R.I.P. Dawn Wells, Mary Ann of Gilligan's Island

The beloved sitcom star was 82.

Read to Me

Dawn Wells was one of the most beloved television stars of all time. The charming character of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island helped the actress win the admiration of generations of fans all over the world.

The fictional Mary Ann may have been from Kansas, but Wells was born and bred a Western gal. Her roots in the West stretched back to the gold rush in the 19th century. One hundred years later, her father owned the legendary Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas.

Wells double-majored in theater and pre-med at the University of Washington at Seattle. During her tenure, she won a scholarship after winning Miss Nevada and competing in the Miss America pageant. After graduating, she decided to give herself two years to try out acting.

"I said, 'I'll give myself two years. If I'm not working I'm going back to med school,'" Wells told Gilbert Gottfried in 2016. "And I started working right away."

The Reno native represented Nevada in the 1960 Miss America pageant. A year later, she was landing small roles on TV. Miss Nevada's first television appearance came on 77 Sunset Strip in 1961, during a restaurant scene in "The Corsican Caper." The cast obviously clicked with Wells, as she appeared in three more episodes that year, playing different characters each time. In this pre-Gilligan era, she also appeared on Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye, other hip crime shows related to 77 Sunset Strip in the Warner Bros. family.

Western roles on Bonanza and Laramie honed her chops until the big one came along.

Yet, when creator Sherwood Schwartz filmed his Gilligan's Island pilot in 1963, Wells was not part of the cast. "The movie star" was nowhere to be found, either. Instead, two "secretaries," Ginger and Bunny, played by Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy, respectively, set sail with the Skipper and his little buddy. 

The sitcom was wisely recast and retooled — even the location was shifted from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Wells beat out some other famous contenders for her part. Even Raquel Welch auditioned for the role.

As Gilligan's Island quickly became one of the iconic sitcoms of the Sixties, Wells became somewhat typecast as the innocent farm girl. Not that she seemed to mind. She embraced her Gilligan's fame. In fact, at some point in her long career, Wells ended up playing all three female castaways — yes, including Ginger and Lovey. She was game to keep voicing her character in Saturday morning cartoons like Gilligan's Planet. She later reprised her role on ALF and Baywatch.

"At first I tried to break my Gilligan image, but now it’s a hoot. I'm like the Beaver—part of TV history," she told People magazine in 1985.

In recent years, she continued to show her love of Mary Ann, becoming an ambassador for MeTV. Wells exuded the warmth, kindness and honesty we all had come to expect from her. She even taste-tested coconut water for us.

On December 30, Wells died at the age of 82. She will be deeply missed.



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Snickers 5 months ago
RIP Dawn Wells you will be missed.
timothyf7 6 months ago
It is sad whenever any of our childhood stars pass on, but this one is especially difficult for me. Dawn was like a member of the family. Every day I would rush home from school to watch her on Gilligan's Island. She was my 1st boyhood crush and I never got over it! LOL! I have watched Gilligan's Island whenever it was available throughout my life. Good, clean TV!!! In my late teens, I could recite the lines of every character on the show as it was playing. No, I wasn't a TV nerd... I just related to and enjoyed the show. I think most everyone reads of the death of a favorite celebrity and feels an extra pang of remorse. I felt it for Jimmy Stewart, Andy Griffith, George Burns, and Dawn Wells. They were all very special people in my life and will always be missed... especially Dawn!
Cheyloo 8 months ago
She certainly did not look 82!
billtabor61 8 months ago
God bless and she will be missed but never forgotten
Snickers billtabor61 5 months ago
Amen to that.
stephaniestavropoulos 8 months ago
Anybody see the Christmas wish to her fans Dawn let before passing? I noticed it on You Tube. I have not viewed it, just saw it was on there.
djw1120 8 months ago
I don't know what MeTV is talking about.
Dawn Wells (MaryAnn) had NOTHING to do with Star Trek.
Everyone knows that Lt. Nyota Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols.
denny djw1120 8 months ago
I didn't see anything about that in the article, what am I missing?
Snickers denny 5 months ago
Didn't see anything about Star Trek in the story either.
Jeffrey 8 months ago
Well, I'm sad to read of her death, and glad to find out more about Dawn Wells that I didn't know before. RIP Lovely Mary Ann.
Oldtimer88 8 months ago
She uplifted us with her warm,cheerful spirit.
tptraffic 8 months ago
Thank you Mary Ann for all those great memories. You will be sadly missed.
Xoxoxoxo timmy
jacko3 8 months ago
.. what else can one say, a sweet looking actress that was a wonderful appearance on a popular comic show that included certainly many fantastic characters ... its hard to believe the lovely "Mary Ann" of Gilligan fame aged so quickly .... as the years move on ever so fast ... GOD Bless the Life & Legacy of DAWN WELLS ...
jwind000 8 months ago
Time to pull the MaryAnn promos. Just saw one a few minutes ago.
jwind000 jwind000 8 months ago
Same with the Carl Reiner promo for Duck Van Dyke. C’mon guys!
denny jwind000 8 months ago
I disagree, they are showing her in her later years and she looks great.
Claude 8 months ago
Extremely sad day for me.... First, on Christmas day I get the call that my best friend died that morning from Covid and now this.
JustGeri Claude 8 months ago
Sorry for the loss of your friend
jerrysays Claude 7 months ago
Yes i am Sorry about your Loss of your friend From COVID , and i am still in Disbelieve about Dawn Wells , she just seemed like she would be around forever , it sure shows just how very dangerous this COVID-19 is.The biggest thing that really impressed me the most about Dawn Wells other then her sweet charm , was how much of a Great Attitude she seemed to have , and was so very thank full , of the life she had , and how much being on the Show Gillian's Island,sometimes you hear them say about People, there is only one , that sure did include Dawn Wells , there only one of her .
Deleted 8 months ago
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jaelinsmith40652 8 months ago
😀Yeah...... she was such a beauty back then ❤❤❤❤❤
AlF 8 months ago
Happy to see she was a rummy like me! We'll miss you, Mary Ann!
kimmer 8 months ago
The Baby Boomers took a hard hit this past year. Sometimes we forget we are getting older. What an amazing Legacy our childhood hero's leave behind.
Rest in peace knowing you and so many others, touched our lives in so many ways. Just reading the tributes says it all. What a lovely legacy.
jaelinsmith40652 kimmer 8 months ago
You know what they say legends never died as what kobe Bryant and his daughter were both died tragically.
JL1965 8 months ago
So sad , A beautiful lady .. RIP Dawn , you will be missed
CouchPotato19 8 months ago
She was cool. A genuine lady! R.I.P. Dawn.
MichaelFields 8 months ago
She was one of my first crushes growing up and she still looked very beautiful, sexy in her 80's (I could not believe she was that old) RIP and thank you for all the memories
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