Dawn Elberta Wells
October 18, 1938
Reno, Nevada, U.S.
|Died||December 30, 2020 (aged 82)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
(m. 1962; div. 1967)
Wells was born to Evelyn (Steinbrenner) and Joe Wesley Wells in Reno, Nevada, where she attended Reno High School. Her father owned a local Reno shipping company called "Wells Cargo" (not the trailer manufacturer). After high school graduation, Wells 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 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 The Joey Bishop Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Cheyenne, Maverick, and Bonanza.
Wells appeared as a guest star on Wagon Train, Tales of Wells Fargo, 87th Precinct, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, Ripcord, The Everglades, The Detectives, Bonanza, 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, Matt Houston, ALF, Herman's Head, Three Sisters, Pastor Greg, and Roseanne.
She took her signature role of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island in 1964. She reprised her character in the various Gilligan's Island reunion specials, including the 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.
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. Alan Hale Jr., who played The Skipper on Gilligan's Island, contributed a family recipe ("Kansas Chicken and Dumplings") to her cookbook. Hale's character was the inspiration behind such concoctions as Skipper's Coconut Cream Pie, Skipper's Navy Bean Soup, and Skipper's Goodbye Ribeye, and he is depicted as Skipper Jonas Grumby in numerous photographs throughout the book. She said in a 2014 interview with GoErie.com, "Alan could not have been kinder to a young actress. He was a real peach."
In 1997, Wells starred as her Gilligan's Island character in a music video for the song "Mary Ann" by the pop-punk band Squirtgun (Lookout Records label mates of Green Day). The song describes an infatuation with Mary Ann and sings praises to the wholesome character, specifically choosing her over Ginger. The video reached the top 40 of MTV's Alternative Music charts, and was featured as part of a variety of alternative-themed music video programs.
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.
A recurring theme, in the form of a rivalry, developed from the show that posed the question, mainly to men, as to which one of the female stars they preferred: Ginger or Mary Ann? Wells embraced the good-natured rivalry. During a 2014 interview with the Vancouver Sun, Wells said that she had a t-shirt that read: "Ginger or Mary Ann, the ultimate dilemma." The question of which of these two characters men prefer endured long after the end of the series. "You can go anywhere and say 'Ginger or Mary Ann?' You don't have to say what show it is. Everybody gets it. And I always win."
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 Silent But Deadly (originally titled 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 theater productions, notably the second national (bus and truck) tour of Neil Simon's Chapter Two (in the role of Jennie Malone), and replacing Lorna Luft as Sonia Walsk in the second national tour of They're Playing Our Song. She also had a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1985.
For several years, Wells operated a business, Wishing Wells Collections, making clothing for people with limited mobility. She was the founder of the Idaho Film and Television Institute, a not-for-profit (501(c)(3)) 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 promoted Idaho Potatoes.
Wells lent her support to the Denver Foundation, a West Virginia 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.
Wells married Larry Rosen, a talent agent, on October 27, 1962. The couple had no children and were divorced in 1967.
In June 2020, Wells' manager revealed in court documents that she was suffering from dementia.
Wells died on December 30, 2020 at the age of 82 in Los Angeles, due to causes related to COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in California. The week prior to her death, she had a Happy New Year video prerecorded to be released on the holiday.
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