Dawn Wells, best known for playing the girl-next-door castaway Mary Ann on the iconic CBS comedy series Gilligan’s Island, died Wednesday morning in Los Angeles of complications due to Covid-19.
She was 82.
Wells, who was Miss Nevada in the 1959 Miss America pageant, beat out 350 actresses for the role of Mary Ann Summers.
She also appeared in more 150 series and several movies during her career as well as on Broadway.
Wells’ naive country character on Gilligan’s Island was juxtaposed with that of Tina Louise’s Ginger, a sultry movie star.
The rather-stereotyped dueling characters fueled a debate that continues among fans today: Mary Ann or Ginger.
Wells said the “values and principles” of Mary Ann mirrored her own and are timeless: “I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch … if you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through.”
Wells added during a 2008 interview with the Television Academy Foundation. “There hasn’t been a Mary Ann on the air for I don’t know how long. There hasn’t been a good girl over 14, and Mary Ann was very much that,” Wells said.
“The Mary Ann-Ginger issue is always there. You had to be a real man to understand Ginger, and Mary Ann would’ve gone to the prom with you and been your best friend. A lot of guys would come up to me and say, ‘I married a Mary Ann.’ She had the values.”
They and three other passengers (Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer and Russell Johnson) set sail on a “three-hour tour” on the USS Minnow, captained by the Skipper (Alan Hale) with his First Mate Gilligan (Bob Denver).
But the weather started getting rough, and the seven became castaways — albeit with clean clothes every week.
With Wells’ passing, Tina Louise is the only cast member who is still alive.