Oftentimes, people see actors performing on the television screen and automatically assume financial success.
The reality is that pay in the entertainment industry really does vary. This is especially true when looking and analyzing it over the years.
Dawn Wells Talks ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Paycheck
Dawn Wells was on the very popular sitcom, “Gilligan’s Island.” The show was on from 1964 to 1967. However, that wasn’t the only time fans would end up seeing Gilligan, The Skipper, and all the other shipwrecked characters.
The show has been on in syndication for years, hence why it still remains popular today. In a past interview with the Vancouver Sun, she revealed that the cast of the show made about $5,000 a week in today’s dollars.
There were rumors at one point that Dawn Wells was the only person from “Gilligan’s Island” that made millions off of the show. This would be in the form of residual payments for syndicated airings of the show for over 60 years.
Snopes, a popular fact-checking site, debunked the myths circulating Dawn Wells and money.
“A misconception is that we must be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we got residuals. We didn’t really get a dime. I think my salary — of course, I was low on the totem pole, Ginger [Tina Louise] and Thurston [Jim Backus] got more — was $750 a week. Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone!” Wells said in an interview in 2016.
Most of the cast of “Gilligan’s Island” saw little to none of the money that came from the show’s re-runs.
“Not a dime. I was just talking to Bob Denver’s wife recently and she said, ‘It just makes me so angry.’ We’ve never been off the air, and in how many languages around the world. And we haven’t had one nickel from it! Sherwood Schwartz, I was told, made $90 million on the reruns of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ alone. He could have split it between the seven of us, maybe given us a million, but nope,” Wells said in an interview with Kevin Renick from 2016.
Sherwood Schwartz and Television Money
Dawn Wells didn’t play a major character on the show. She has consistently denied the idea that she had a different contract than others. She, similar to others, made little off the show in later years. Wells has said that she probably made about $50,000 total off “Gilligan’s Island.”
Although Wells personally picked on Sherwood Schwartz, his daughter, Hope Juber, denies him ever making anywhere near $90 million. “While he, and my family were certainly comfortable, that kind of wild estimate is ridiculous and surprising. If there is $90 million, it must be buried in a chest on the island somewhere because we’ve never seen it,” she said in an email to Snopes.
Dawn Wells’ openness about pay in the 1960s for actors helps fans and viewers understand that these actors likely weren’t set for life for their roles. This isn’t the case for all television roles, however. Shows like “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “The Big Bang Theory” allegedly would pay up to a million per episode and then millions more in residuals and royalties from syndication deals.
Dawn Wells unfortunately has passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020.