Hand color tinted photo of Dawn Wells from the 1960s television series, Gilligan’s Island
Dawn Elberta Wells (born October 18, 1938) is an American actress who is best known for her role as Mary Ann Summers on the CBS sitcom Gilligan’s Island. She and Tina Louise are the last surviving regular
cast members from that series.
Life and career
Wells was born in Reno, Nevada, where she attended Reno High School. She later attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she majored in chemistry. She transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she graduated in 1960 with a degree in theater arts and design. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
In 1959, Wells was crowned Miss Nevada and represented her state in the Miss America 1960 pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In Hollywood, Wells made her debut on ABC’s The Roaring 20s and the movie The New Interns and was cast in episodes of such television series as 77 Sunset Strip, The Cheyenne Show, Maverick, and Bonanza, before she took the role of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. She reprised her character in the various Gilligan’s Island reunion specials, including a reunion cartoon spin-off, Gilligan’s Planet, and three
reunion movies: Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.
She also appeared as a guest star on Wagon Train, Tales of Wells Fargo, 87th Precinct, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, Ripcord, The Everglades, The Detectives (1959 TV series), It’s a Man’s World, Channing,
Laramie, Burke’s Law, The Invaders, The Wild Wild West, The F.B.I., Vega$, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, ALF, Herman’s Head, Three Sisters, Pastor Greg, and Roseanne.
Wells had small roles in the early 1960s films Palm Springs Weekend and The New Interns, and later starred with Michael Dante in the independent 1975 film Winterhawk, playing a Western settler kidnapped by a Native American chief. Her other films include The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Return to Boggy Creek, Lover’s Knot, Soulmates, Forever For Now, and Super Sucker. In fall 2011, she began filming Hotel Arthritis, a comedy horror film released in 2012.
Following Gilligan’s Island, Wells embarked on a theater career, appearing in nearly one hundred theatrical productions as of July 2009. She spent the majority of the 1970s and 1980s touring in musical
theater productions. She also had a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1985.
In 1993, Wells published Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook with co-writers Ken Beck and Jim Clark, including a foreword by Bob Denver.
In 2005, Wells consigned for sale her original gingham blouse and shorts ensemble from her signature role. A Beverly Hills auction house, Profiles in History, sold it for $20,700.
In 2008, Wells came to Los Angeles to join Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan’s Island, for the celebration of Schwartz’s entry into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Wells appeared on a celebrity episode of Food Network’s Chopped, entitled “Celebrity Holiday Bash”, which first aired December 1, 2013.
In 2014 Wells released What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life, which she co-wrote with Steve Stinson. The book was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Gilligan’s Island.
Wells was close to Alan Hale, Jr., who played The Skipper in Gilligan’s Island, even after the series completed its run. Before his death, Hale contributed a family recipe (“Kansas Chicken and Dumplings”) to
her 1993 cookbook, Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook. Hale, whose character was the inspiration behind such included concoctions as ‘Skipper’s Coconut Pie,’ ‘Skipper’s Navy Bean Soup,’ and ‘Skipper’s
Goodbye Ribeye,’ can be seen depicted as Skipper Jonas Grumby in numerous photographs throughout the book. She said in a 2014 interview with GoErie.com, about her memory with him, “Alan could not have been kinder to a young actress. He was a real peach.” When he died in January 1990, she was the only cast member to attend his memorial.
Following the January 2014 death of Gilligan’s Island co-star Russell Johnson, Wells and actress Tina Louise are the only surviving cast members of the original sitcom.
In May 2016, Wells was named Marketing Ambassador to MeTV Network. From a network press release: “Dawn Wells will serve as the MeTV Marketing Ambassador for the coming year, bringing her talent, warmth and generous spirit to a variety of MeTV appearances, performances and events. First up, Dawn will be the on-camera network hostess for The Summer of Me, MeTV’s annual programming event.”
In 2005, TV Guide ranked Wells No. 50 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list.
She married Larry Rosen, a talent agent, in 1962. The couple had no children and were divorced in 1967.
Reckless driving incident
While driving home from her birthday party celebration on October 18, 2007, Wells was observed swerving across the roadway, was found in possession of marijuana and was arrested by Idaho police. A third
party, who had been in possession of Wells’ car that day and had left the joints behind, came forward and claimed full responsibility for the marijuana. Wells pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving,
was fined, and served six months’ unsupervised probation.
In a statement, Wells admitted swerving, saying she was reaching for her car heater controls. Wells lost a speaking engagement because of the incident. Later, Wells said, “I think it is so hysterical that
people went nuts over it. I am what, now, 102 years old? I get booked for the first time in my life and suddenly I am a drug-using bum? I have told people the facts, but facts don’t interest people or the
media. They only trust headlines. The only reason I even cared was because it negatively affected my film festival and film school, and my sponsors were concerned. If I did not own a not-for-profit school, I
would be on Saturday Night Live making fun of it!”
Wells had previously been implicated in a previous marijuana incident in 1998, when fellow Gilligan cast member Bob Denver claimed she had sent him a box with the drug in it. Denver retracted the previous
statement in court and claimed the box of marijuana was sent by “some crazy fan.”
Wells runs a business, Wishing Wells Collections, making clothing for people with limited mobility. She is the founder of the Idaho Film and Television Institute, a not-for-profit (501c3) educational
organization with “a vision of education, technical training and economic development in Southeastern Idaho.” She organized SpudFest, a regional annual family movie festival, and has been a spokeswoman for Idaho Potatoes.
Wells continues to lend her support to the Denver Foundation, a charity chaired by Dreama Denver, widow of Wells’ Gilligan’s Island co-star Bob Denver. In November 2009, she appeared at the Denver
Foundation’s Christmas Wish Celebrity Auction, helping to raise funds for the disabled and disadvantaged in West Virginia