‘Gilligan’s Island’: A Major Injury Led to Dawn Wells Going into Acting Career

by Chris Haney
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In 2014, the late Gilligan’s Island star Dawn Wells opened up about her early acting days and what led her to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

While at a convention, the Mary Ann Summers actress met fans and signed autographs. In addition, she gave an interview to Mark J. Gross of the YouTube channel “Celebrity Biograph.” Their conversation took Wells back to the beginnings of her acting career. Gross asked her what drew her to acting in the first place. Her answer may surprise some of her fans.

Interestingly enough, Wells originally wanted to enter a different field of entertainment. She wanted to be on stage, but as a professional ballet dancer. Yet an injury to her knees forced her to pivot from those career plans. While attending college, the Gilligan’s Island actress decided she wanted to be a pediatric surgeon. Since she couldn’t take any physical education classes because of her knees, she signed up for a theater class instead. And that’s when her career path took a sharp turn towards Hollywood.

“It’s vey interesting because I was a speaker – debate in high school – and I wanted to be a ballerina. And my knees dislocated. So I went off to Stephens College, which was a woman’s college. Pre-med, wanted to be a pediatric surgeon. I couldn’t take any P.E. because of my knees, so I took a theater course,” Wells explained of her early days of acting.

“My professor at Stephens College said, ‘You really ought to major in [theater].’ And I thought,’ Oh, gosh,’ I don’t want to be an out of work actor. So I transferred from Stephens to the University of Washington – Seattle, which has a phenomenal theater department. Then got my degree and said I’ll give myself two years, if I’m not working I’ll go back to med school. And I was very lucky,” she added.

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Dawn Wells Thought Mary Ann’s Popularity Didn’t Have ‘Anything to Do’ with Herself

A year later in 2015, the Gilligan’s Island actress shared thoughts about her character Mary Ann’s popularity and why so many fans gravitated to her. Even though Dawn Wells admits Mary Ann was a relatable character, she doesn’t think it had much to do with herself at all.

From 1964 to 1967, the short-lived CBS sitcom gained plenty of fans because of Mary Ann and her co-star Tina Louise who played Ginger. Once the show went into syndication, its popularity continued to grow. It became a full-on cult classic after it went off-air. As for the two beautiful, young starlets who were stranded on an island with five other strangers, they each became pop icons.

During the interview, a reporter made sure to remind Wells that she received more fan mail than anyone else on the show. Yet she still humbly disagreed with the assessment, pointing to Gilligan or the Skipper as the fan favorites.

“I really don’t think I was the most popular… I’m sure it would be Gilligan, maybe, or the Skipper. But, I think Mary Ann was relatable. And for you, as a young person growing up watching the show, Ginger was too much! You have to be pretty sophisticated. And Mrs. Howell could have been your grandmother. I think you identified with me because I’d have been your buddy!” Wells explained in the 2015 interview.

“I don’t mean to be too modest, but I don’t think it had anything to do with me,” the Gilligan’s Island star added.

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