Dawn Wells, who parlayed her girl-next-door charm and wholesome beauty into enduring TV fame as the sweet-natured desert island castaway Mary Ann on the classic 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, has died at the age of 82.
Wells, who won the title of Miss Nevada in 1959 and competed in the Miss America contest, died from complications of COVID-19, her publicist Harlan Boll said in a statement.
Born in the gambling city of Reno, Wells played Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers, one of seven castaways stranded after their boat, the SS Minnow, became battered in a storm.
Gilligan’s Island ran for three seasons (1964-1967) with a cast that also included Bob Denver as the zany Gilligan, Alan Hale Jr. as “The Skipper” and Tina Louise as movie star Ginger.
The death of Wells leaves Louise, 86, the sole survivor of these cast members.
The 98 episodes invariably involved their efforts in vain to get off the island, even as a parade of guest stars dropped in and had no trouble getting out.
The show drew the wrath of critics but its innocent fun caught on with viewers at a time of tumult in America after the assassination of a president and during the rise of the civil rights movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Wells was born on October 18, 1938, in Reno, and studied theatre at the University of Washington, and headed to Hollywood after her beauty pageant success.
She embraced her pop culture status but said there was more to her than just being Mary Ann.
“I’m deeper, smarter, more ambitious, funnier. I think if you meet me for 15 minutes, there is nothing you won’t know: what you see is what you get,” she told Forbes.