Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson shared ''a mutual fondness," and spent time together offstage

Johnson wrote of their relationship in his 1993 memoir.

Television is so powerful that we often confuse actors for their characters. Some all-time sitcom greats are plagued by lifelong association with their most famous characters. As fans, we're so affected by our favorite shows, that we want to learn that the stars are like the people they portray. We want the heroes in our stories to be played by forthright champions, and we always ascribe villainous traits to the actors who play the baddies.

On Gilligan's Island, Dawn Wells was Mary Ann Summers. She was a farmgirl in a gingham dress, who won a trip on the tour boat via lottery. When that three-hour tour ended in a shipwreck, Mary Ann was thrust into life as a castaway. She wasn't in Kansas anymore. 

There's good news for everyone who fell in love with Mary Ann: Dawn Wells' coworkers agreed that she was perfectly cast in the role. The actress, apparently, had a lot in common with the wholesome character she performed.

Russell Johnson played The Professor on Gilligan's Island and discusses the other stars of the show in his 1993 Here on Gilligan's Isle. He wrote that Dawn Wells was "pure Americana," noting that she competed in 1960 for the Miss America crown. He added some historical context for the claim as well, stating that Wells' great-grandfather drove a stagecoach during the Gold Rush. It doesn't get more all-American than that.

Tellingly, Johnson also said that Mary Ann's popularity was a surprise to Wells. She assumed that her costar, Tina Louise, would get the most fan mail as Ginger Grant. However, the truth was that people were much more vocal in their admiration of Wells' "girl next door character."

"You may be glad to know that Dawn Wells has always been very much like Mary Ann: kind, gentle, and extremely good with children," wrote Johnson. 

"I guess if I had to identify the one I was closest to in the cast, it would be Dawn. We've always shared a mutual fondness for one another. It was always platonic. At the outset, we were both neglected in the opening credits and referred to as 'the rest,' and our roles were about the same proportion in the beginning. As time went by, I think the producers and writers began to realize that the professor and Mary Ann were the lone voices of logic. We were very important to the show, and they expanded our parts."

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7 Comments

ncadams27 3 months ago
Mentioned “we were very important to the show and they expanded our parts”. Every show that runs for more than one season will have to expand the parts of the recurring characters as they soon run out of storylines for the regulars. For example - Fonzie, Klinger, Ernie Douglas, and Eddie Haskell.
Kipahulu1 3 months ago
I met Dawn at the HoJo's in Tempe in the early 80's. She and Russell we're doing a play together at Gammage theater. I was very nervous but she was so sweet and absolutely 'normal'. An absolute pleasure to spend time with. I regret I didn't get to meet the 'Professor'.
jmworacle 3 months ago
Dawn Wells character Mary Ann was a beautiful down to earth person unlike the high maintenance princess like Tina Louise's Ginger Grant. Bob Denver lobbied to have Ms. Wells and the Professor named in the opening credits. When CBS balked he then told the network to list him as "And the rest" they changed thier mind.
McGillahooala 3 months ago
Both seem like great people. Glad to hear they got along well with each other and remained friends.
teire 3 months ago
Sweet story, nice friendship.
Runeshaper 3 months ago
Dawn Wells played such a great Mary Ann Summers (-:
Runeshaper 3 months ago
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Runeshaper daDoctah 3 months ago
Haha that's cool!
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