Sitcom

'Gilligan's Island' star Dawn Wells talks Mary Ann's sex appeal

Actress Dawn Wells reminisces about the show and her book 'What Would Mary Ann Do?'

 

When Dawn Wells and five of her college roommates sailed to the Solomon Islands, they expected no running water, electricity or television. However, she experienced one big surprise while vacationing in a remote island within the Pacific.

“As our little canoe hit the sand, the chief’s wife looked at me and said, ‘I know you,’” explained the 78-year-old actress and former Miss Nevada. “She tells me, ‘In the 1970s I went to nursing school in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. I used to come home and watch you in black and white.’ So even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no television, they knew who I was because of that show.”

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Wells was referring to “Gilligan’s Island,” an American sitcom that only ran from 1964 to 1967 -- for three seasons -- and yet it has never gone off the air and continues to be screened in over 30 languages. She starred as Mary Ann Summers, an unapologetic "good girl" who was stranded on an island with six other castaways. Wells isn’t surprised that the show continues to be beloved among longtime viewers.

“I have been resonating with young boys for 50 years,” she told Fox News. “[But] it was wholesome and not risque. So mom and dad didn’t care what you watched. And I think we raised a good generation because of that… I’ve had soldiers tell me, ‘I carried your picture in my helmet.’ I had families say, ‘The only way we ever got along was when we were watching your show.’ It had an impact that was far more than just 30 minutes.”

For decades, rumors had swirled Wells auditioned against Raquel Welch for the iconic role, but even she isn’t sure if that’s true.

“I never saw Raquel come in, so I don’t really know if it’s true that she auditioned,” she admitted. “But, she would have been a better Ginger. She was a beautiful sex symbol, more than the country girl next door. I have to ask if that happened! Did we test the same day? I don’t know. I’d be curious to find out.”

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As for Tina Louise, the actress who played the glamorous Ginger and the only other living cast member, Wells said they have not stayed in touched.

“There’s nobody left,” she said. “And I don’t see Tina. She has not wanted anything to do with the show since it ended. She’s very much alive and doing things, I guess. She lives in New York. I did a play there for six weeks, but she never came. She’s just gone on to do her own life.”

However, Wells is still happily meeting fans of Mary Ann, whom she described as timeless.

“She pitched in and helped, never complained about anything and helped cook and clean,” explained Wells. “She was concerned about the other people on the island. No jealousy with Ginger… and she’s very in tune with Gilligan and his mistakes. I think she represents the core of what’s good. But he’s smart enough to put her in short shorts to make her a little sexy."

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Wells also played an important role in creating Mary Ann's daring look for audiences.

"We couldn’t show my navel," she said. "And I’m here standing next to Tina, who’s almost six feet tall. Her legs came up to my shoulders. So I helped design the shorts so that they can make my legs look longer and it covered my navel. If you walked too much and showed the navel, they had to reshoot it because CBS only had a three-second rule. Same with Ginger’s cleavage. Nowadays, look what’s happening!”

These days, Wells is still thriving beyond her most famous role. Not only has she kept active in the theater world, but she also published the 2014 humorous memoir “What Would Mary Ann Do?” Currently, she’s starring in a web-series, titled “Life Interrupted” where she plays fellow TV icon Alison Arngrim’s mother to rave reviews. However, Wells said a part of Mary Ann will always be with her.

“I have them!” she dished on still owning her character's shorts and top. “I have the gingham dress, too. And I really don’t know how I got them. We were picked up for season four. Then we went on vacation. I might have taken them home to check on the sewing. And then we were cancelled, by telephone. So we never went pack to get any of the props or anything. But, I have the shorts!”