Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ dies of COVID-19 at 82

Nardine Saad
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
FILE - In this April 29, 2016 file photo, Dawn Wells arrives at the Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel  in Los Angeles.  Wells, who played the wholesome Mary Ann among a misfit band of shipwrecked castaways on the 1960s sitcom "Gilligan's Island, died Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020,  of causes related to COVID-19, her publicist said. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Actress Dawn Wells, the former beauty queen who became America’s sweetheart playing the sweet castaway Mary Ann on the TV series “Gilligan’s Island,” has died. She was 82.

Wells died Wednesday of complications from COVID-19, her publicist Harlan Boll said in a statement to The Times.

“America’s favorite castaway, Dawn Wells, passed peacefully this morning, in no pain as a result of complications due to Covid,” Boll said.

The Reno native, who competed as Miss Nevada in the 1959 Miss America pageant, became synonymous with the castaway during the CBS sitcom’s run between 1964 and 1967. She also appeared in “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick,” “Bonanza,” “The Joey Bishop Show” and “Hawaiian Eye.”

Mary Ann was modeled after Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” a Kansas farm girl with pigtails and gingham dresses. She reportedly beat out 350 prospective actresses, including Raquel Welch, for the role. CBS paid her $700 a week when she started.

Playing the bright, fair-minded and reasonable castaway, she was often foiled against the harebrained antics of the show’s other characters.

“It’s amazing to see what the 45-year-old man who is now raising children is saying to me,” Wells told The Times in 2014. “You were my fantasy. You were the girl I would take to the prom. You were the girl who understood my problems.’”

Despite her popularity — and the infamous competition with “the movie star” castaway, Ginger — her character, and the coconut-loving Professor, didn’t originally appear in the show’s catchy theme song until her costar Tina Louise (Ginger Grant) insisted on it.

“Dawn would say that Mary Ann fits today just as she fit three generations ago, because she is timeless,” Boll said. “In a world where the industry and society has been celebrating their ‘Bad girls,’ Mary Ann continues to be, for many, the breathe of fresh air as the ‘Good Girl.’”

Wells’ gingham dress and famous belly button-covering shorts from the series are currently on display in the lobby of the Hollywood Museum, Boll said.

More recently, Wells played Annie Hughes in the web series “Life Interrupted” and the web series shorts “She’s Still on That Freaking Island” with Terry Ray. She voiced Gumbalina Toothington in the animated series “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.”

No services are scheduled at this time, and in lieu of flowers, donations are requested to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum or the Shambala Preserve.