Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dawn Wells: What Would Mary Ann Do?

Just because a woman is over 50 does not mean she no longer has anything to offer. 
If anything, we have so much more to offer! We have lived life, we get better with age. I do my best work now in my 60s. Sure, I could retire; but what would I do? Play Bingo? I think not!
Dawn Wells

Ginger might've been the sexy siren on the show, but Mary Ann was the girl more men want to be stranded with on a deserted island. The wholesome, sugary-sweet, warm-hearted Mary Ann was the ultimate girl next door.

She’s an actress, producer, author, spokesperson, journalist, motivational speaker, teacher, and chairwoman of the Terry Lee Wells Foundation--focusing on women and children in Northern Nevada.

She has starred in over one hundred and fifty TV shows, and seven motion pictures, including Winterhawk (which she also narrated), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (with Andrew Prine), Super Sucker (with Jeff Daniels), The New Interns, It's Our Time, and most recently, Silent But Deadly.
She has starred in 60 plus theatrical productions from Noel Coward to Neil Simon, as well as the National Tours of Chapter Two and They're Playing Our Song. Favorite productions include Fatal Attraction with Ken Howard, The Odd Couple with Marcia Wallace, The Allergist's Wife, Steel Magnolias (Ouiser), and The Vagina Monologues.

Dawn has starred as Gingy in Love, Loss, and What I Wore (by Nora and Delia Ephron) in New York, Chicago, Delaware, Scottsdale, and San Jose.

She was the “castaway correspondent” for Channel Nine (Sydney, Australia) interviewing such actors and directors as Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Julia Roberts, Rene Russo, Mel Gibson, Ron Howard, and Richard Donner. And recently just presented Sandra Bullock with a Coconut
The Tale of The Allergist's Wife
Cream Pie, as the two women both knew what it’s like to be stranded, for the premiere of Gravity.
 As a producer, she brought two Movies of the Week to CBS:  Surviving Gilligan's Island, and Return to The Bat Cave, with Adam West.
She ran her Film Actors Boot Camp for seven years in Idaho.

She is also developing a couple of television projects. 
In connection with the 50th anniversary of the unexpected hit series Gilligan's Island, Dawn Wells (who portrayed the lovable farm girl next door, Mary Ann Sommers), has released A Guide To Life: What Would Mary Ann Do?(through Taylor Trade Publishing and Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
A song highlighting Dawn's famous role was performed by a group, named The Southern Gentlemen, for the TV icon entitled There will always be a place in my heart for Mary Ann, Dawn remarked "I embraced the public's love or Mary Ann years ago.
In fact, she seems to have grown more popular every year."  Why? she explains "I think there are fewer
Mary Ann's today than there used to be. There are many Gingers, both on TV and in real life, but far fewer Mary Ann's ... and I think the public remembers her fondly and misses her terribly."
Dawn writes about the meaning of the Mary Ann character and observes the cultural shifts that have occurred since she was on the island.
From the get-go, the Mary Ann character was different. She wasn't a Hollywood creation.
She was molded by Dawn, from Dawn.
 The character that was originally listed as "and the rest" on the credits became the fan favorite, garnering more fan mail that even the title character. With over 150,000 fans on her FaceBook page and fan clubs across the U.S., her following has remained faithful. Dawn says that Mary Ann fits today just as she fit two generations ago,because she is timeless. 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.”
Pop culture is too powerful and too pervasive to be controlled by parents, siblings or colleagues. It can be confused with reality.

This leaves young people in a vulnerable position - they have to make decisions that are normally beyond their maturity.
Dawn discusses decisions we make in life and even goes straight to the BIG DECISION and delivers her concept of the meaning of sex.  
In a world of participation trophies, easy praise, and entitlement attitudes, how do you define achievement?
 Dawn describes it as a journey of failure and learning and tenacity that requires a constant personal re-examination of what success really means.
 Since the show ended on September 4, 1967, Wells has continued to work on both screen and stage.
She published Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook with co-writers Ken Beck and Jim Clark, which included a foreword by castaway cast mate Bob Denver, and even starred as Lovey Howell in Gilligan's Island: The Musical, a musical stage adaptation of the TV show.

Wells most recently starred along with fan favorites such as Rip Taylor, Lee Merriwether, Bruce Vilanch and others in Silent, But Deadly.

