|The cast of Gilligan's Island|
Dawn Wells, the actress who radiated all-American wholesomeness, Midwestern practicality and a youthful naïve charm as the character Mary Ann on the hit 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died on Wednesday at a nursing home in Los Angeles.
She was 82, according to The NY Times. Her publicist, Harlan Boll, said the cause was related to Covid-19.
Debuting on CBS in 1964, “Gilligan’s Island” followed an unlikely septet of day trippers (on a “three-hour tour,” as the theme song explained) who ended up stranded on a desert island.
There, shipwrecked alongside a movie star (who spent most of her time in evening gowns), a science professor, a pompous, older rich couple, and two wacky crew members was Mary Ann Summers (Ms. Wells), a farm girl from Kansas who had won the trip in a local radio contest.
|Dawn Wells 1938-2020|
The first version of the show’s theme song mentioned five of the characters “and the rest,” but the lyrics were soon changed to name the professor (Russell Johnson) and Mary Ann as well. The others in the cast were Bob Denver (Gilligan), Alan Hale Jr. (the Skipper), Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer (as the couple Thurston Howell III and Lovey Howell), and Tina Louise (as the actress, Ginger). Ms. Louise is the last surviving member of the original cast.
That the premise of “Gilligan’s Island” was pretty much implausible and its humor simplistic made no difference to the show’s millions of fans or its producers, who would discover in the years to come that they had spawned a cultural phenomenon.
Though “Gilligan’s Island” lasted only three seasons, canceled in 1967, it hardly slipped from the horizon. Endless reruns ensued, and the cast members had a series of encore performances. Ms. Wells, for one, reprised her role as Mary Ann in three reunion TV movies: “Rescue From Gilligan’s Island” (1978), “The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island” (1979) and “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” (1981).
In 1982, she did the voices of both her character and Ms. Louise’s movie star for “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff series. And she went on to play Mary Ann in episodes of at least four other (unrelated) shows: “Alf” (1986), “Baywatch” (1989), “Herman’s Head” (1991) and “Meego” (1997). “Gilligan’s”-themed episodes had a certain camp value.
Even her career as an author related directly to the series. “Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook,” which included Skipper’s Coconut Pie, was published in 1993. “What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life,” a memoir she wrote with Steve Stinson, appeared in 2014.
Mary Ann’s advice in the book included this thought: “Failure builds character. What matters is what you do after you fail.” The San Francisco Book Review called the book “a worthwhile mix of classic values and sincerity.