Dawn Wells

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Dawn Wells
Dawn Wells 2015.jpg
Wells in 2015
BornDawn Elberta Wells
(1938-10-18)October 18, 1938
Reno, Nevada, U.S.
DiedDecember 30, 2020(2020-12-30) (aged 82)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1961–2019
Spouse(s)Larry Rosen (m. 1962; div. 1967)

Dawn Elberta Wells (October 18, 1938 – December 30, 2020) was an American actress known for her role as Mary Ann Summers on the CBS sitcom Gilligan's Island.

Early life[edit]

Wells was born to Evelyn (Steinbrenner) and Joe Wesley Wells in Reno, where she attended Reno High School.[1][2] After high school graduation, Wells attended Stephens College in Columbia, where she majored in chemistry. She transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she graduated in 1960 with a degree in theater arts and design. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.[1]


In 1959, Wells was crowned Miss Nevada and represented her state in the Miss America 1960 pageant in Atlantic City.[3][4]

In Hollywood, Wells made her debut on ABC's The Roaring 20s and the movie The New Interns and was cast in episodes of such television series as The Joey Bishop Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, Maverick, and Bonanza.[5]

Wells appeared as a guest star on Wagon Train, Tales of Wells Fargo, 87th Precinct, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, Ripcord, The Everglades, The Detectives, It's a Man's World, Channing, Laramie, Burke's Law, The Invaders, The Wild Wild West, The F.B.I., Vega$, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Matt Houston, ALF, Herman's Head, Three Sisters, Pastor Greg, and Roseanne.[5]

Gilligan's Island[edit]

Wells 1975 press release

She took her signature role of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island in 1964. She reprised her character in the various Gilligan's Island reunion specials, including the reunion cartoon spin-off Gilligan's Planet and three reunion movies: Rescue from Gilligan's Island, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.[6]

In 1993, Wells published Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook with co-writers Ken Beck and Jim Clark, including a foreword by Bob Denver. Alan Hale Jr., who played The Skipper on Gilligan's Island, contributed a family recipe ("Kansas Chicken and Dumplings") to her cookbook. Hale's character was the inspiration behind such concoctions as Skipper's Coconut Cream Pie, Skipper's Navy Bean Soup, and Skipper's Goodbye Ribeye, and he is depicted as Skipper Jonas Grumby in numerous photographs throughout the book. She said in a 2014 interview with GoErie.com, "Alan could not have been kinder to a young actress. He was a real peach."[7]

In 1997, Wells starred as her Gilligan's Island character in a music video for the song "Mary Ann" by the pop-punk band Squirtgun (Lookout Records label mates of Green Day). The song describes an infatuation with Mary Ann and sings praises to the wholesome character, specifically choosing her over Ginger. The video reached the top 40 of MTV's Alternative Music charts, and was featured as part of a variety of alternative-themed music video programs.[8][9]

In 2005, Wells consigned for sale her original gingham blouse and shorts ensemble from her signature role. Beverly Hills auction house Profiles in History sold it for $20,700.[3]

In 2014, Wells released What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life, which she co-wrote with Steve Stinson. The book was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Gilligan's Island.[10]

A recurring theme, in the form of a rivalry, developed from the show that posed the question, mainly to men, as to which one of the female stars they preferred: Ginger or Mary Ann? Wells embraced the good-natured rivalry. During a 2014 interview with the Vancouver Sun, Wells said that she had a t-shirt that read: "Ginger or Mary Ann, the ultimate dilemma." The question of which of these two characters men prefer endured long after the end of the series. "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."[11]


Wells had small roles in the early 1960s films Palm Springs Weekend and The New Interns, and later starred with Michael Dante in the independent 1975 film Winterhawk, playing a Western settler kidnapped by a Native American chief. Her other films include The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Return to Boggy Creek, Lover's Knot, Soulmates, Forever for Now, and Super Sucker. In fall 2011, she began filming Silent But Deadly (originally titled Hotel Arthritis),[12] a comedy horror film released in 2012.


Following Gilligan's Island, Wells embarked on a theater career, appearing in nearly one hundred theatrical productions as of July 2009. She spent the majority of the 1970s, and 1980s, touring in theater productions, notably the second national (bus and truck) tour of Neil Simon's Chapter Two (in the role of Jennie Malone), and replacing Lorna Luft as Sonia Walsk in the second national tour of They're Playing Our Song.[13] She also had a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1985.[14]


In May 2016, Wells was named Marketing Ambassador to MeTV Network, which had begun airing reruns of Gilligan's Island.[15]

Humanitarian activities[edit]

For several years, Wells operated a business, Wishing Wells Collections, making clothing for people with limited mobility.[16] She was the founder of the Idaho Film and Television Institute, a not-for-profit (501(c)(3)) educational organization with "a vision of education, technical training and economic development in Southeastern Idaho."[17] She organized SpudFest, a regional annual family movie festival,[17] and promoted Idaho Potatoes.[18]

