‘Gilligan’s Island’: Dawn Wells Guest Starred Multiple Times on ‘Bonanza’

by Joe Rutland
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Actress Dawn Wells made her mark on “Gilligan’s Island” as Mary Ann, but she also appears on another popular TV show twice as a guest star.

Wells took on guest-starring roles on NBC’s “Bonanza” in 1962 and 1968, respectively. Her appearances were, obviously, before and after “Gilligan’s Island” had its run on CBS.

Let’s take a look at Dawn Wells’ work on “Bonanza.” In 1962, she appears as Marty Johnson on an episode titled “The Way Station.”

Wells is just one of many different people Adam Cartwright, played by Pernell Roberts, runs into when he stops at a stagecoach way station. The episode’s original run date is Oct. 28, 1962.

Dawn Wells Brackets ‘Bonanza’ Episodes Around ‘Gilligan’

Now Wells had her role as Mary Ann keeping her busy for three seasons. She went back to finding work on other TV shows after “Gilligan’s Island” ended. In fact, Dawn Wells shows up on another “Bonanza” episode in 1968.

She plays a Native American wife in “The Burning Sky,” which debuts on NBC on Jan. 28, 1968. In the episode, a new employee on the Ponderosa brings his new wife to the ranch. That stirs up a bunch of trouble as a neighbor is against having a Native American near his place. He harasses the couple and the Cartwrights throughout the episode.

Oddly enough, this “Bonanza” episode would be the last time Dawn Wells appears on TV for a decade. The next known time? Well, she and her castaway friends finally get rescued from that island. Wells returns as Mary Ann for “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island” in 1978.

Wells Wasn’t Show’s First Choice To Play Mary Ann

Speaking of “Gilligan’s Island,” did you know that Dawn Wells was not the first choice to play Mary Ann? Nope, she was actually choice No. 2.

Show producers had another actor in mind. When running screen tests, they found that the actor didn’t have what they were looking for in that role. As Wells said, “She didn’t have a persona.”

Even the Mary Ann name happened to be a second choice for producers. Originally, they had a secretary named Bunny become one of those seven stranded castaways. Producers had Bunny as part of the pilot, but eventually ditched that name and character, too.

Can you say “Dawn Wells, please answer the red courtesy phone in the lobby?” Because that’s kind of how Wells ended up playing Mary Ann. She happened to be at the right place at the right time.

“They needed someone innocent and optimistic, so they changed her to a farm girl,” Wells said. She also gives a tip of the hat to her co-star Tina Louise, who knew Wells and also knew producers were looking for a brunette. That would offset Louise’s red hair.

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