Dawn Wells Dies at 82, Portrayed ‘Mary Ann’ in Popular 1960s TV Show ‘Gilligan’s Island’

By  //  December 30, 2020

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was an actress, author, journalist, motivational speaker, adventurer, businesswoman, entrepreneur, teacher

Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers on the popular 1960s TV series “Gilligan’s Island,”  has died at age 82, according to her publicist, who said Wells died in Los Angeles of COVID-19-related causes Wednesday morning. (CBS image)

Wells made special appearances in Brevard County for Space Coast Daily health-related events in 2010 and 2011

Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers on the popular 1960s TV series “Gilligan’s Island,” has died at age 82, according to her publicist, who said Wells died in Los Angeles of COVID-19-related causes Wednesday morning.

“Gilligan’s Island” ran from 1964 to 1967 on CBS where Wells was stranded on a tropical island with six other castaways, who were “on a three-hour tour.”

Wells, a fourth-generation Nevadan, represented her state in the Miss America pageant in 1960 before taking on the iconic role. For the role of Mary Ann, she was selected among 350 other actresses, including Raquel Welch.

Wells made special appearances in Brevard County for Space Coast Daily health-related events in 2010 and 2011.

“There was so much more to Wells than “Mary Ann” of Gilligan’s Island,” said Space Coast Daily President and Publisher Tom Palermo.

“She was an actress, author, journalist, motivational speaker, adventurer, businesswoman, entrepreneur, teacher and president of her family foundation that focuses on helping women and children.”

“There was so much more to Wells than “Mary Ann” of Gilligan’s Islan,” said Space Coast Daily President and Publisher Tom Palermo, at right with Wells during an event in Brevard County in 2011. “She was an actress, author, journalist, motivational speaker, adventurer, businesswoman, entrepreneur, teacher and president of her family foundation that focuses on helping women and children.”

Originally wanting to be a pediatric surgeon, Wells enrolled in Stephens College, the esteemed women’s college in Columbia, Missouri where she has served on the Board of Trustees.

After switching her major to acting, she transferred to the University of Washington, where she received her degree in theatre.

Dedicated Philanthropist

Always proud of her heritage, Wells received Reno’s most prestigious award as one of Nevada’s outstanding entertainers.

She was also presented with the 2009 award for Outstanding Foundation of Northern Nevada for the Terry Lee Wells Foundation, whose focus is mainly on health, education and the arts.

Wells was extremely proud of the work the foundation is doing for the local school district as well as the rural areas of Northern Nevada.

Best known for her part of the cast of Gilligan’s Island – the longest-running show in the history of television syndication – she still received fan mail addressed to “Mary Ann.”

Dawn Wells represented Nevada in the Miss America pageant in 1960 before taking on the iconic role of Mary Ann in “Gilligan’s Island.” She selected among 350 other actresses, including Raquel Welch. Gilligan’s Island is the longest-running show in the history of television syndication  and Wells still received fan mail addressed to “Mary Ann.”

She starred in over 150 television shows and has also graced a number of feature films, including Super Suckers, written, produced, directed and starring Jeff Daniels.

She was also co-executive producer of two of the highest-rated CBS movies-of-the-week: Surviving Gilligan’s Island (in which she also starred and hosted) and Return to the Batcave.

Wells hosted a CBS show called TV’s All-Time Favorites, and was the Castaway Correspondent for Australia’s Midday program, interviewing Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy and Julia Roberts. She also hosted the red carpet at the academy awards for Australia’s Channel 9.

Besides producing and hosting the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon for 15 years in Missouri, she produced her own female fishing show in Canada, entitled Dawn Wells’ Reel Adventure, which took her fly fishing all over the world.

“Gilligan’s Island” ran from 1964 to 1967 on CBS where Wells was stranded on a tropical island with six other castaways, who were “on a three-hour tour.” (CBS image)

When she was not on camera hosting or serving as a spokesperson in commercials, Well’s voice could be heard in numerous voice-overs and narrations.

Theatre was Well’s first love, appearing in more than 70 theatrical productions ranging, from Neil Simon to Tennessee Williams, throughout North America and Canada.

Some of her favorite appearances include Fatal Attraction (with Ken Howard), Romantic Comedy (with David McCallum), Love Letters (with Adam West), The Vagina Monologues, The Tale of the Allergist Wife, The Odd Couple, The Little Foxes and Across the River and Through the Woods.

