Dawn Wells ('Mary Ann')
“Mary Ann 2.0: The Isle of Mirth“
"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship …"
Dawn Wells is rightly proud of her role as “Mary Ann” Summers on the longest running show in the history of television syndication, ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ But there is more to Wells than Mary Ann. She has performed in over 60 theatrical productions, from Neil Simon to Tennessee Williams, appeared in over 120 television shows, most recently a pilot produced, written and directed by Fran Drescher. Throughout her career she has done four feature films, commercials, voiceovers and countless television and radio talk shows, including ‘The Tonight Show,’ ‘Today Show,’ ‘Regis and Kathy Lee,’ ‘Tom Snyder’ and ‘Rosie.’ She has hosted her own female fishing show, ‘Dawn Wells Reel Adventures’ and the CBS variety show TV’s ‘All Time Favorites.’ In addition, she has served as a journalist for the Australian show ‘Midday’ and hosted and co-produced the Children’s Miracle Network Broadcast for Mid-Missouri.
Wells has also served as artist in residence and taught master classes at numerous colleges across the nation. Some of her awards include: Case Award for Education, YMCA Woman of the Year, Alpha Chi Omega Volunteer of the Year Award and Stephens College Outstanding Alumnae as well as graduation speaker. Wells most recently received the first American Icon Award from Women in Film and Video, in Washington D.C. with the rest of the Castaways.
Her latest movie project is the new Jeff Daniels comedy where she finds herself the spokesperson for a vacuum cleaner that seems to clean more than just the drapes ! ’Super Sucker’ is the story of rival door-to-door vacuum cleaner distributors Fred Barlow (Jeff Daniels) and Winslow Schnaebelt (Harve Presnell) as they battle for territory and survival in a "winner takes all" contest. When perennial underdog, Fred Barlow re-discovers a long lost cleaning attachment, the contest turns as he and his team of misfits determine "non-traditional" uses for this attachment. The result not only changes their lives, it changes the home cleaning industry forever!
Sitting down with the lady herself, I first asked Dawn if she was still taken aback by the amount of recognition ‘Mary Ann’ still gets! ”It’s just amazing to me that we’re still talking about,” she laughs. ”It was 1964 to 1967 and that’s still an issue, but it wasn’t when the show was on the air. I think that some of the viewers who were nine at the time, then hit twenty and then hit forty kind of look back at that nice girl that you would have married and taken home to mom and everything would have been perfect. Nowadays, with all this free love and stuff, there isn’t a Mary Ann on television any more. It’s funny, but everyone has to come up to me and tell me that I was their favorite! But, then of course, they’re not gonna come up and tell me that Ginger was their favorite to me,” she laughs realizing what she has just said. ”But then it becomes an issue that they have to talk about to me.”
Being Mary Ann has served you so well over the years, but do you sometimes wish it hadn’t had been just so successful ? ”No! I mean, why try to even stop that ? In thirty languages all over the world, I can’t go any place without somebody mentioning Mary Ann. The Rwanda Gorilla Climb in Beijing, I had somebody calling out ‘Mary Ann, Mary Ann, but my favorite story is when I was adventure canoeing out in the Solomon Island. No running water, no electricity, the Chief’s family has been there for nineteen generations and so we canoed up and the Chief’s wife went, ‘Mary Ann, Mary Ann.’ It was absolutely incredible and unbelievable.”
What was ‘Ginger’ like to work with on the show? ”She was not difficult to get along with during the show. If she had any issues she went to the Producer. She didn’t storm off the set or be rude to anybody or anything like that. I think she was told a lot of promises from her agent that never materialized, but I think afterwards she considered herself a ‘dramatic actress.’ And I think with so much of that fanfare, especially as it was shown all over the world, she couldn’t get away from it. I think she wanted to kind of back away and it was impossible. I think now she’s enjoying it and I think now she’s even grateful.”
Why take this role in ‘Super Sucker’ ? ”Well, I was producing a movie-of-the-week for CBS at the time and my agent called me and told me that Jeff (Daniels) had called and had wanted to talk to me. I’m a real fan of Jeff’s and think he’s a wonderful actor, but didn’t know much about his writing and directing abilities, but when they sent me the script I thought it was one of the funniest that I’d read. I thought it was very clever how they proceeded, in the script, to make fun of Mary Ann and so I decided to work with them on it. And working with them was very interesting and very different from working with other directors. Jeff was very focused, very serious and very quiet and you’d think he would be off the wall because of his humor being that way and I always wondered how that would work. But it worked because he didn’t have to share time and things with the writers because he was the writer, but it doesn’t always work like that in a play.”
Was it easy for you as the wholesome Mary Ann to be involved in such a sexually-orientated film ? ”Actually,” she smiles ”I didn’t see it all put together till we went to the Comedy Festival after,” she churlishly laughs. ”and, yeah,” she laughs again, ”we talk about the ratings and that there’s no nudity and no language, but the subject matter is really pretty powerful!”
What was the atmosphere like on the set of ‘Super Sucker’ ”More serious than you can imagine. Everybody was really focused about what they were doing. You know you tend to think of comedy as only Robin Williams, but here everybody was kinda focused on what they were doing and everybody got along with everybody. And another nice thing about Jeff was that he invited me to come onto the set and just sit down and get a feel of things. Which, as actors on stage, you never get a chance to do that, but because it’s his film he allowed that.”
What’s most appealing these days to you: TV or movies ? ”Well, in TV you’re really kind of flying by the seat of your pants, you don’t make the final decisions on how it’s put together, you’re shooting in segments that are out of sequence, so it’s much more difficult than film. In film you’ll shoot your scenes and then maybe you’ll have to comeback six weeks later to dub a scene because the sound was wrong, but that’s about it.”
What’s next for you ? ’Oh gosh, I’m pretty busy. I’m Executive-Producer for ‘Return To The Batcave’ with Adam West and Burt Ward that should be coming out February sweeps, Adam and I are doing ‘Love Letters’ together on stage, I then do a play up in Canada, and I’m also going into the ‘Vagina Monologues’ in Missouri. I did it in Chicago last year. It’s a great play and if you can drag a man there they will always enjoy it!”
Do you have any time for hobbies!? ”Well, I also run a Film Actor’s Boot Camp, which I’m very proud of up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming! We all live in a great big ranch and I have no more than 16 students at a time with a faculty of five and it’s not for profit. Its college credit and we teach everything about the film industry, acting for the camera even to the business end of it. All of that and more and this year we are adding two classes: Camera Crew and Sound. And 100% of my actors located in Los Angles all have jobs in the industry now. Nobody tells you really how to get into the film business and still make a living and so we do. (www.dawn-wells.com) It’s our fourth year and I’m very, very proud of what we do.”
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
Did You Know These Mary Ann Facts?
In the pilot episode filmed in late '63, the Mary Ann character didn't even exist! Instead the character was a secretary named Bunny, played by blonde Nancy McCarthy
At 26 years old, Dawn Wells was the youngest of the castaways
Raquel Welch auditioned for the role of Mary Ann
Dawn spent her mid-twenties shipwrecked through 98 episodes and three seasons ('64-'67)
Mary Ann was originally considered to be such a minor character, she - like the Professor - wasn't even mentioned in the theme song!
The animated series ‘The New Adventures of Gilligan’ in '74-'77 was followed by a one-season cartoon called ‘Gilligan's Planet’ in '82, which placed the castaways on another planet trying to get back to Earth.
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