Dawn Wells – who is best known for her work starring as Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan’s Island – has died at 82 of causes related to COVID-19.
Her publicist Harlan Boll announced the sad news that the actress had died in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.
She starred as the wholesome farm-girl from Winfield, Kansas on the iconic show throughout its storied 98-episode run from 1964 to 1967.
Other than Tina Louise – who played Hollywood movie star Ginger Grant – Wells was the last surviving member of the cast of the legendary series.
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Tough times: Dawn Wells (seen in September 2019) – who is best known for her work starring as Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island – has died at 82 of causes related to COVID-19
Signature role: She starred as the wholesome farm-girl from Winfield, Kansas on the iconic show throughout its storied run from 1964 to 1967
Despite ending in ’67, the famed series then grew in popularity during decades of syndication, especially in the 1970s and 1980s when many markets ran the show in the late afternoon.
In an interview some years later, Wells confessed that she didn’t know how popular her character was, saying: ‘I didn’t know until 1988 that I got the most fan mail. I assumed Gilligan would’ve, or the young men writing to Tina.’
She went on: ‘I realize now that I was everybody’s kind of girl next door, a fantasy but not a fantasy – that reality is that you could probably approach Mary Ann, and she might be the girl you take home to mother, or that you might tell your troubles to.’
The series created by Sherwood Schwartz followed the comic adventures of seven castaways that attempted to survive on an island after being shipwrecked.
It featured an ensemble cast including Wells, Louise Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer, and Russell Johnson.
All thirty-six episodes of the first season were filmed and black and white and were later colorized for syndication as the second and third seasons along with the film sequences were all filmed in color.
Wells had beat out 350 actresses for the role of Mary Ann Summers.
‘Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale’: Other than Tina Louise (center) – who played movie star Ginger Grant – Wells was the last surviving member of the cast of the legendary series, as they are seen on the show in 1996 with Bob Denver who played the titular role
A three hour tour: The series created by Sherwood Schwartz followed the comic adventures of seven castaways that attempted to survive on an island after being shipwrecked, as she and co-star Russell Johnson (Professor Roy Hinkley) are seen on the Los Angeles set in an image dated April 15, 1966
She also returned to her signature role for three sequel films which aired from 1978 to 1981 titled Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.
The talented star also voiced Mary Ann in addition to Louise’s role Ginger Grant on spin-off animated series Gilligan’s Planet 1982.
The brunette beauty also went on to reprise her iconic role for cameos over decades including on ALF (1987), Baywatch (1992), Herman’s Head (1993), Lover’s Knot (1995), and Meego (1997).
She also wrote Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook which was released in 1993.
Much like the sweet nature of her character, Wells previously confessed to being ‘very puritanical’ growing up, which she put down to her strict parenting.
‘I didn’t really drink, and of course there were no drug problems. I was very square. I was very much Mary Ann, I think that the soul of Mary Ann was very much in essence me,’ she said.
Trailblazing: All thirty-six episodes of the first season were filmed and black and white and were later colorized for syndication as the second and third seasons along with the film sequences were all filmed in color, as she, Russell Johnson (left) and Alan Hale Jr, (Jonas ‘The Skipper’ Grumby) are seen in a still from an episode which aired in October 3, 1964
The gang is (almost) all here: The cast of Gilligan’s Island, from left, Russell Johnson, as the professor; Jim Backus as Thurston Howell III; Natalie Schafer, as Mrs. Howell III; Alan Hale Jr., as the skipper; Bob Denver, as Gilligan; Judith Baldwin replacing original cast member Tina Louise, as Ginger, and Dawn Wells, as Mary Ann, in Los Angeles back in October 1978
Enterprising: She also wrote Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook, as she is seen with Russell Johnson at a book signing event in Los Angeles back in December 1993
‘I was raised very strictly. My parents were divorced – I was very close to both of them but I lived with my mother who was very strict with me. I couldn’t get away with anything, not that I would’ve.’
Before her Hollywood career, Wells – who was born in Reno – was crowned Miss Nevada in 1959 and went on to represent the Silver State at the 1960 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
‘I thought it would be a good experience to get in front of an audience and maintain that kind of composure,” she said in a recent interview looking back at that time. ‘I never had any idea that I’d win. It was a wonderful experience doing the Miss America pageant.’
