Dawn Wells

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Dawn Wells
Wells in 1975
Dawn Elberta Wells

(1938-10-18)October 18, 1938
DiedDecember 30, 2020(2020-12-30) (aged 82)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
EducationReno High School
Alma materStephens College
University of Washington
  • Actress
  • author
Years active1961–2019
Known forMiss Nevada 1959
Gilligan's Island
Larry Rosen
(m. 1962; div. 1967)

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

Early life[edit]

Wells was born to Evelyn (née Steinbrenner) and Joe Wesley Wells in Reno, Nevada, where she attended and graduated from Reno High School.[1][2] Her father owned a local Reno construction[3] company called "Wells Cargo" (not to be confused with the trailer manufacturer). After high school graduation, Wells attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, 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, New Jersey.[4][5]

In Hollywood, Wells made her debut on The Roaring 20's and the movie The New Interns and was cast in episodes of such television series as The Joey Bishop Show, 77 Sunset Strip with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Cheyenne with Clint Walker, Maverick with Jack Kelly, and Bonanza with Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker.[6]

Wells appeared as a guest star on the Wagon Train episode "The Captain Dan Brady Story" with guest star Joseph Cotten, Tales of Wells Fargo with Dale Robertson, 87th Precinct with Robert Lansing, Surfside 6 with Troy Donahue and Van Williams, Hawaiian Eye with Robert Conrad, Ripcord with Ken Curtis, The Everglades with Ron Hayes, The Detectives with Robert Taylor, Lawman with John Russell, Bonanza, It's a Man's World with Glenn Corbett, Channing with Jason Evers, Laramie with Robert Fuller, Burke's Law with Gene Barry, The Invaders with Roy Thinnes, The Wild Wild West with Robert Conrad, The F.B.I. with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Vega$ with Robert Urich, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island with Ricardo Montalbán, Matt Houston with Lee Horsley, ALF, Herman's Head with William Ragsdale, Three Sisters with Vicki Lewis, Pastor Greg with Greg Robbins, and Roseanne with Roseanne Barr.[6]

Gilligan's Island[edit]

Wells as Mary Ann Summers in Gilligan's Island (1964)

She took her signature role of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island in 1964. She reprised her character in the various Gilligan's Island specials, including the reunion cartoon spin-off Gilligan's Planet and three reunion TV-movies: Rescue from Gilligan's Island, The Castaways on Gilligan's Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island.[7] She also reprised her character in a 1992 episode of Baywatch, "Now Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale".[8]

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 recipes such 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."[9]

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. 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 it was featured as part of a variety of alternative-themed music video programs.[10][11]

In 2005, Wells consigned for sale her original gingham blouse and shorts ensemble from her signature role. Auction house Profiles in History sold it for $20,700.[4]

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.[12]

Wells in 2015

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."[13]


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),[14] a comedy horror film released in 2012.


Following Gilligan's Island, Wells embarked on a theater career, appearing in nearly 100 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.[15] She also had a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1985.[16]


In May 2016, Wells was named marketing ambassador to MeTV Network, which had begun airing reruns of Gilligan's Island.[17]

Humanitarian activities[edit]

For several years, Wells operated a business, Wishing Wells Collections, making clothing for people with limited mobility.[18] She was the founder of the Idaho Film and Television Institute, a not-for-profit, educational organization with "a vision of education, technical training and economic development in Southeastern Idaho.".[19]

Wells organized and founded SpudFest, an annual family film and festival in Driggs, Idaho,[19] which was sponsored by Idaho Potatoes.[20][21][22]

SpudFest held festivals from 2004 to 2008, and showcased film premieres, and included in-person festival appearances by classic TV icons, including Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie and actor Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed The Incredible Hulk.[23][24]

Wells also 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.[25]

Personal life and death[edit]

Wells married Larry Rosen, a talent agent, on October 27, 1962. The couple had no children, and 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.[26][27]

In June 2020, Wells' manager revealed in court documents that Wells was suffering from dementia.[28]

Wells died from COVID-19 in Los Angeles, on December 30, 2020, at age 82, during the COVID-19 pandemic in California.[29][30][31][32] The week prior to her death, she recorded a Happy New Year video to be released on the holiday.[33][34]




