‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Dawn Wells Once Pulled Double-Duty as Actor and Narrator in 1975 Western Film

by Matthew Wilson

Audiences may remember Dawn Wells for starring on “Gilligan’s Island” as Mary Ann. But she also starred in a variety of films and projects across her career including a 1975 western. For that project, Wells pulled double duty.

She acted as both the narrator and one of the leads in the film “Winterhawk.”

Winterhawk” was a lower-budget affair. The film was independently produced but turned into a hit once it theaters. In the film, Wells played the role of Clayanna. The film revolved around a Blackfoot chief who tries to save his tribe in 1845 Montana. In his search for salvation, the chief becomes increasingly desperate. According to Robert Ebert, the film was “a traditional western, simply and well told, almost old-fashioned in the clarity of its narrative.”

The cast of the film includes Denver Pyle, Woody Strode, Lief Erickson, Elisha Cook Jr. and also L.Q. Jones.

Dawn Wells on ‘Winterhawk’

“Winterhawk” also was Wells’ favorite project that she worked on. Outside of “Gilligan’s Island” of course. In an interview with Zachary Mule before her death, Wells discussed the project.

“Winterhawk,” Wells said of her favorite projects. “Because it was so incredibly beautiful, and I had been working with such professional character actors. And we were really in the snow. I mean, I had on pantyhose over my long underwear, and I was bareback on the horse, trying to go up the Rocky Mountains.”

On the film, Wells abandoned the tropical vibes of “Gilligan’s Island” for Montana and the frontier life. For one, the film required Wells to ride horseback. The actor discussed trying having to ride the horse without a saddle.

“[My] little horse had just a little tuft of his mane,” Wells recalled. “And we started up the hill, and my pantyhose would slide back towards the tail, and I tried to grab a hold of his mane. [About] a week into it, I said to the director, ‘Charlie! All the Indians have saddles under their blankets. Why can’t I have a saddle?’ He said, ‘It’s too late now, I put ya there without one.’”

The production ended up being her favorite from her post-“Gilligan’s Island” career. For one, she enjoyed how the cast all came together to create something wonderful. Perhaps it reminded her of her sitcom days.

“But you really got to have that feeling,” Wells continued. “And Michael Dante was a wonderful actor in the role…I think that was my favorite.”