‘Gilligan’s Island’: Mary Ann Actress Dawn Wells Once Detailed How Much Cast Made on Royalties

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Gilligan’s Island wasn’t nearly as lucrative for the cast as fans may think. It’s been off the air for more than five decades, but it’s always on somewhere, in reruns. So surely, there are royalties, right?

But Dawn Wells, who played girl-next-door Mary Ann, once broke down how much the Gilligan’s Island cast received in royalties for the classic show.

That would be nothing. Wells once told the Vancouver Sun each cast member made the equivalent of $5,000 a week in today’s dollars. There were no royalty checks. But one of the cast members did die a super-wealthy person.

Wells told the newspaper: “I think we got paid…maybe we made $50,000 [per season], I don’t know.”

In other words, none of the seven actors who made the show so famous banked big bucks.

Still, Rumors Persisted That Dawn Wells Was Only Gilligan’s Island Star Who Banked Royalties

There were so many rumors that Dawn Wells was receiving royalty checks. Stories even suggested she was the lone Gilligan’s Island cast member who negotiated her deal.

The fact-checking site Snopes.com finally set the story straight about the Gilligan’s Island cast. Snopes ruled it false, writing:

“We now accept as commonplace the notion that actors in popular television shows are set for life financially, as we read about how cast members in hit shows such as “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “The Big Bang Theory” not only were paid upwards of $1 million per episode during those series’ initial runs, but then earned millions of dollars more in residuals and royalties from syndication deals, DVD sales, and video streaming.

Dawn Wells died late last year of complications of COVID-19. She was 82. Three years before she died, Wells’ hairdresser set up a GoFundMe account to raise $180,000 to help the actress pay her medical bills and fines assessed by the Internal Revenue Service. So stars of shows like Gilligan’s Island, just like anyone, can be bankrupted by medical bills.

Dugg Kirkpatrick wrote: “Dawn is living one of the greatest fears we Americans have, an uncertain future.” He added that his friend and client had many medical bills after undergoing “life-threatening surgery.”

On her personal Facebook account, Wells wrote of the GoFundMe:

“A dear, dear friend of mine with a big heart was trying to help me with some common issues we all understand and some may face. I don’t know how this happened. I thought I was taking all the proper steps to ensure my golden years. Now, here I am, no family, no husband, no kids and no money. I’m grateful that God has given me so many friends and fans who care, or it would all be too …overwhelming.”

The fund raised about $200,000.

Guess Who Came Out Rich On “Gilligan’s Island?”

Dawn Wells stayed close with Natalie Schafer, the actress who played Lovey Howell. Playing the wife of Thurston Howell III, Schafer was rich on Gilligan’s Island. And she was wealthy in real life. That’s because Schafer invested in Beverly Hills real estate.

When Schafer was diagnosed with breast cancer, Wells helped take care of her. Schafer died in April 1991, at the age of 90. It’s been reported that Schafer left some of her fortune to Wells. Schafer and her only husband divorced and the two never had children. So she had to leave her money to someone.

Gilligan’s Island ran from 1964-67. The show was about seven castaways who were stranded on an island. They set out for a “three-hour” tour.

With Wells’ death, Tina Louise is the lone remaining cast member. She played sexy actress Ginger.

Want to read more about Mary Ann’s best moments on Gilligan’s Island? Outsider has you covered.