Throwback: Dawn pictured in the center from 1956 for her senior year photo while attending Reno High School in Reno, Nevada
Star: Dawn seen from her senior year photo from her yearbook, dated 1956
Wells had a storied acting career as she appeared in more than 150 series and several movies in addition to stints on Broadway.
She made her Hollywood debut on ABC series The Roaring 20s playing Gloria in the episode War With The NightHawkers in 1961.
Before her big break on Gilligan’s Island, the actress starred in episodes of several television series including The Joey Bishop Show, The Cheyenne Show, Sunset Strip, Maverick, and Bonanza.
Legend: Wells (seen in Hollywood back in March 2008) had a storied acting career as she appeared in more than 150 series and several movies in addition to stints on Broadway
Icon: Wells at the Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles back in April 29, 2016
Wells went on to make several guest star appearances on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Roseanne, The F.B.I., Wagon Train, Tale Of Wells Fargo, The Detectives, The Everglades, and It’s A Man’s World.
She also starred in feature films including 1975 independent film Winterhawk, Palm Springs Weekend, The New Interns, Return To Boggy Creek, Soulmates, Forever For Now, and Super Sucker.
The actress may be best known on the big screen for her role as real-life victim Katie Starks in 1976 thriller The Town That Dreaded Sundown which is loosely based on the 1946 Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
Talking about the show that made her famous, Wells said they didn’t set out with a ‘strategy’ explaining: ‘We didn’t think about merchandising dolls and posters. We were doing a show, that’s what we were doing.’
Sought-after: Wells went on to make several guest star appearances on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Roseanne, The F.B.I. (seen in 1969), Wagon Train, Tale Of Wells Fargo, The Detectives, The Everglades, and It’s A Man’s World
‘Nowadays you might do it a little differently – you know you’ve got to capture the time you’re on the air and make the most of it, but I think I’ve made a living because of Gilligan’s popularity. My price has gone up, my choices are different. I’m not saying that it isn’t a hindrance in some ways too. It’s a double-edged sword I suppose.’
She went on to praise the experience of being in Gilligan’s Island, saying: ‘I have good memories, good feelings, it was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t the most creative acting job I ever had, but I loved the character, I loved the experience of doing it, and I went on.’
‘I don’t have any hostile feelings about it. I have such an animosity for actors who get on a series and then bad-rap it. ‘It’s a piece of garbage, I wish I were out doing Shakespeare.’ Then why take the job away from some actor that would love to do it? Why try to sabotage something that others are working hard at? If you don’t want to work on television then don’t do it!”
To mark the 50th anniversary of Gilligan’s Island, Dawn wrote A Guide To Life: What Would Mary Ann Do? with observations about her character and the cultural changes that took place while she was stranded.
Stunning: The actress at the TV Land Awards in Santa Monica, California on June 8, 2008
Shining bright: As Wells (seen with a male guest at an event in Los Angeles back in February 2019) is also known for her humanitarian efforts and charity work, donations may be made to the Elephant Sanctuary, Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, or the Shambala Preserve
The book was described as being ‘part self-help, part memoir, and part humor–with a little classic TV nostalgia for good measure’ as well as spelling out ‘the inspirational and heartwarming message that yes, good girls do finish first.’
Two years ago, a friend launched a GoFundMe drive to help cover medical and other costs for Wells, although she protested she didn’t need the assistance. She did end up acknowledging her need and accepted more than $ 180,000 in donations.
“Wow! I am amazed at the kindness and affection I have received” in response to the fundraising drive, Wells said in a social media post at the time. She said a “dear friend” undertook it after a frank conversation.
She recounted musing to him, “Where did the time go? 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 added in the post that she was grateful to her supportive fans and that her outlook remained positive.
Her only marriage was to talent agent Larry Rosen in 1962 as they divorced five years later in 1967 just as Gilligan’s Island was ending. Wells is survived by her stepsister, Weslee, among others.
As she is also known for her humanitarian efforts and charity work, donations may be made to the Elephant Sanctuary, Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, or the Shambala Preserve. In 2013, she was honored by for her work with a Tennessee-based refuge, The Elephant Sanctuary.