Tinseltown Talks: Dawn Wells was Mary Ann in the pop-culture classic
One of the wackiest yet most enduring of the escapist TV comedies from the 60s remains popular today in unending cable reruns.
Fifty-five years ago, Sept. 26, 1964, “Gilligan’s Island” premiered on American television. To celebrate the show’s first broadcast, the Hollywood Museum in the historic Max Factor Building in Los Angeles will unveil a new lobby exhibit Sept. 25.
Dawn Wells, one of the two surviving cast members, will attend the VIP reception. The following day – the anniversary of the show’s original debut on CBS – the exhibit will open for a month (see TheHollywoodMuseum.com).
During the three-season run of “Gilligan’s Island” (and several reunion movies), Wells played Mary Ann, one of seven castaways shipwrecked on an uncharted Pacific island.
“I’m still talking and writing about the show and it continues to gain new fans,” said Wells, who turns 81 in October, from Los Angeles. “If you’re a 10-year-old kid watching the show today, there’s not much to date it – a desert island is a desert island!”
Portrayed as a perky wholesome Kansas farm girl, Wells says the series has always provided some life lessons beyond the comedy.
“It was a fun, silly show that made you laugh and didn’t preach to the audience,” she said. “But there was an awful lot in the character of Mary Ann that kids could learn from today: she was fair, she pitched in to help, she had standards, she wasn’t worried about a $500 purse and she would be your best friend you could trust.”
Wells says she enjoyed working on the show and got along with her fellow castaways – even Tina Louise (Ginger), despite the rumors over the years that the two feuded.
A memorable aspect of the series was the ingenious tools supposedly fashioned by the imaginative castaways from primitive island resources such as bamboo.
“Most of those props didn’t survive,” said Wells. “I have a few coconut cups and my famous ‘short shorts.’”
According to the Museum’s press release, the exhibit will include those navel-covering shorts and matching midriff top worn by Wells, and a gingham dress and her original scripts of the series.
Gilligan’s white sailor hat and red shirt (worn by the late Bob Denver and on loan from his wife) will be on display. Other items (from the Rob Klein collection) include a coconut cup prop, the screen-accurate replica of the radio from the show’s pilot, and original “Gilligan’s Island” merchandise from the 60s.
Wells has also written several books about the show including her 2014 volume, “A Guide to Life: What Would Mary Ann Do?” which has been updated and recently re-released (see dawnwells.com). While there are “Gilligan’s Island” stories in the book, the focus is on down-to-earth advice from Mary Ann – and Dawn’s – perspective.
“I wrote the book partly in response to fans over the years,” she says. “It’s amazing that so many people still appreciate Mary Ann’s sense of values. It was a show about seven people from various walks of life who were thrown together and had to adapt to get along despite their differences. That’s a lesson we can all learn.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 750 magazines and newspapers. See getnickt.org.