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Fifty years after Gilligan's Island'

November 2, 2016
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Dawn Wells, pictured above, is best known from her role as Mary Ann in "Gilligan's Island." She joined Chicago-based MeTV earlier this year as its first "Marketing Ambassador." The network is dedicated to classic TV. Dawn Wells, pictured above, is best known from her role as Mary Ann in "Gilligan's Island." She joined Chicago-based MeTV earlier this year as its first "Marketing Ambassador." The network is dedicated to classic TV. (photo courtesy of Dawn Wells)

Dawn Wells looks back at iconic television show

Dawn Wells has been one of television's most beloved figures for more than half a century. As one of the castaways on 'Gilligan's Island' (the show aired on CBS from 1964-1967), she was the wholesome 'girl next door' and (not coincidentally) the standard answer to the question often debated by men, usually after several beverages 'Ginger or Mary Ann?'

The real Dawn Wells is not really like her famous character, but there are a few similarities. They are both charming, quick-thinking and very smart, for instance. According to Wells, the producers of the show were originally against casting her as Mary Ann because they felt she was too smart to pull it off. It was only after she convinced them that Mary Ann may be nave, but not stupid, did she land the part with which generations of viewers associate her today.

'Gilligan's Island' is the longest-running sitcom still showing worldwide, broadcasting in over 30 languages. The program airs daily on TV Land and the ME TV Network.

Wells has appeared in more than 60 theatrical productions, seven motion pictures and starred in more than 150 TV shows but Mary Ann Summers is the character that continues to captivate the imagination of viewers around the world. I spoke with her recently from her home in Palm Springs, California.

TME: Greetings from Bangor, Maine! Have you ever visited this area?

Wells: I've always had a fantasy of coming to Bangor, Maine. Aren't you the furthest north of anything in the country?

TME: Not really. By car, there's another 4 hours or so before you get to the top.

Wells: I obviously have a thing about Bangor, Maine so I wish I were there. Maybe I got too hot on that island and just need some fresh air.

TME: Is it satisfying for you to know that a new generation of viewers is just discovering 'Gilligan's Island' now on TV Land and ME TV?

Wells: You realize I've been in your household for 112 years (laughs). Television is part of your family now. You know how you cling to things that are really important? TV is that for many people. You record certain things or re-watch things you've seen. 'Gilligan's Island' is one of those shows that people cling to. It's fascinating for me to learn how important the show is to so many people.

TME: There is so much negativity in the world. Is it a good feeling to know that you were involved with something that so many millions of people have had a positive association with?

Wells: It is and you have to give credit for that to the writer that created it. They didn't think we would last more than five or six episodes. I can't go anywhere in the world without being recognized. I was in Beijing and heard 'Mary Ann, Mary Ann!' I've been in the Solomon Islands where there's no running water, yet people still know who I am. It's part of your childhood, it's part of your growing up. It teaches you right from wrong. We loved Gilligan. He did everything wrong, but we didn't bully him. I think it's very important to have something like that today. Right now, I know we're very progressive and we want to see how far we can go with things, but those values are still important and I think if you're raised with that, you turn out pretty good.

TME: Of all of the cast members, were you closest to Bob Denver (Gilligan)?

Wells: I was very close to Bob and also Russell (Johnson, the Professor), because the two of us were known as 'and the rest' during the first year. We always used to send Christmas cards to each other signed 'Love, the rest.'

(Note: During the first black and white season of the show, the theme song mentioned each of the characters 'Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star and the rest! Here on Gilligan's Isle!' The subsequent two seasons, in color, changed 'and the rest!' to 'the professor and Mary Ann.')

TME: Were there ever any romantic relationships among the cast?

Wells: Well, I think if Russell Johnson and I hadn't each been married, there would have been. We were really in tune. He was really a very funny man and very dear. We really were all a family, most of us. Ginger (Tina Louise), not quite so much. She was Broadway and New York, but there was no animosity or anything. You know, Bob was so intelligent. You wouldn't have any idea how brilliant he was just like you would not have any idea of the sense of humor the Professor had. It was really a good blend of seven people. We all got along and that's a rarity, I think. And I think that also comes across on the screen.

TME: Was the network surprised at the show's success?

Wells: CBS thought it was the stupidest show ever written but they bought it because of the audience reaction. And we've raised how many generations of people who grew up watching the show? It's good clean humor but it's not dated. You don't look at it and say 'Well, that was made in the 60s.' There are no cars. The clothes don't look like they're from a certain period. The producer was pretty bright about that. And we've all had a fantasy of being Robinson Crusoe, right?

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