‘Gilligan’s Island’ Tried to Delay One Actor’s Audition By Saying She Was ‘Too Smart for Mary Ann’

by Suzanne Halliburton

If you know your Gilligan’s Island cast, you’d probably agree one actress was perfect for the role.

Can you imagine another woman playing Mary Ann, the wholesome Kansas farm girl who made you think of the Wizard of Oz as soon as you saw her in gingham? Mary Ann was the perfect kind of girl. She made you feel at ease. Her beauty was girl-next-door approachable. She was the perfect complement to va-va-voom Ginger, the Gilligan’s Island castaway who always was in evening attire.

Dawn Wells played Mary Ann to sweet perfection. She was like a plate of homemade cookies in every episode. But Wells recalled a moment when the creator of Gilligan’s Island thought about taking a different casting direction. She might not have been the perfect Mary Ann.

“I’ll tell you a funny story about that,” Wells told an interviewer with Celebrity Biograph in 2014. “I went and I auditioned. Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, he read me, he said “you’ll be wonderful.’

“I came back, we talked, (Gilligan’s Island casting) said ‘we’re going to test people.’ And (then) we talked about clothes and laughed and kibbitzed a little bit. “

Agent Dared Gilligan’s Island to Cast Someone Else

Dawn Wells thought she was well on her way to becoming Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. But not so fast.

“My agent called and they (Gilligan’s Island casting) said ‘we’re not going to test her, we’re going to test her the second time around.’ My husband, at the time, was an agent. (He) said ‘no, either test her now or don’t test her.’

The initial observation, according to Wells, was ” she’s too smart to play Mary Ann.”

And as Wells said: “as if you can’t act like a farm girl, not that there’s anything wrong with a farm girl. They kind of forced their hand to test me. And I got the role.”

Yes, Dawn Wells did land the role in 1964. She beat out a bevy of other actresses, including Raquel Welch. Wells was a smart actress, with her theater arts degree from the University of Washington. She even sported a title — Miss Nevada, 1960. She was fresh-faced and new to the Hollywood scene.

And she definitely was someone who could pull off ponytails, gingham and denim and look as sexy as Ginger Grant, the other single gal on Gilligan’s Island. The show ran from 1964-67. You still can check it out on various cable channels and streaming services. The legacy lives on.

Wells once described how she really was nothing like Mary Ann in real life.

“I’m deeper, smarter, more ambitious, funnier,” Wells told Forbes magazine. “I think if you meet me for 15 minutes, there is nothing you won’t know: what you see is what you get.”

Sadly, Wells died Dec. 30, 2020, of complications of Covid-19. Tina Louise, who played Ginger, is the lone surviving Gilligan’s Island cast member.