Pat Reeder, Staff writer
I am beyond sad to have to report that Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island”) has died at 82 of causes related to COVID-19.
The first crush of a generation of ‘60s-era boys and one half of the eternal “Mary Ann or Ginger” conundrum, Dawn Wells’ TV image as a sweetly sexy, sunny, optimistic, fresh-faced girl next door was no act. She said she built the character, and the core of Mary Ann was her and her values. Although her parents divorced when she was four, she insisted she did not grow up in a broken home, writing in her book, “What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide For Life,” “I was raised by a very good mother and a great dad.”
She recalled that in middle school, she was chubby with severe acne, braces and bad knees from ballet lessons, but she was popular, proving that "the bell of the ball doesn't have to be a belle." Still, she blossomed into quite a belle, becoming Miss Nevada 1959 and competing for Miss America. Aside from “Gilligan,” she appeared in many TV shows, movies and plays. Later in life, she was active in a number of charities, including education for film students, helping the disabled, saving elephants and making clothes for the elderly.
Even though she tried to de-wholesome her image a little by doing “The Owl and the Pussycat” on stage after “Gilligan” ended, she never escaped that island, nor did she want to, returning for reunions, staying friends with her castmates and expressing gratitude to fans who never lost their love for her. When she fell in 2018 and word got out that she couldn’t pay her hospital bill, she was flabbergasted when a GoFundMe page raised $190,000 for her in one month.
Her late co-star Russell “The Professor” Johnson once noted that “Gilligan’s Island” was savaged by critics during the hip and turbulent ‘60s, but decades later, it’s still running everywhere in the world, and new families are watching it together and laughing at its clean humor. Even some of the critics later admitted to him that they’d watched it again and decided it really wasn’t that bad after all.
But how could any show be bad when it had Mary Ann and Ginger? (I’m glad to report that Tina Louise is still with us, although she is now the last surviving “Gilligan” cast member.) In fact, maybe what TV needs is more characters like Mary Ann Summers (yes, she had a last name.) Dawn Wells agreed.
In 2008, she told the Television Academy Foundation, "There hasn't been a Mary Ann on the air for I don't know how long. There hasn't been a good girl over 14, and Mary Ann was very much that…The Mary Ann-Ginger issue is always there. You had to be a real man to understand Ginger, and Mary Ann would've gone to the prom with you and been your best friend. A lot of guys would come up to me and say, 'I married a Mary Ann.' She had the values."
A good lesson for today’s TV sitcom producers. We are all sad to lose Dawn Wells, but Mary Ann will live on in reruns forever as the first crush of generations of boys still to come.
By "Huckabee" pop culture guru Pat Reeder (http://www.facebook.com/hollywoodhifibook)