Chances are, if you grew up in the early 1960s’ or were a child of the 90s watching Nick at Night, you will know these lyrics to the television show theme song, Gilligan’s Island. On the show, a variety of characters looked to make the best out of being shipwrecked on a distant island, including Mary Ann Summers, the girl from Kansas. Summers was played by the actress Dawn Elberta Wells. Wells passed away on December 30, 2020, but her legacy extends far beyond the small screen. Ultimately, while Dawn Wells was quite a talented actress. Her humanity and concern for other people make her a far more notable human being, and certainly a dead person we should know.
Dawn Elberta Wells was born on October 18, 1938 in Reno, Nevada. Wells started her television debut by guest starring on the shows Maverick and Bonanza. During her time on Bonanza, Wells was crowned Miss Nevada in 1959 and later represented the state for Miss America in 1960. Aside from guest spots in TV westerns, Wells also saw screen time on 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, The Love Boat, and Roseanne. In addition, Wells acted in several movies, including playing a murder victim in the 1976 film The Town that Dreaded Sundown, 1977’s Horror Return to Boggy Creek, and 1975 Western Winterhawk.
Wells earned her most famous role by beating over 350 auditions for the role of Mary Ann Summers on the syndication juggernaut Gilligan’s Island. While playing Mary Ann, Wells made the character her own due to the lack of description given to the role during the audition process. During filming, Dawn Wells became very close with her co-star, Natalie Schafer who played Eunice “Lovey” Wentworth Howell. Wells explained on the Talkshow “Viki” starring Viki Lawerence, that Wells took a break from filming to take care of Schafer until Schafer’s death from breast cancer in 1991.
Aside from starring on Gilligan’s Island, Wells has appeared on numerous reunion specials about the show, as well as many movie spin-offs. In 1993, Dawn Wells released a cookbook titled Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook and another book, What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life in 2014.
Before her death, Wells voiced Gumbalina Toothington in 2019’s The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.
Dawn Elberta Wells passed away on December 30, 2020 at the age of 82 due to complications with the COVID-19 virus. Though she is gone, fans will still have the Gilligan’s Island theme song playing in their head as they think about her and help offered to others both on and off the screen.