Dawn Wells, who starred as “good girl” Mary Ann in popular 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19 in Los Angeles. She was 82.
Pig-tailed and attired in her ubiquitous dungarees or gingham dress, which is on display at the Hollywood Museum, the Mary Ann character was the girl-next-door to Tina Louise’s suggestive evening dress-clad Ginger, who was often subjected to leering comments from the male stars they were shipwrecked with on a tropical island after becoming stranded during a “three-hour tour.”
Louise, the last remaining member of the crew, said in a statement, “I was sad to learn of Dawn’s passing, I will always remember her kindness to me. We shared in creating a cultural landmark that has continued to bring comfort and smiles to people during this difficult time. I hope that people will remember her the way that I do – always with a smile on her face.”
She told Smashing Interviews magazine that she was happy to change her image with a role as a prostitute in “The Owl and the Pussycat” soon after the show ended, “Mary Ann was a good girl. She was polite. She was a hard worker. She would be your best friend. She cooked. She cleaned. She did all of those things, and she was a really good role model. But the first thing you want to do is break that character and go do something else,” Wells said.
Wells represented Nevada in the 1959 Miss America pageant and appeared on several TV series before being cast in “Gilligan’s Island” in 1964. A native of Reno, Wells also appeared in “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick,” “Bonanza,” “The Joey Bishop Show” and “Hawaiian Eye.”
Publicist Harlan Boll announced her death.
After the series ended in 1967, she returned for several TV movies and spinoff series. She served as producer on TV movies “Surviving Gilligan’s Island” and “Return to the Bat Cave” with Adam West.
She went on to appear in series including “Growing Pains,” “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “Baywatch” and voiced Gumbalina Toothington in “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants” series.
In movies, Wells appeared in “Winterhawk,” “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” “Super Sucker,” “The New Interns,” “It’s Our Time” and “Silent But Deadly.”
Wells had a long career onstage, appearing in the national tours of “Chapter Two” and “They’re Playing Our Song” as well as in “Fatal Attraction” with Ken Howard,” “The Odd Couple” with Marcia Wallace, “Steel Magnolias” and “The Vagina Monologues.”
Though she appeared in numerous TV shows, movies and plays, her role as Mary Ann was her most enduring, leading to gigs such as “castaway correspondent” for Australia’s Channel 9 and spokeswoman for the MeTV network. She wrote the book “A Guide to Life: What Would Mary Ann Do?” in honor of the 50th anniversary of “Gilligan’s Island.”
Her charitable efforts included working as chair of the Terry Lee Wells Foundation, focusing on women and children in Northern Nevada, and she received the Elephant Sanctuary Trumpeting Award for her work with the Elephant Sanctuary. She also ran the Film Actors Boot Camp for seven years in Idaho.
Wells is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells. Donations may be made to the Elephant Sanctuary, Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum or the Shambala Preserve.
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