Gilligan’s Island almost had a very different Mary Ann. Dawn Wells revealed that she wasn’t the first choice to portray the iconic role. It’s hard to imagine another actor in the part. Wells had become synonymous with the role over the decades since the sitcom went off the air.
Wells revealed that initially, the show cast another actor in the part. But that actor lacked the on-screen presence that producers were looking for. Afterward, they approached Wells about the role.
“I was actually the second girl to be on it,” Wells told People in May 2018. “There was another gal in the pilot, and it didn’t work. She didn’t have a persona.”
Additionally, Mary Ann wasn’t even the original name for the character. Gilligan’s Island creators originally envisioned a character named Bunny, who worked at a talent agency.
“Mary Ann was originally going to be a secretary named Bunny who worked at a talent agency in Los Angeles,” Wells continued. “Can you imagine? They needed someone innocent and optimistic, so they changed her to a farm girl.”
Dawn Wells Lands the Role on ‘Gilligan’s Island’
So how did Dawn Wells end up in her iconic role? Well, the actor can thank her co-star Tina Louise. Louise played an indirect role in Wells ending up as Mary Ann. Originally, Ginger was going to be a teacher. But producers changed the role to a movie star. With Louise’s bright red hair, producers started looking for a brunette to offer contrast.
“They weren’t sure if they wanted a blonde or a brunette, and some of it depended on who Ginger was going to be,” Wells continued. “The character of Ginger was originally a teacher, so when they were changing her to a movie star, they were thinking Marilyn Monroe. So they had a blonde in mind for her. But then Tina Louise auditioned and she nailed it, so Ginger was named Ginger and they needed a blonde or a brunette.”
At the time, the show was still in black and white. They decided to give Wells the part because she offered the greatest contrast to Louise. Thus, the show finally found its Mary Ann as a result.
“The show was black and white at the time, and Ginger had light red hair, so a brunette would stand out more in black and white film,” she explained. “And that’s how they ended up with little ol’ me!”