Dawn Wells, Star of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and Casino Owner’s Daughter, Dies

Posted on: December 31, 2020, 11:03h. 

Last updated on: December 31, 2020, 12:04h.

Dawn Wells, star of the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island and daughter of a Las Vegas casino owner, died this week of complications from COVID-19.

Dawn Wells
Television star Dawn Wells, seen here in a publicity photo, also was a headline performer at a Las Vegas hotel-casino. She died this week from COVID-19. (Image: Global News)

Wells, who died Wednesday at age 82 in a Los Angeles nursing home, was closely associated with Nevada throughout her life.

Wells was born in Reno and attended Reno High School. Her father, Joe Wesley Wells, was a real estate developer who co-owned the Thunderbird Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The Drew Las Vegas is at the site where the Thunderbird once stood. 

In 1959, Wells was crowned Miss Nevada. At the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, she read from SophoclesAntigone to complete her talent portion of the event, according to the New York Times. She always downplayed her win as Miss Nevada. 

Big deal,” she told Forbes magazine in 2016.There were only 10 women in the whole state at the time.”

Wells graduated in 1960 from the University of Washington in Seattle with a degree in theater arts and design.

‘A Three-Hour Tour’

After appearing in several television shows, Wells achieved lasting fame as Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan’s Island. The lighthearted CBS program premiered in 1964 and ended its run in 1967. 

Wells played a young woman from Kansas who won a radio contest for a day trip aboard a charter boat, the SS Minnow.  According to the show’s theme song, the trip was supposed to be “a three-hour tour.” But the vessel became shipwrecked. The show centered on the misadventures of seven castaways with widely divergent backgrounds stranded together on an island.

The New York Times this week noted that Wells’ character had a limited backstory. The little that viewers knew about Mary Ann is that she worked at a hardware store where she was from and had a boyfriend, according to the newspaper.

As the Times noted, her “persona alone made her memorable.”

“Gingham blouses, short shorts, double ponytails and perky hair bows were all parts of her signature look,” the newspaper noted.   

One-Woman Las Vegas Show

Tina Louise, the show’s last surviving cast member, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Wells did a great job on the program and that “everybody loves her.”

She was very special in her part, and she will always be remembered and remembered fondly and thought about because she gave so much to the universe through the show,” Louise said.

In later years, Wells appeared in spin-offs from the show and became involved in charitable organizations. She also continued in her acting career, appearing on stage and in television shows. Her performances included a one-woman show in 1985 at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Wells also became an author, writing Mary Anns Gilligans Island Cookbook and What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life.

The advice she provided in the Guide to Life includes this observation: Failure builds character. What matters is what you do after you fail.” 

When the Clark County Wetlands Park opened in 2012, the Wells Trailhead was named after the Wells family, according to the Clark County government Facebook page.

Years ago, IGT created a Gilligans Island slot machine. Joe Kaminkow, a former IGT game developer, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week that the cast attended the Global Gaming Expo for the game’s unveiling. He said Wells was “as sweet and kind and nice as we remember her” from the show.

She was ever-so-Mary Ann,” he said.