On Wednesday, Dawn Wells, 82, who played the beloved figure Mary Ann Summers on the fabled CBS sitcom Gilligan’s Island, died of causes related to COVID-19, according to her publicist.
One of two surviving members of the show along with Tina Louise, who played Ginger Grant, Wells was always grateful she had been given the role. In the foreword to her 2014 book, “What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life,” actor Russell Johnson, who played the Professor on the show, wrote:
We love Mary Ann because she is the future, the hope of our world. The youngest of the castaways, Mary Ann has her entire life in front of her. Watching her unfailing good cheer, her optimism is never in question. We love her because we need her emotional support and her belief that all will turn out well … We love Mary Ann because of Dawn Wells.
Louise said of her friend, “Dawn was a very wonderful person. I want people to remember her as someone who always had a smile on her face. Nothing is more important than family and she was family. She will always be remembered. … She should always be remembered with a smile on her face — she was a person full of joy, and shared her joy with everyone,” according to the New York Post.
As The Hollywood Reporter (THR) noted, Wells fell in August 2018 and acknowledged she couldn’t afford the two months of rehab that she needed; after a friend of hers created a GoFundMe page, fans of Wells contributed $197,000 in one month, leaving her stunned. She told Fox News, “I am amazed at the kindness and affection I have received. I don’t know how this happened. I thought I was taking all the proper steps to ensure my golden years. Now, here I am, no family, no husband, no kids and no money.”
Wells was 25 when she was cast and given more free rein to create her character. She stated, “Every character on Gilligan’s Island was given a broad ‘stock’ comedy role to fill — captain, mate, wealthy man, wealthy wife, professor, movie star — except me. She was given a name and location — Kansas farm girl. I had to fill in the blanks. So, from the get-go, the Mary Ann character was different. She wasn’t a Hollywood creation. She was molded by me, from me.”
She likened Mary Ann to herself, saying, “I know this because the core of Mary Ann is really me. I mean, I built her from scratch … if you play a character long enough on stage or screen, I think your true self shows through.”
Speaking with the Television Academy Foundation in 2008, Wells said poignantly, “There hasn’t been a Mary Ann on the air for I don’t know how long. There hasn’t been a good girl over 14, and Mary Ann was very much that. … The Mary Ann-Ginger issue is always there. You had to be a real man to understand Ginger, and Mary Ann would’ve gone to the prom with you and been your best friend. A lot of guys would come up to me and say, ‘I married a Mary Ann.’ She had the values.”
Wells recalled that growing up in Reno, Nevada, in middle school she suffered with severe acne, weight issues and bad knees from ballet lessons. But by 1959 she was named Miss Nevada in 1959 and competed in the 1960 Miss America pageant.
“In the early 2000s, Wells created Wishing Wells Collections, which makes clothes for elderly people with limited mobility. She also was the founder of the nonprofit Idaho Film and Television Institute and active in The Denver Foundation, the charitable organization founded by her fellow castaway before his death in 2005,” THR noted.
Wells concluded in her book, “Mary Ann wasn’t just a silly and sweet ingénue. She was bright, fair-minded and reasonable, and I like to think that’s what I brought to her. She was a little more of a Goody Two-shoes than I am.”