Young Dawn Wells had the looks, but did she have the acting chops to make a career in Hollywood? The beauty queen landed a few one-off roles on some classic TV shows of the 1960s. Her performances earned her the “Gilligan’s Island” role that made her an iconic actress of the era.
But before she got there, she played a small part in the classic Western comedy “Maverick.”
Running from 1957 to 1962, “Maverick” followed rambling gamblers Bart and Bret Maverick as they bounced around looking for games. Led by James Garner, Jack Kelly, and eventually Roger Moore, the show had mass appeal. As a result, it has gone down as a classic of the genre.
Dawn Wells had the opportunity to play a character named Caprice Rambeau in an episode of “Maverick” titled “The Deadly Image.” She was still in her acting infancy at the time, with the role being only her second professional acting credit. Her “Gilligan’s Island” days were still a few years off. But to get there, she needed to impress in small parts like these.
The 1961 episode sees Bart discover his doppelganger. Troubles arise when he discovers that the man who looks just like him is wanted. Dawn Wells plays the lookalike’s beloved, though eventually, she seeks refuge with Bart himself.
Three years after her appearance on “Maverick,” Wells would take on the role of Mary Ann in “Gilligan’s Island.” Other classic shows she made appearances on in the early 1960s included “Cheyenne,” “Wagon Train,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Hawaiian Eye,” and “Surfside 6.”
The Eventual ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Could Have Been a Ballerina or a Doctor
That’s right. Her original dream was not to appear as Caprice Rambeau in a bit-part on “Maverick,” or even as Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” for that matter. In her youth, she dreamed of becoming a ballerina one day. And short of that, pursuing medicine.
In a 2019 interview with Smashing Interviews Magazine, Wells was asked about her original pursuits and why she gave them up.
“Well, that’s kind of interesting because I had to give up ballet because my knee dislocated, and I’ve always been interested in science,” said Wells. “I went away to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. It’s a small town and a small school. I guess I got the acting bug because they cast me in a couple of plays, and I never looked back.”
Even then, it took an entirely different school for Wells to finally make the big move to Los Angeles.
“When I graduated, I went to the University of Washington in Seattle. I thought, ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’ I didn’t sing, and I didn’t dance. Most of that is New York stage,” Wells continued. “So I went to LA and went to work right away. I was the perfect type, the girl from Kansas, you know?”