Remembering Dawn Wells: The Best Moments of Mary Ann in Gilligan’s Island

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Dawn Wells, who played beloved Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, was best known to generations of TV fans as the wholesome, Midwestern farm girl.

She died, Wednesday, of complications related to Covid-19. Her death prompted thousands of fans to sift through their memories for their favorites Mary Ann moments. Everyone loved the seven castaways who were featured in 98 campy episodes from 1960s-era TV.

Dawn Wells grew up in Nevada. She represented the state in the Miss America pageant in 1959. She earned her theater arts degree from University of Washington a year later.

Here’s a fun fact: Wells was 26 when she started Gilligan’s Island. But Mary Ann was supposed to be a teenager fresh from the Kansas farm. It’s no coincidence that Mary Ann was based on Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz.

As popular as Mary Ann was as a character, it’s difficult to believe she wasn’t in the pilot. Neither was the actress, Tina Louise, who played Ginger. Originally, two of the castaways were secretaries and co-workers named Bunny and Ginger. But the writers made some significant changes. They added Mary Ann, while Ginger became a movie star.

As the only single ladies on the island, Mary Ann and Ginger hung out together. Mary Ann often wore a version of modern-day bootie shorts. She rocked gingham and ponytails. Now, juxtapose Mary Ann with Ginger, the sultry movie star who preferred evening gown island wear. It was the classic ingenue versus glamour goddess. It’s no wonder men everywhere debated Mary Ann versus Ginger. It’s a discussion that’s been around more than a half-century.

How About Some Favorite Dawn Wells Moments

We’ve found some Mary Ann moments for you so you can spend the final hours of 2020 on a scenic cruise down nostalgia lane.

Beauty Is As Beauty Does: Remember when Mary Ann, Ginger and Lovie Howell competed in a make-shift beauty pageant for Miss Castaway? Ginger, listening on the radio, learned that one of her arch rivals won a beauty pageant title. And Ginger can do nothing because she’s a castaway.

Eventually, Gilligan must decide who wins the crown. After much suspense, he takes the easy way out and proclaims Gladys, the chimpanzee, as Miss Castaway, since she was the only one actually from the island. It probably was best. Gilligan might’ve crushed on Mary Ann, and vice versa, but it’s best to keep the peace when you’re stranded. In real life, Dawn Wells was the only beauty queen in the cast.

Remember When Mary Ann Thought She Was Dying?

The Postman Cometh: The castaways hear bad news on the radio. Again. This time it impacts Mary Ann’s love life. She learns her boyfriend, Horace, is married to another woman. Poor man. He has no idea where Mary Ann is. All those messages in bottles Mary Ann launched probably never got to him. And poor Mary Ann. The men try to cheer her up. But she thinks with all the attention, she must be dying from the mushrooms she ate.

The guys try to cheer her up. The Professor imitates heartthrob movie star Cary Grant. The Skipper is John Wayne. Gilligan is the suave Charles Boyer. Mary Ann then dreams about the characters that night. She’s sick. Lovie and Ginger are her nurses. The men play the same characters they imitated, except in the dream, they’re doctors. When Mary Ann wakes up, she tells the gang she embellished her relationship with Horace to impress them. It’s all good, Mary Ann.

In real life, Dawn Wells was only married once. She and her husband broke up in 1967, the year Gilligan’s Island went off the air.

Would Mary Ann and Gilligan Make a Good Couple?

The Matchmaker: This is the episode where Lovie decides to play matchmaker with the hopes of getting Mary Ann and Gilligan together. Lovie and her husband Thurston Howell III invite Mary Ann and Gilligan to their hut to talk about the joys of marriage. Rather than convince the kids, the older couple ends up arguing. Lovie, in a huff, moves in with Ginger and Mary Ann. There are more hijinx. The gang then tries to rematch Lovie and Thurston. It works.

Dawn Wells Names Her Favorite Episodes

And Then There Were None: Dawn Wells called this episode one of her favorites because she got to use a Cockney accent. The ladies on the island, one by one, disappear. Gilligan figures out he was the last one to see each of the women. So he fears he did something to hurt them, but he has no memories of doing anything. There’s a dream sequence, with Gilligan on trial. He’s innocent, your honor. Gilligan rescues the ladies the next day. They’d fallen into a pit.

Up At Bat: This was another favorite for Dawn Wells. She said it was because she liked playing an “old hag.” In the episode, a bat bites Gilligan. Was it a vampire? Cue the dream sequence. In it, Mary Ann plays Gilligan’s land lady. Gilligan finds out a fruit bat bit him, not a vampire. More hijinx. Everybody is happy by night fall.

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