American actress, Dawn Wells, is best known for playing the role of Mary Ann Summers on the sitcom “Gilligan’s Island.” Wells was born on October 18, 1938, in Reno, Nevada. She grew up in the area and later attended Reno High School. Her parents were Evelyn and Joe, and her father owned a local shipping company called “Wells Cargo.” After graduating from high school, Wells attended Stephens College in Missouri before transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle. There she received a degree in theater arts and design in 1960.
The actress made her on-screen debut on ABC’s “The Roaring 20s” and went on to appear in episodes of “The Joey Bishop Show,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick,” and “Bonanza” among others. Her signature role from “Gilligan’s Island” came around in 1964, and Wells later revived the character for the subsequent reunion specials and the movies “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island,” “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island,” and “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.”
Wells was married once to talent agent Larry Rosen from 1962 to 1967. They never had any children, and the star decided not to remarry. She went through financial difficulties, and in 2018 a fundraiser was set up online to help her with medical costs after a fall. In June 2020, it was revealed that Wells had dementia, and she passed away due to complications from COVID-19 later that same year.
The show “Gilligan’s Island” remains one of the most iconic sitcoms in TV history. Wells said that the entire cast and crew considered one another family, and her friend and co-star Bob Denver once stood up for her when she was not credited on the series. Keep reading to learn more about Wells and her experience on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Becoming an actress wasn’t always Dawn Wells’ plan for her career. “Well, that’s kind of interesting because I had to give up ballet because my knee was dislocated, and I’ve always been interested in science. I went away to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. It’s a small town and a small school. I guess I got the acting bug because they cast me in a couple of plays, and I never looked back,” she said.
After college, the star was unsure what her next step should be. She shared, “When I graduated, I went to the University of Washington in Seattle. I thought, ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’ I didn’t sing, and I didn’t dance. Most of that is the New York stage. So I went to LA and went to work right away. I was the perfect type, the girl from Kansas, you know?”
Luckily, Wells found plenty of opportunities in Hollywood. “I went to work right away. I was trained. I studied for it, but I was lucky. There was a lot of stuff being filmed and quite a bit going on in the 60s on television. I probably had two or three auditions a day. I did a couple of movies, but you’d get guest spots on all these TV shows. You’d work right away,” she explained.
The actress continued, “I mean, I had acting classes that I continued with while I was working. But then you kind of made friends with everybody. You all knew the casting directors. It’s kind of a small town. It really is. But to get into the big movies, it’s not small. Television fits a small group of people, I think.”
Wells also shared that if Mary Ann had started a romance with any character, it would have been the professor. “Gilligan, you don’t think of as a romantic partner. Alan (Hale, the Skipper) was more like a father. But the professor had everything: good looks, a sense of humor, and was very intelligent. Bob (Denver) and I were really close friends. So was Alan (Hale). He could pick up Tina (Louise) in one arm, me in the other at the same time; he was so strong,” Well said to Forbes in 2016.
The actress got along with her co-stars, even if they didn’t necessarily love being on the show. Wells said, “Ms. Howell and I also became really good friends. The one I was least close to was Jim Backus. I didn’t know him as well. But we were a family. Even if Tina didn’t like doing the series, she was certainly no problem. It’s interesting because she was a gorgeous, glamorous girl. Why wouldn’t she be doing a gorgeous, glamorous role?”
When asked how she got her name added to the show’s credits, Wells claimed it was Bob Denver who stood up for her. “I was pretty new, and everyone else at that point had had a career. I think Bob Denver went to bat, and told them it was silly, that there were only two other people on the island. I think he said, ‘I’m not going on unless you change the billing.’ We laughed when they did. Roy (Hinkley) and I would still exchange Christmas cards with the greeting, ‘From The Rest”‘ (laughs).” Wells passed away in 2020, but her legacy lives on in the hearts of her friends, family, and fans.