I have a confession to make.
I love Dawn Wells! Or  do I love Mary Ann? Of course, I am referring to a character Dawn played on Gilligan's Island.
This show ran for a total of 98 episodes. The first season, consisting of 36 episodes, was filmed in black-and-white. These episodes were later colorized for syndication. The show's second and third seasons (62 episodes) and the three television movie sequels were filmed in color.

Gilligan's Island has NEVER been off the air since it first aired in September fifty years ago.

Unfortunately, the only two actresses'  from this show who are still with us are the two actresses who were always the subject of many a debate, Ginger or Mary Ann? Dawn, who was a former Miss Nevada, auditioned for the role of Mary Ann Summers opposite such noted competition as Raquel Welch, Patricia Ann Priest and the actress, Nancy McCarthy, who shot the pilot episode under the character name of "Bunny."
When asked about the most memorable Mary Ann moment, she responded, "There are too many."
Today, in honor of her birthday (October 18th) and to celebrate the publication of her book, What Would Mary Ann Do?, I celebrate Dawn Wells and the journey to Gilligan's Island and beyond.

Last week, when we spoke, Dawn was in her hometown of Reno, Nevada working on her
Foundation. Between fundraising calls, she made time for me (thank you Harlan Boll) and  we discussed her body of "worth". I began the interview by asking if she has a "portrait" in the attic. She never ages! She says "I don't have a portrait, but I have been repainting a little!" As we all do, she feels the aging process. She realizes that she can't do what she did 25 years ago at the same level, but that doesn't stop her. THAT'S the secret!
 Mentally, she feels as if she is twenty-five or thirty.
How did it all begin?
When Dawn was in high school, she was a debater and a public speaker.

She tried out for a couple of plays that she never got
cast in.

She did the "little red head" in the fifth grade and got a stiff neck and had to leave.

She was never drawn towards drama.

After writing her book recently, she realized why she has approached life the way she has. It was because
she was a debater. She always looked at both sides.

That has helped shape who she is today.

Her first dream was to be a ballerina, a dancer. She loved ballet. However, her knees started dislocating and she couldn't do dance anymore and she enrolled in PE (Physical Education).

Then she could no longer do that, so she started with speech and similar types of classes.
She later attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, a women's college, something she always desired to do, she was pre-med.
She wanted to be a pediatric surgeon.

Dawn loves science, she  doesn't like philosophy.

She desires to know what the REAL answers are.

After canoeing and archery, there weren't any PE courses for her to take, so she took a theatre course. She really liked it and got cast in a lot of things.
Dawn's adviser told her that she should really major in theatre. Dawn responded by saying, "Are you kidding?
I really don't desire to be out of work for the rest of my life!" He said, "Think about it." So, Dawn chose the University of Washington in Seattle because it had a great medical school and a great theatre department.
She took these theatre courses. She was asked to run for Miss Nevada. She always laughs at that prospect.

She believes there were probably only five women in the entire state to compete at that time.
In that day and age, a Miss America would never have come from a "legal prostitution, gambling, and divorce" state. 

That would not be the typical American girl, but Dawn thought it would be a good experience to do a dramatic scene in front of people, having no idea it would work. But to get that experience, she entered and won!
 That was now on her "credits".
After she graduated from college, she went, "OK, now that you have your degree..." and she gave herself a year.
She gave a business discussion recently about this recently.

She ran a camp in Idaho  for five years.
It's a BUSINESS. It's called show BUSINESS. "Where can I earn a living the best?"
In that day and age, it was either LA or New York. She doesn't sing and she doesn't dance a lot. She decided on Los Angeles, not desiring to be a movie star because she was Miss Nevada or any of that stuff, and gave herself a year.

She was well trained because of her background. She didn't go based on beauty and hoping to "get discovered".
Shortly after getting there, she had an interview with Jack Warner, thanks to an agent she had acquired along the way.
The agent called her  up and said, "You were a big hit." She said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "Well, Jack Warner called me up and said, 'I actually had an intelligent conversation with your client.'"

Warner Brothers put Dawn under option for contract.
They didn't pick up her option but she did every show on television in those days, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, etc. That gave her lots of experience on film.

She was then up to her knees in an early television career.
She then decided to give herself a couple of years to see where it would get her.

She worked hard at it and she liked what she was doing very much. About three years into that was when Gilligan's Island came along.

