herself and ‘Ginger’ actor
The show’s fans still argue about which island girl was best: Ginger or Mary Ann? The distant and sexy character made famous by Tina Louise or the sweet down-home character of Mary Ann Summers?
As far as Wells was concerned, no rivalry existed between the two actors. To the Mary Ann actor, Tina Louise was a generous mentor.
“I learned a lot from Tina,” Wells said. “I learned about camera angles, and about makeup. I learned a lot. Because I was brand new. Tina knew, she knew. She knew what would make her look beautiful, what angles looked good on her.”
How Wells wished to be remembered
Wells spoke in 2008 of discovering the extent of the show’s reach globally.
“I was in the Solomon Islands,” she said. “I canoed up to the Solomon Islands with five women, we were adventurers. No running water, no electricity, canoeing up to these islands where no white women had ever been.
“And the chief’s wife, she looked at me and said, ‘I know you.’ I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘I went to nursing school in the capital of the Solomon Islands and I used to come home and watch you on television.’ Isn’t that amazing?”
Asked how she would like to be remembered, Wells, pretty and petite well into her advanced years stated, “Kind, good friend, happy, made a difference.”