“NOT MARY ANN!” definitely echoed through the land today as we all poured out a coconut cream pie, because the unholy union of 2020 and coronavirus has taken Dawn Wells. Dawn, who of course was Mary Ann in Gilligan’s Island, died today in Los Angeles of COVID-19 complications. She was 82.
Dawn Wells’ rep confirmed the sad news to The Hollywood Reporter. Tina Louise, who played Ginger, is now the only surviving original cast member of Gilligan’s Island.
Dawn Elberta Wells was born and raised in Reno, NV, and later graduated with a degree in theater arts and design from the University of Washington. In 1959, a year before she graduated from college, she was crowned Miss Nevada and competed for Miss America. But while Dawn didn’t win Miss America, she would later get third runner-up in the Miss Castaway pageant on Gilligan’s Island, which was a much, much, much more prestigious and illustrious title than Miss America, which anybody could get!
But before Dawn Wells took a three-hour tour to TV superstardom by landing the role of Mary Ann, she made her TV acting debut in ABC’s The Roaring 20s. And she guest-starred on other TV shows like Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Joey Bishop Show, and Burke’s Law before she slipped into farmer girl coochie cutters and put her hair into “getting ready to milk the cow” pigtails to play Mary Ann. But Mary Ann wasn’t in the original pilot of Gilligan’s Island.
In the pilot, Mary Ann wasn’t a farm girl from Kansas but a “dumb blonde” named Bunny who was the best friend of Ginger (a secretary and not a movie star). When the character of Bunny became Mary Ann, Dawn Wells auditioned and Wikipedia says she was up against Raquel Welch, but obviously, she won the role. Gilligan’s Island ran on CBS for three seasons from 1964 to 1967. I always forget that Gilligan’s Island only lasted for three seasons and probably because a big piece of my childhood was spent happily lying on our green shag carpeting while watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island over and over again. So it always felt like there were two million GI episodes.
After Gilligan’s Island ended, Dawn went on to act in many more shows like Bonanza, The Love Boat, Growing Pains, Roseanne (where she played Darlene), and The Bold and The Beautiful. Dawn also never really hung up her pigtails. She played Mary Ann again on shows like Herman’s Head, Baywatch, and Alf, and the TV movies Rescue From Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways On Gilligan’s Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan’s Island. Dawn also did the voice of both Mary Ann and Ginger on the fucked-up cartoon fever dream that was Gilligan’s Planet. And Dawn starred in several theater productions and had a one-woman show in Las Vegas in 1985.
Dawn’s charity work included working with the Terry Lee Wells Foundation, which focuses on women and children in Northern Nevada, and the Elephant Sanctuary. And two years ago, Dawn was in a bad way after a life-threatening surgery nearly left her broke and she had no family to help her out. So a friend set up a GoFundMe for her and more than $200,000 was raised to cover her medical bills and living expenses.
Just last week on Christmas Eve, Dawn sent holiday wishes to all of her fans before giving us some “Is this shit on?” goofiness:
Rest in peace, Dawn Wells.