That, of course, changed her career and life quite a bit! She thinks that she would not have stuck by this career if she had not gone to work.
She believes she would have gone back to school. She has never left the "medicine knowledge" she has completely behind.

That is how she got her start! When she ran her film actor's boot camp, one of the things she would do, is bring to the forefront that the acting is very important, but that the business knowledge is JUST as important.
How do you market yourself? How dependable are you? Where do you fit?
All of those things are all part of it. You just can't be "anything" on camera; You can more so on stage
Nancy McCarthy (originally cast in the "role" that became Mary Ann)
when you are thirty feet away, when you can fool them, but not on camera when it is right in your face.
It is more than just talent, which is essential.

Dawn has been very lucky and she has gone back to the theatre which she loves a lot.
She is constantly trying to challenge herself, because there is more to her than Mary Ann.

She was lucky to get the vehicle that gave her the name and the ability to go all over the world.
Mary Ann is loved all over the world. You can't argue with that.
Alan Hale, who played the Skipper, used to say that people need nonsense in their lives. THAT is why Gilligan's Island was so successful.What does Dawn do now when she needs a little nonsense in her life?

She's a game player. She loves playing games and crossword puzzles and the like. She's a great fly fisher. She loves the outdoors.
She loves skeet and crap shooting, but emphasizes that she does not hunt! Her father was also a skeet and crap shooter.
She does not believe in killing animals for sport.
When Dawn was cast in Gilligan's Island, the cast that was in place were Thurston Howell III (mentioned in the opening credits as: "The Millionaire"), portrayed by veteran character actor Jim Backus.
His wife, Lovey, portrayed by Natalie Schafer, the Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr), and Gilligan (Bob Denver).
The three remaining original pilot characters differed from those of the series (including the actor/actress cast).
 In the pilot, the Professor was instead a high school teacher played by John Gabriel; Ginger the movie star was instead Ginger, a practical secretary with red hair, played by Kit Smythe; and Mary Ann the Kansas  farm girl was instead Bunny, a stereotypically cheerful "dumb blonde" secretary, played by Nancy McCarthy.
Those characters and the actors who portrayed them were all replaced.
 The originals lyrics referred to Mary Ann and the professor as "and the rest".
I asked Dawn what she thought of that. She responded "Boo hoo! Boo hoo!"  They would send each other cards, "Love, the Rest". Dawn is pretty practical.
"Ginger" was cast first, in New York. This is what Dawn was told.

Her agent said, that Tina Louise was in fifth position billing and no body after her.
So when Dawn and Russell Johnson, who played the Professor were cast, contractually that is what it was.

It was Dawn's first series and even though it was "and the rest", audiences knew who she was.

The music and lyrics for the theme song, The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle, were written by Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle.
One version was used for the first season and another for the second and third. In the original song, the Professor and Mary Ann, originally considered "second-billed co-stars", were referred to as "and the rest," but with the growing popularity of those characters, their names were inserted into the lyrics. The "Gilligan" theme song underwent this one major change thanks to  star Bob Denver, who personally went to the studio and asked that Johnson and Wells be added to the theme song's opening credits.

When the studio at first refused, saying it would be too expensive to reshoot, Denver insisted, even saying that if Johnson and Wells weren't included, he wanted his name out of the song as well. The studio caved in, and "the Professor and Mary Ann" were added.Dawn elaborated that Bob went to the studio executives to get her and Johnson added to the opening credits.Bob pointed out that his contract stated he could have his name anywhere he wanted in the credits, so they could move it to the end credits along with Johnson and Wells. Wells said Denver never mentioned this to anyone in the cast, and she did not find out about it until years after the show ended.
The first season version was recorded by the folk group The Wellingtons. The second season version, which incorporated more of a sea shanty sound, was uncredited, but according to Russell Johnson in his book Here on Gilligan's Isle, it was performed by a group called the Eligibles
His argument was that there were only seven characters, "let's change the credits." Legally, it was in Tina Louise's credits the way it was written. Dawn still wonders if they had to pay her off to change this. She doesn't know.

 In actuality, it didn't bother Dawn. She was pretty new and green with no ego involved.
Her thought was that there were only seven people. Everyone would know her by the time it was over.
As of this writing, nothing is in the works for Dawn and Tina Louise to do any joint appearances in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Gilligan's Island. 