  1. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c "Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 82". The New York Times. December 30, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  3. ^ "Home". wcilv.com.
  4. ^ a b Potempa, Phillip (November 24, 2010). "From the Farm: Leftover turkey perfect for 'Gilligan's Island' casserole". nwi.com. Retrieved July 9, 2011.
  5. ^ Goldberg, Delen (January 12, 2012). "10 past Nevada pageant winners who have gained notoriety". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c "Dawn Wells Biography - Official Website". castproductions.com. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e Gross, Ed. "Revisiting 'Gilligan's Island' With Mary Ann Herself, Dawn Wells (Exclusive)". Closer Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  8. ^ "Baywatch S02E16 Now, Sit Right Back And You'll Hear A Tale". dailymotion.com. Dailymotion. August 3, 2017. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
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  10. ^ a b Bongiovanni, Domenica. "Squirtgun has success on multiple levels". Journal and Courier. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  11. ^ "SQUIRTGUN". Reggies Chicago. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
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  13. ^ Bernstein, Adam. "Dawn Wells, wholesome castaway on 'Gilligan's Island,' dies of covid-19 at 82". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  14. ^ "Silent But Deadly: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. February 13, 2014. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  15. ^ "Dawn Wells – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB". ibdb.com. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
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  18. ^ Wells, Dawn (2006). "Wishing Wells Collections". dawn-wells.com. Archived from the original on September 19, 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  19. ^ a b "Idaho Film and Television Institute". idahofilminstitute.org. Archived from the original on April 6, 2006. Retrieved July 24, 2010.
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  21. ^ "Famous Television Castaway Dawn Wells of Gilligan's Island Fame Draws Fans at FMI". Idaho® Potato Commission. May 22, 2006. Retrieved September 9, 2022.
  22. ^ "BSpudfest Coming Soon". Rexburg Standard Journal. July 10, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  23. ^ "Spudfest Coming Soon". July 10, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
  24. ^ "Former TV Icons Will Join Idaho Potato Commission At Fresh Summit". Retrieved October 5, 2006.
  25. ^ "Bob Denver website". bobdenver.com. Archived from the original on September 13, 2008. Retrieved July 16, 2010.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "'Gilligan's Island' Star Dawn Wells Has Dementia, Gets Restraining Order". TMZ. June 27, 2020. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  29. ^ Pedersen, Erik. "Dawn Wells Dies of Covid-19: Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island' was 82". MSN.
  30. ^ Saperstein, Pat (December 30, 2020). "Dawn Wells, 'Gilligan's Island's' Mary Ann, Dies of COVID at 82". Variety.
  31. ^ Bond, Paul (December 30, 2020). "Dawn Wells, Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island,' Dies at 82". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  32. ^ "Gilligan's Island actress Dawn Wells dies of Covid complications". BBC News. December 30, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  33. ^ "Dawn Wells Wishes Fans a Happy 2021 in Final Video Message". Extra. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  34. ^ "Dawn Wells' Rapid Deterioration in Final Days With COVID-19 - YouTube". youtube.com. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  35. ^ "Dawn Wells". TCM. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
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  38. ^ "Everglades". Fifties Web. July 23, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  39. ^ "Lone Patrol". TV Gems. July 12, 2020. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  40. ^ Crowther, Bosley (August 20, 1964). "George Segal Stars in 'The New Interns'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  41. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Winterhawk". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  42. ^ Hendricks, Nancy. "Town That Dreaded Sundown, The". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  43. ^ Bledsoe, C.L. "The Legend of Boggy Creek". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  44. ^ Tramel, Jimmie (March 24, 2016). "Pop culture: Crispin Glover has no regrets about turning down sitcoms". Tulsa World. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
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  46. ^ "The casts of 'Gilligan's Island' and 'Batman' competed on an episode of 'Family Feud'". MeTV. April 17, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  47. ^ Times, Windy City (December 28, 2011). "'Gilligan's' Dawn Wells on her Chicago show - Windy City Times News". Windy City Times. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  48. ^ Valadez, Eloise Marie (December 28, 2011). "Actress Dawn Wells knows her way around the kitchen". nwitimes.com. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  49. ^ Russo, Maria. "Introducing: Dawn Wells from the Chopped Celebrity Holiday Bash".

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