Wells performed in the North American premiere of Laurence Roman’s Make Me a Match. On the musical side, she toured in the national companies of They’re Playing Our Song and The Gilligan’s Island Musical (interestingly playing the role of Mrs. Howell), as well as Always Patsy Cline and Nutcrackers.

“Gilligan’s Island” starred, from back left, Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer, Tina Louise, Alan Hale Jr., Dawn Wells and, from bottom left, Russell Johnson and Bob Denver. (CBS image)

Best Selling Author

As Wells is the author of the best-selling Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook, it is no surprise that she appeared on the Food Network for an entire week as “Chef du Jour!”

She has appeared on many talk shows, including NBC’s Today Show and five appearances on The Tonight Show as well as The View, Entertainment Tonight, CBS Morning News, and many more.

Wells’ most exciting educational endeavor has been establishing the Dawn Wells’ Film Actors Boot Camp in Driggs, Idaho. For one week sessions during the summer, young actors were given intensive classes, learning the art of acting on camera as well as the business of the film industry.

Her focus had been to encourage young artists through education, mentoring and hands-on experience. Dawn was also the founder and producer of the annual Spud Drive-In Family Film Festival at the Spud Drive-In Theatre in Driggs, Idaho.

Dedicated to embracing world cultures, Wells was an experienced world traveler. She had circled the globe on the Concord, experiencing first-hand the diversity of women and children, while capturing much of what she saw on her own video camera.

Wells had climbed the mountains of Rwanda to view the mountain gorillas – and canoed the Solomon Islands where women had ever been before.

Because of her world travels, Dawn also became one of the country’s leading women motivational speakers, addressing the needs and the concerns of the American independent woman and the comparisons of cultures throughout the world.

Her work has been recognized with the Stephens College Outstanding Alumna award, Case Award for Education, the YMCA Woman of the Year, Outstanding Alumna for Alpha Chi Omega National Chapter and the American Icon Award, Women in Film and Video.

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Below is a Q&A interview with Wells that appeared on Space Coast Daily in May 2010:

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What are your recommended best practices to maintain health and vitality?
■ MS. WELLS: Mental attitude is the most important. Always have laughter in your life. Have something to look forward to – and stay active! Having a positive mindset is key. And, of course, moderate exercise and a healthy diet.

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What are your favorite recipes in Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook? How can people get a copy of it?
■ MS. WELLS: My mom’s Birthday Cake Recipe! It’s been passed down over three generations of my family. I was born on the same day as my mom and she would only make it once a year for our birthdays. She would even mail me one was I got older.

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: It’s noted that you have climbed the mountains of Rwanda to see the gorillas and have been among the first women to canoe through the Solomon Islands. Can you please talk about your spirit of adventure, and what your aspirations are in this regard?
■ MS. WELLS: My spirit of adventures comes from my perception of Life being just full of wonders! The skies are the limit, and I would like to experience as many more adventures as I can.

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: As an icon to the American “Baby Boomer” generation who fondly remember Gilligan’s Island as an era of simpler times, can you please relate a few of your most memorable anecdotes over the last 40+ years?
■ MS. WELLS: Well back then we were right in the middle of the Vietnam war and the country was changing quickly. Gilligan’s Island was so successful because it offered a clean and wholesome show. It was a great escape from reality

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What are the best memories that you have from the day-to-day routine of doing Gilligan’s Island?
■ MS. WELLS: Well, I always had a 4 a.m. wake-up call and was first in line for the make-up chair at 6 a.m. I was low woman on the totem pole. It was great, though because I’ve always been a morning person. Because of the camaraderie on the set I made life-long friendships on the show!

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: Could you perhaps share a few interesting factoids about the show that most people may not know?
■ MS. WELLS: Here’s a Trivia Question your readers can look up: Why was the American Flag at half-mast in the opening credits? (Answer is: because of the Kennedy assassination on Nov. 22, 1963).

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: What would you change about your career if you could?
■ MS. WELLS: I’m grateful, and love doing all aspects of my career: Actress, professional speaker, spokesperson, author, and my charity work. Plus, I have so much more to experience. The one thing I haven’t done, but would love to do, is to be a talk show host.

■ SPACE COAST DAILY: Could you share with us your professional goals for the future?
■ MS. WELLS: My main goal right now is to learn a second language – Spanish!

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