What should have been “a three-hour tour” turned into a 50 year journey for Dawn Wells, who played castaway Mary Ann Summers in the zany sitcom “Gilligan’s Island” that debuted on CBS in September, 1964.
“I’m still talking and writing about the show and it continues to gain new fans,” said Wells, from her Los Angeles home. “If you’re a 10 year old kid watching the show today, there’s not much to date it – a desert island is a desert island!”
To celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary, Wells recently released her new book “What Would Mary Ann Do? – A Guide to Life,” co-written with Steve Stinson (see www.dawnwells.com).
“I wrote the book partly in response to fans over the years,” she says. “It’s amazing that so many people still appreciate Mary Ann’s sense of values.”
While there are a few “Gilligan’s Island” stories in the book, the focus is on down-to-earth advice from Mary Ann – and Dawn’s – perspective.
“It was a fun, silly show that made you laugh and didn’t preach to the audience,” she says. “But there was an awful lot in the character of Mary Ann that kids could learn from today: she was fair, she pitched in to help, she had standards, she wasn’t worried about a $500 purse, and she would be your best friend you could trust.”
Beyond “Gilligan’s Island,” Wells says she performed in over 150 television and film roles, and appeared in more than sixty theatrical productions in which she continues to work today. But acting, she says, was never her original career plan.
“I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon!” said Wells, who turns 76 in October. “I took a theater course and my professor said I was so good that I should major in it.”
As a theater major at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wells was asked to enter the Miss America contest. In 1959 she ran for Miss Nevada – her home state.
“I thought it would be fun to get up in front of an audience and do a dramatic scene for the contest, but never thought I would win because I was so tiny and short,” she explained. “But I won! After graduating, I told myself I would give acting a chance for one year and if it was not successful, would go back to medicine.”
She never returned to med school!
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., with features, columns, and interviews in over 450 magazines and newspapers.