Dawn Wells: Why It’s Always Mary Ann On Gilligan’s Island

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Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

DogBadge Writers Marshal Rosenthal
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer specializing...
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Few television shows endure in the public’s mind as the years go by — especially if the show was only on for 3 years. So who would have thought a comedy set on a tropical island about a group of castaways would be as alive in pop-culture today as then? Dawn Wells did and she should know — after all she played  Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island against the likes of Thurston Howell, the Skipper, Ginger, the Professor and of course Gilligan. So this is our chance to ask the questions that have been bothering us about that “three hour tour” for over 40 years.

Man Cave Daily
Did the show’s creator tell you to always play Mary Ann so upbeat?

Dawn Wells
They don’t tell you to do anything — they just give you the script. It’s interesting — in a television series they try and cast you as close as possible to the character because the writing doesn’t necessarily tell you how it should be done. The character of Mary Ann is really me; I’m an optimist, positive and that’s Mary Ann. I think she’s the moral compass of the show. So no, nobody indicated that I should play this character like “You’re nice,” but in reading the script there was no alternative.  The line she was given indicated her strength of character and I applied how her strength of character would behave in the lines given me.   I believe that with as little indication by the script it gave me the freedom to develop the essence of the character throughout.  She was the moral center.

Man Cave Daily
Did you think at the time that Gilligan’s Island would be so special?

The Castaways avoid rocking the boat for this group shot  Warner Bros. Television Distribution

The Castaways avoid rocking the boat for this group shot
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Dawn Wells
Longest running show in the history of television syndication — it’s never been off the air since 1964 and it’s in 30 languages right now. It was made fun of: the critics said it wouldn’t last 20 minutes but it had the highest ratings — the viewing audience liked it even if the critics didn’t.

Man Cave Daily
The Professor could make anything out of coconuts, but he couldn’t get you guys off the island. Did you ever look at one of those scripts and say “C’mon already!?”

Dawn Wells
Every week (laughs). But Russell Johnson (the Professor) used to say, “Why’d you want to get off the island when you could be there with two pretty girls, why would you want to leave?” He wasn’t stupid, that’s for sure.

Gilligan never knew how good he had it.

Gilligan never knew how good he had it.

Man Cave Daily
Was Bob Denver (Gilligan) as manic when he wasn’t on camera as when he was?

Dawn Wells
No, it was interesting to watch — he’d be prepared and quiet and then come alive with the camera and the special effects and stunts and everything. He didn’t even rehearse. He was very childlike in his relationships with people but he was very smart, quite shy. He was bright but you didn’t know it.

I think the reason people identified with him is because of the child inside. He was a lovely man; I never saw him angry, having a tamper tantrum or arguing on the set. He just became Gilligan when it was time.

Dawn Wells and interviewer

Dawn Wells and interviewer

Man Cave Daily
I have to ask THE question — why is it that everyone picks Mary Ann over Ginger?

Dawn Wells
I’ve always said — and I don’t mean this to be offensive — is that Ginger is a one-night stand while Mary Ann is for a lifetime. Mary Ann is the one you would marry or be your best friend or go to the prom with you, while Ginger would be exciting but you’d have to take her to expensive places and buy her a martini…Mary Ann’s for the long haul. I’m doing a book that good girls do finish first, out in September.

Man Cave Daily
My wife would agree with all of this.

Dawn Wells
Good, you married the right woman.

Man Cave Daily
After the show was canceled, there were a few TV movies which got the castaways off the island. Would you have preferred that this hadn’t happened?

Dawn Wells
I think so. Because Gilligan’s Island was always a “perfect world.”  Yes we had headhunters and things but managed to survive it. We weren’t starving to death or having to face tsunamis or other horrible disasters — it was a glorified and peaceful existence, What Sherwood Schwartz (creator/producer) was trying to do was to take seven misfits and try to make them fit together; now the world’s made up of how many countries and people’s trying to fit together? — it’s a good lesson to consider. On the island it was peaceful and everything was solved with peace and joy and love…and a little bit of money from the Howells, OK — but there was no conflict between the characters. So yes I’d rather see them all there than making up these silly stories about the Harlem Globetrotters coming and going and nobody knowing where they are. The island’s where the castaways should always be.

It's still Mary Ann

Mary Ann forever.


Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture. Visit his website.

Marshal interviewed Stan Lee and Rylan Grayston, inventor of the $100 Peachy Printer.

Silver-haired and silver-tongued.

Silver-haired and silver-tongued.

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