What would an episode of Gilligan’s Island have been without actress Dawn Wells gracing the screen without her doe-like eyes, slender figure and farm girl principals? It probably would’ve felt a lot longer than a 3-hour tour.
Since its a pilot episode, 60s sitcom mainstay Gilligan’s Island has never been off the air and has been translated into over 30 different languages around the world. Surprisingly, the show was only filmed over a 3-season period for a total of 98 episodes that aired initially between 1964-1967, as compared to later successful American sitcoms in the 70s-90s like Family Matters or Full House that would air new episodes for near decade-long runs.
Gilligan would become extremely popular in the years following its filming, especially in the 70s through syndication — and the show’s staple, archetypical characters would become well known as American icons, such as Mary Ann, the homegrown, down to earth, all-American beauty. As the first girl-next-door of American television and a former Miss Nevada, Dawn Wells quickly became a favorite of baby boomer boys growing up in the era, and on the show she served as the sweet foil to the other upper crust castaways like Ginger and Mrs. Howell.
“This is not my ego talking,” Wells said to Nashville Scene recently, “but Mary Ann was bright, fair-minded and reasonable, and I like to think that’s what I brought to her. She wasn’t just a silly and sweet ingénue. And they put her in short shorts so you wouldn’t think she was your sister!”
For how well-known she is for the role, Wells only spent three years actually working as Mary Ann. Before she received the role that would change her life she made her debut on ABC’s The Roaring 20s and also made appearances in episodes of Maverick, Bonanza and 77 Sunset Strip.
But after the show finished filming, Wells decided that she wanted to get down to her acting roots, and formed an extremely successful career for herself in the theater rather than film and television. “I didn’t want to be famous. I didn’t want to be one of these celebrities that don’t do anything. I wanted to act. So I went back on the road playing in national theatrical tours to hone my craft.”
Now in her mid 70s, and still gorgeous, Wells recently moved back to Nashville from Idaho where she taught acting classes, remained active in the theater scene and helped to run a foundation called Wishing Wells Collections, which makes clothing for people who have limited mobility.
In 2007, she faced some drama when she was caught swerving while heading home after her own birthday celebration. She was pulled over and found to be in possession of marijuana (which we hope grew organically back on Gilligan’s Island!). It turned out the drugs had been ‘left in the car by a friend,’ but in this day and age, an elderly Mary Ann smoking a joint couldn’t be more culturally appropriate.
“I think it is so hysterical that people went nuts over it,” Wells said over the incident. “I am what, now, 102 years old? I get booked for the first time in my life and suddenly I am a drug-using bum? I have told people the facts, but facts don’t interest people or the media. They only trust headlines.”
While the show is over 50 years old now, and Wells is approaching 77, the question of the century still remains: “Mary Ann or Ginger?”
Today, we go with Mary Ann. Why? Because Wells has no plans to slow down yet — you can even follow what she’s up to on Twitter.“I am so fortunate to love what I do and been able to do it my whole life,” she says. “I’m just so grateful. I’m going to live to be a hundred, and I want to be Betty White when I grow up!”
Can you believe this 3-hour tour started over 50 years ago? Though the real question is: Mary Ann or Ginger? Find out how they look!