Dawn and Tina Louise have not done anything together in a long time.Dawn was doing a play in New York last year, not far from Tina, and she didn't go to see Dawn. Dawn believes she just desires to distance herself from that period in her life.
Prior to Gilligan's Island, she had appeared on Broadway and had done movies. 
Dawn doesn't know whether she was sorry she did the show because the show was so beloved around the world.
They have never done anything together since. Dawn desired to go out and do the female version of The Odd Couple.
Dawn desired to be "Oscar" and is not sure of the entire concept would have worked.
The best thing about Gilligan's Island, to Dawn, was the cast.
Even though the press made fun of them, it was a good group. They all were very harmonious and the shows were funny and silly and "how in the world did that lion get on board" and now he's gone and where is he?

It was slapstick and it was fun. The only negative, if there was one was the reviews.
Sometimes it would break her heart to read that it was the worst piece of garbage the critics ever saw.
Fifty years later, it is still there! In actuality, they did not take those reviews to heart.
If she could go back, the only thing that Dawn would change is to embrace each moment more.

Dawn has not done any lifts or peels or any of that. She is terrified that she will come out looking "wrong".

She is thankful for her good genes. She had terrible acne when she was a kid. All of these girls had beautiful skin and she had all this medicine she had to use. She had to "hot pack" her face had night.
Her mother didn't want her to get those awful scars. She had so much oil in her skin during Gilligan's Island.   
They used a Max Factor makeup base. They would take the make-up out of the tube and add sulfur into it so that it would dry out her skin. She would put it back in and they would use that every day. Her Italian heritage has been good to her as far as her skin has been concerned in older life.
She also believe it's her soul. She is very optimistic. She looks forward to tomorrow. She is always challenging herself every day. She is happy to be here. She is lucky, knock wood. She has been pretty healthy. Her life, however, has not been without tragedy. They gave her father the wrong medicine which killed him at fifty six. She can't dwell on that. She feels that if she does, it shows in your face and body language.
She is happy most of the time. Her mother kept track of her most of the time.
She was a pretty head strong woman. Dawn inherited that trait from her mother. Dawn fought for what she desired to do with her life but she didn't run away. She doesn't know if all of this is genetic or if we have a choice of waking up in the morning and saying, "This is a good day!" As stated earlier, the day of this interview, Dawn was in Reno. She said she woke up that morning to a glorious day.
She went into the lobby to get a coup of coffee and just stopped and took a deep breath and said, "I'm up 4,000 feet and the sun is shining. The air is clean. What a great day." She believes that if we all do that on a daily basis, and mean it, she thinks it changes the whole being of us. She also has a round face which makes her a little younger. She doesn't know. She doesn't dwell on it. She is her age. She does look younger than her age, but she is going to age as well as anyone else. She says she's going to be Betty White when she gets older!
After Gilligan's Island, she wanted to go out into the world and show what she could really do. She wonders if she could have been content playing that ingenue with just a guest role.
She would still love to do Broadway. She has done off-Broadway. She doesn't know that she would have moved to Broadway to try and do that if television had not come along. Perhaps, if she had not worked steadily, she would be Dr. Wells!
The last day of shooting, no one knew it was the last day of shooting.
The show had been picked up for another season. They were going to Hawaii to shoot the first episode. The show was being moved around from night to night. During the 1966–1967 television season, Gilligan's Island aired on Monday nights at 7:30 p.m. Even though the sitcom's ratings had fallen out of the top 30 programs, during the last few weeks of its third season, the series was still doing very well and more than holding its own against its chief competitor, The Monkees, which aired at the same time on NBC-TV. Therefore, CBS assured Sherwood Schwartz that Gilligan's Island would definitely be picked up for a fourth year.

