2020 has been a cruel year and it’s not letting up as it prepares to say goodbye. On December 30th Dawn Wells passed away due to Covid 19. She was 82.
She was famous for her iconic role of Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers, one of the seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island. The show aired from 1964 to 1967. Before she got shipwrecked on the island, Wells appeared on some of the biggest shows of the early sixties such as Maverick, Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, and many more. In 1960, she represented her home state of Nevada in the Miss America Pageant.
So why are we talking about a star of a boomer era show on a blog devoted to Gen X media? Yes, the show premiered in 1964 on CBS, but it is just as important to our era as it was to the boomers. After the show was canceled in 1967, it went into syndication and started to appear on local stations all around the country. Many of these stations aired the program in the afternoon after kids got home from school.
The reruns were so popular with kids, ABC aired an animated remake of the show called The New Adventures of Gilligan from 1974 to 1977 on Saturday mornings. NBC went even further and reunited the cast (minus Tina Louise as Ginger) in 1978 and aired the two-part made for tv movie, Rescue from Gilligan’s Island. The castaways get rescued only to be stranded on the island again at the end of the film. This got huge ratings which of course lead to another tv movie the following year, The Castaways of Gilligan’s Island. In this one, the castaways are rescued again and Mr. Howell turns the Island into a tropical resort. In the eighties, there was one more tv movie, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, and another cartoon, this time on CBS. Gilligan’s Planet had the castaways build a spaceship on the Island which took them to another planet where they got stranded. Wells did the voice of both Mary Ann and Ginger.
The show was always appearing somewhere on cable. From the seventies to the early 2000’s the program aired on TBS. In 2004, TBS aired a reality show called The Real Gilligan’s Island that aired for two seasons. In the last two decades, the program spent time on Nick at Night, TV Land, and the Hallmark Channel. The nostalgia network, MeTV currently airs the program on their over-the-air digital affiliates around the country.
So you see the show has never really left the airwaves. It was Gen X that discovered the reruns in the seventies and kept the legacy going for all these years. It is part of our media history just as much as it is for the Boomers and Generation Jones.
Dawn Wells was perfect as the young wholesome midwest girl from Winfield, Kansas who won a three-hour tour on the S.S. Minnow. Ask the average Gen X guy to name his celebrity crushes from his youth and more than likely the name Mary Ann will be included in that list. It has been reported that Wells beat out over 350 other young ladies for the role of Mary Ann including future movie star Raquel Welch and Pat Priest, who went on to play Marilyn on The Munsters.
We end this post by asking one of the most enduring questions of pop culture: Ginger or Mary Ann?