R.I.P. Dawn Wells, Mary Ann of Gilligan's Island

The beloved sitcom star was 82.

Read to Me

Dawn Wells was one of the most beloved television stars of all time. The charming character of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island helped the actress win the admiration of generations of fans all over the world.

The fictional Mary Ann may have been from Kansas, but Wells was born and bred a Western gal. Her roots in the West stretched back to the gold rush in the 19th century. One hundred years later, her father owned the legendary Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas.

Wells double-majored in theater and pre-med at the University of Washington at Seattle. During her tenure, she won a scholarship after winning Miss Nevada and competing in the Miss America pageant. After graduating, she decided to give herself two years to try out acting.

"I said, 'I'll give myself two years. If I'm not working I'm going back to med school,'" Wells told Gilbert Gottfried in 2016. "And I started working right away."

The Reno native represented Nevada in the 1960 Miss America pageant. A year later, she was landing small roles on TV. Miss Nevada's first television appearance came on 77 Sunset Strip in 1961, during a restaurant scene in "The Corsican Caper." The cast obviously clicked with Wells, as she appeared in three more episodes that year, playing different characters each time. In this pre-Gilligan era, she also appeared on Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye, other hip crime shows related to 77 Sunset Strip in the Warner Bros. family.

Western roles on Bonanza and Laramie honed her chops until the big one came along.

Yet, when creator Sherwood Schwartz filmed his Gilligan's Island pilot in 1963, Wells was not part of the cast. "The movie star" was nowhere to be found, either. Instead, two "secretaries," Ginger and Bunny, played by Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy, respectively, set sail with the Skipper and his little buddy. 

The sitcom was wisely recast and retooled — even the location was shifted from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Wells beat out some other famous contenders for her part. Even Raquel Welch auditioned for the role.

As Gilligan's Island quickly became one of the iconic sitcoms of the Sixties, Wells became somewhat typecast as the innocent farm girl. Not that she seemed to mind. She embraced her Gilligan's fame. In fact, at some point in her long career, Wells ended up playing all three female castaways — yes, including Ginger and Lovey. She was game to keep voicing her character in Saturday morning cartoons like Gilligan's Planet. She later reprised her role on ALF and Baywatch.

"At first I tried to break my Gilligan image, but now it’s a hoot. I'm like the Beaver—part of TV history," she told People magazine in 1985.

In recent years, she continued to show her love of Mary Ann, becoming an ambassador for MeTV. Wells exuded the warmth, kindness and honesty we all had come to expect from her. She even taste-tested coconut water for us.

On December 30, Wells died at the age of 82. She will be deeply missed.

Watch Gilligan's Island on MeTV!

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Cheyloo 9 days ago
She certainly did not look 82!
billtabor61 15 days ago
God bless and she will be missed but never forgotten
stephaniestavropoulos 16 days ago
Anybody see the Christmas wish to her fans Dawn let before passing? I noticed it on You Tube. I have not viewed it, just saw it was on there.
djw1120 17 days ago
I don't know what MeTV is talking about.
Dawn Wells (MaryAnn) had NOTHING to do with Star Trek.
Everyone knows that Lt. Nyota Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols.
denny djw1120 14 days ago
I didn't see anything about that in the article, what am I missing?
Jeffrey 17 days ago
Well, I'm sad to read of her death, and glad to find out more about Dawn Wells that I didn't know before. RIP Lovely Mary Ann.
Oldtimer88 17 days ago
She uplifted us with her warm,cheerful spirit.
tptraffic 17 days ago
Thank you Mary Ann for all those great memories. You will be sadly missed.
Xoxoxoxo timmy
jacko3 17 days ago
.. what else can one say, a sweet looking actress that was a wonderful appearance on a popular comic show that included certainly many fantastic characters ... its hard to believe the lovely "Mary Ann" of Gilligan fame aged so quickly .... as the years move on ever so fast ... GOD Bless the Life & Legacy of DAWN WELLS ...
jwind000 17 days ago
Time to pull the MaryAnn promos. Just saw one a few minutes ago.
jwind000 jwind000 17 days ago
Same with the Carl Reiner promo for Duck Van Dyke. C’mon guys!
denny jwind000 14 days ago
I disagree, they are showing her in her later years and she looks great.
Claude 18 days ago
Extremely sad day for me.... First, on Christmas day I get the call that my best friend died that morning from Covid and now this.
JustGeri Claude 10 days ago
Sorry for the loss of your friend
Wilbur88 18 days ago
She was so sexy.
😀Yeah...... she was such a beauty back then ❤❤❤❤❤
AlF 18 days ago
Happy to see she was a rummy like me! We'll miss you, Mary Ann!
kimmer 18 days ago
The Baby Boomers took a hard hit this past year. Sometimes we forget we are getting older. What an amazing Legacy our childhood hero's leave behind.
Rest in peace knowing you and so many others, touched our lives in so many ways. Just reading the tributes says it all. What a lovely legacy.
jaelinsmith40652 kimmer 18 days ago
You know what they say legends never died as what kobe Bryant and his daughter were both died tragically.
JL1965 18 days ago
So sad , A beautiful lady .. RIP Dawn , you will be missed
CouchPotato19 19 days ago
She was cool. A genuine lady! R.I.P. Dawn.
MichaelFields 19 days ago
She was one of my first crushes growing up and she still looked very beautiful, sexy in her 80's (I could not believe she was that old) RIP and thank you for all the memories
MadMadMadWorld 19 days ago
Barbara Eden ("I Dream of Jeannie") left a terrific pic of her and Dawn together, after learning the sad news yesterday. Posted on Barbara's twitter page @Barbara_Eden at 3:04pm, here: https://twitter.com/Barbara_Eden/status/1344389001378201602/photo/1
"Oh Dawn, it is never easy to hear that a happy, charming friend has passed. You were always great fun and loved to laugh. Decades of laughter and good times together will remain with me always. Off the island, but forever in our hearts. -Barbara Eden #RIPDawnWells #RipMaryAnn "
Check out the Devil Horns, or {keeping it "Vast Wasteland" related,} the Rabbit ears, Barbara is flashing above Dawn's head!
JHP MadMadMadWorld 18 days ago
hate to say it - dawn? in that outfit I need to run around like a dog in the snow here in Wisconsin

If I was a octopus it would be 8 thumbs up and then you got Barbara Eden there? - meltdown in 10 seconds!
kimmer MadMadMadWorld 18 days ago
How lovely they look....makes me rethink my natural grey...hmmmm?
denny kimmer 14 days ago
At the sale of her belongings a couple of years ago, they were selling some of her wigs.
jaelinsmith40652 19 days ago
R.I.P Dawn Wells, We'll keep in touch in you and your work on Gilligan's Island because your like a beautiful gem of Hollywood I wish you could've been alive when i heard about your death here's a rose flower emoji for you 🌹. 💐😥😙😢
"I wish you could have been alive, when I heard about your death.?!?!" If she were alive, then there wouldn't be any need to report of her demise. It would be like someone wishing someone were dead. If they wished they were living so they could hear someone tell them that.
Actually what I mentioned To say I wish she never died from covid19 because she was a very positive lady.
Suzanne stephaniestavr5 17 days ago
Please don't treat others that way; English may not have been her first language. We need more kindness and thoughtfulness in these challenging and often difficult days. I wouldn't want anyone to treat you that way either.
KellyTenace Suzanne 17 days ago
Thank you for being the voice of kindness. There are all too little of words like yours going around these days.
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