Wells lent her support to the Denver Foundation, a West Virginia charity chaired by Dreama Denver, widow of Wells' Gilligan's Island co-star Bob Denver. In November 2009, she appeared at the Denver Foundation's Christmas Wish Celebrity Auction, helping to raise funds for the disabled and disadvantaged in West Virginia.[19]

Personal life and death[edit]

Wells married Larry Rosen, a talent agent, on October 27, 1962. The couple had no children and were divorced in 1967.[1]

In 2018, a GoFundMe page was set up to help Wells cope with financial trouble from medical care after a fall.[20][21]

Wells died on December 30, 2020, at the age of 82 in Los Angeles, due to causes related to COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in California.[22][23][24][25]

The week prior to her death, she had a Happy New Year video pre recorded to be released on the holiday.[26][27]




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Pilato, Herbie (2014). Glamour, Gidgets, and the Girl Next Door: Television's Iconic Women from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 147. ISBN 978-1589799707.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 82". The New York Times. December 30, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Potempa, Phillip. "From the Farm: Leftover turkey perfect for 'Gilligan's Island' casserole". nwi.com. Retrieved July 9, 2011.
  4. Goldberg, Delen (January 12, 2012). "10 past Nevada pageant winners who have gained notoriety". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Dawn Wells Biography - Official Website". www.castproductions.com. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Gross, Ed. "Revisiting 'Gilligan's Island' With Mary Ann Herself, Dawn Wells (Exclusive)". Closer Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  7. "Kevin Cuneo: Mary Ann's still a sweetheart". GoErie.com - Erie, PA. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bongiovanni, Domenica. "Squirtgun has success on multiple levels". Journal and Courier. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  9. "SQUIRTGUN". Reggies Chicago. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  10. "The world according to Dawn Wells, a.k.a. 'Gilligan Island's' Mary Ann". Retrieved April 17, 2015.
  11. Bernstein, Adam. "Dawn Wells, wholesome castaway on 'Gilligan's Island,' dies of covid-19 at 82". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  12. "Silent But Deadly: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  13. "Dawn Wells – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". www.ibdb.com. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  14. "Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island,' dies at 82". EW.com. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  15. "Dawn Wells joins MeTV as 'marketing ambassador'". robertfeder.com. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  16. Wells, Dawn (2006). "Wishing Wells Collections". dawn-wells.com. Archived from the original on September 19, 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Idaho Film and Television Institute". idahofilminstitute.org. Archived from the original on April 6, 2006. Retrieved July 24, 2010.
  18. "Peeling Idaho Potatoes". idahopotato.com. Idaho Potato Commission. 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  19. "Bob Denver website". bobdenver.com. Archived from the original on September 13, 2008. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  20. Dugan, Christina (September 7, 2018). "Gilligan's Island Star Dawn Wells 'Embarrassed' but 'Flattered' After GoFundMe Raises $130K". MSN. Archived from the original on September 8, 2018. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  21. Nolasco, Stephanie (September 7, 2018). "'Gilligan's Island' star Dawn Wells says she is 'grateful' for 'friends and fans who care' while suffering financially". Fox News. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  22. Pedersen, Erik. "Dawn Wells Dies of Covid-19: Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island' was 82". MSN.
  23. Saperstein, Pat. "Dawn Wells, 'Gilligan's Island's' Mary Ann, Dies of COVID at 82". Variety.
  24. Bond, Paul (December 30, 2020). "Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  25. "Gilligan's Island actress Dawn Wells dies of Covid complications". BBC News. December 30, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  26. "Dawn Wells Wishes Fans a Happy 2021 in Final Video Message". Extra. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  27. "Dawn Wells' Rapid Deterioration in Final Days With COVID-19 - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  28. "Dawn Wells". TCM. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  29. "Dawn Wells". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  30. "Dawn Wells". TV Guide. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  31. "Everglades". Fifties Web. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  32. "Lone Patrol". TV Gems. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  33. Crowther, Bosley (August 20, 1964). "George Segal Stars in 'The New Interns'". New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  34. Ebert, Roger. "Winterhawk". www.RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  35. Hendricks, Nancy. "Town That Dreaded Sundown, The". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  36. Bledsoe, C.L. "The Legend of Boggy Creek". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  37. Tramel, Jimmie (March 24, 2016). "Pop culture: Crispin Glover has no regrets about turning down sitcoms". Tulsa World. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  38. "Family Feud: Gilligan's Island vs Lost in Space". TV party. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  39. "The casts of 'Gilligan's Island' and 'Batman' competed on an episode of 'Family Feud'". MeTV. April 17, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  40. "'Gilligan's' Dawn Wells on her Chicago show - Windy City Times News". Windy City Times. December 28, 2011. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  41. Eloise.Valadez@nwi.com (219) 933-3365, Eloise Marie Valadez. "Actress Dawn Wells knows her way around the kitchen". nwitimes.com. Retrieved January 4, 2021.

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