The rumor is (Dawn doesn't know if this is true), that they were going to cancel Gunsmoke to accommodate Gilligan's Island in that time slot. Paley was the head of CBS at that time and Mrs. Paley insisted that they could not cancel Gunsmoke! It was her favorite show. Gilligan's Island became a causality of that decision. There was never a "goodbye" episode. It was probably better that way. They left on a high.
I could not end this interview without asking Dawn about a dear friend of hers, Larry Randolph. He was a director who was also a wonderful actor. He directed Dawn so many times. He passed away quite recently.
She considers Larry the best director she ever worked with. He was terribly creative. They met years ago when she was appearing in The Owl and the Pussycat.
She had done it so many times and she went into this particular production with a chip on her shoulder. She said, "This is the way we do it because this is the way it worked the last time." Larry said, "Just calm down. We can be more creative."
Sometime after that, Dawn was doing Vanities in Canada. It coves the lives of three girls from high school through college. The director told Dawn, "I don't understand this play. It is all about women and I don't understand women. Dawn thought, "Oh dear! We only have a week to put this together and make it work." Whether the play was good or not, it was going to be "Dawn Wells gets critiqued." The responsibility was on her shoulder.
She called Larry, who was also a costume designer! She said, "Larry, if I fly you up here and if I pay you under the table, will you help out?" First of all, they couldn't find cheerleader costumes in Canada! They don't wear the same cheerleader outfits they needed. She asked him to make the cheerleader outfits AND direct the show! He said sure! The director never knew any of this was going on. During the day, Larry would sew their costumes with a sewing machine on the bed. At night, they would go in and move the furniture around and use the living room furniture as a set and good in the next day and the director would say, "That's good! Keep that!" They got rave reviews but Larry never got any credit. That's the show BUSINESS part of this!
It was kind of Dawn's responsibility instead of just letting it go.
Dawn had no input into Gilligan's Island at all. She was young and knew what her job was.
Dawn's opinion over the years has evolved from the critics hating the show to a certain reverence for what it was. In her travels, around the world, she is constantly meeting the fans. There may be a few who didn't like it, but it doesn't matter. 
Dawn is now fortunate to realize that this is part of our history. It is like The Three Stooges! It will go on forever. Dawn realizes the talent that Bob Denver had. Off stage, Bob was a very serious man. He was very intellectual and very anti-pesticides. He was wonderful with children. His physical comedy, as Dawn looks at it now, realizes how wonderful it truly was.Geniuses are geniuses and she really does think he was.
Dawn with another TV icon, Barbara Eden
She was doing some history research. Do you know who Charlie Chaplin's best friend was? Albert Einstein! When you think of that comic genius and that intellect together! Dawn always says that there was much more to Bob Denver than we think.
In recent years, Gilligan's Island has been turned into a musical. Dawn believes it is hard to recreate something that special.
She doesn't feel that it can be recast.
The reason that Dawn wrote What Would Mary Ann Do? is a fiftieth anniversary gift for the fans. There may be a forty year old man who grew up watching her, but he also has a thirteen year old daughter. Mary Ann was very much Dawn. She came from Nevada with "gambling, prostitution, etc." but her mother raised her with "Mary Ann" values. She realizes that those values are centuries old but will continue. Today's youth are confused with five hundred dollar purses and the Kardashians as"role models". There is a message here without being goody two shoes. Your responsibility and your job...are you dependable? Do you have good manners? All of those things that Mary Ann exemplified. Dawn is very proud of this book. It is not a preachy kind of book. She has had people approach her and tell her she should be writing a column, "Ask Mary Ann..."
All parents are working now.Families are different with step kids and it is rare to see a family sitting around the dinner table and it is much harder to raise children. This book is a light read but it says something. Where are kids getting their messages these days? Dawn hopes to reach the parents that were raised the way she was raised from her generation. It is important!
It is a book that can be read in an hour and a half. I love my copy! It is in Dawn's voice. The publisher wanted her to write a book on why we love Mary Ann. She told them that was a chapter. We love her because she was a nice girl, but there's more to it than that. That is what she captures in the book. We all have a responsibility. We both agree that if we were parents today, we would be terrified. She tells parents that they have the RIGHT to open their children's doors. Forget that privacy thing. These kids are living in your homes. You NEED to know what they are up to.
You are in charge of your life. The decisions you make are yours forever, so are you who you thought you were going to be? For Dawn, she is not completely there yet.
Good parents, optimism, willing to work, and embracing the world is what have made Dawn Wells the person she is today and we are all the better for it!  

For more information on Dawn Wells, follow her on Facebook at
Thank you, Harlan Boll and Wikipedia for some biographical portions of this blog.

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Rain (YouTube: Uraina Collazo) performing at the Metropolitan Theater on August 11, 2013 singing What's Up.

Be sure and see Jim Speake on October 19th as he celebrates Cy Coleman

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Richard Skipper,

1 comment:

  1. Richard, so terrific. Thanks for asking Dawn about Larry Randolph. He would be so pleased to be remembered in this way. I met Dawn with Larry and she was a lot of fun and very serious about her showbusiness! Love, Artie