Dawn Wells, who played 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,” died on Wednesday at age 82, her publicist said.
Wells, who won the title of Miss Nevada in 1959 and competed in the Miss America contest, died from complications of COVID-19, 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 S.S. Minnow, became battered in a storm during what was supposed to be a three-hour tour from Hawaii.
Wells beat out actresses including Raquel Welch for her role.
“Gilligan’s Island” ran for three seasons (1964–1967) with a cast that also included Bob Denver as the zany Gilligan, and Alan Hale Jr. as “The Skipper.
The movie also featured,” Jim Backus as millionaire Thurston Howell III, Natalie Schafer as his posh wife, Russell Johnson as The Professor 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, playing a cheerful brunette Midwestern farm girl, appeared in the series wearing short shorts, midriff tops and pigtails.
Louise, playing a buxom red-headed sensation akin to Marilyn Monroe, wore slinky, form-fitting dresses.
The two inspired what became an enduring pop culture question for men: “Ginger or Mary Ann?”
Wells said that question was the most common topic mentioned to her by fans.
“Mostly they’ll pick a favorite, Ginger or Mary Ann. For some reason, they feel they have to make a choice,” Wells told Forbes magazine in 2016.