Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Life With Dawn Wells, On and Off an Island

Ginger or Mary Ann?

We don’t propose to answer that hotly-argued question in this post, but we might be able to answer another one—when Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) got interviewed by a wire service entertainment reporter for the first time.

The answer seems to be 1966, when Vernon Scott gave her some ink in his United Press International column. Wells set out to parlay being a beauty queen—she was Miss Nevada in the 1960 Miss America contest—into an acting career. In 1961, she guested on The Roaring 20s one night, then appeared on Maverick the next. But until Gilligan’s Island rolled around in 1964, much of the newspaper coverage she got was appearing as a demonstration model in a syndicated young women’s fashion and beauty column (at first billed as “seen in Columbia’s ‘The New Interns’”), such as the picture to the right.

Before we get to Scott’s interview, let’s drag out another syndicated piece designed to promote Gilligan’s Island. I suspect it was re-written (and not very much) from a CBS Press Release, with publicity photos attached. Creator Sherwood Schwartz created little biographies on the characters during the pitch stage, only some of which made it into the series. This is the only place I’ve seen some of this information, so I pass on the article for you back story/trivia lovers. Its first appearance I can find in a newspaper is on September 19, 1964.
A Shipwreck Is Twisted Into Comedy

New York—Ever since the Greek hero Ulysses took 20 years to get home because of various involuntary stops on islands, the theme of shipwreck on an island (desert or otherwise) has continually entranced both story teller and listener.
Sinbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe, Ben Gunn and the admirable British butler Crichton have served as prototypes for innumerable variations on a theme which seemingly has never gone out of fashion.
And now comes Gilligan's Island, which takes the universally interesting plot and gives it some twists that the other tale spinners never dreamed of in their more sedate treatments of the theme.
• • •

Gilligan's Island is a new half-hour comedy series premiering Saturday, Sept. 26 (8:30-9:00 p. m.), on CBS and Channel 12. It maroons a vacationing party on an apparently uninhabited island and promises a weekly outing of preposterously comic dimensions.
The story begins on a warm, sunny morning in the waters of the Kalakakua Yacht Basin as the good ship S. S. Minnow, manned by First Mate Gilligan (Bob Denver), who can best be described as a disaster area, and commanded by a prideful skipper (Alan Hale) prepared for a routine sightseeing tour of the neighboring islands.
Five carefree passengers boarded the Minnow that summer morning, never dreaming what fate held in store for them. They included the Thurston Howells (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer) of Sands Point, Long Island, and terribly rich; Miss Ginger Grant (Tina Louise) of Hollywood, Cal. a serious student of the theater and a graduate of the Arnie Wurtzel Drama Workshop; Professor Roy Hinkley (Russell Johnson), an expert in the field of dull meals who is currently at work on a book called "Rust, the Real Red Menace," and Miss Mary Ann Summers (Dawn Wells) of Winfield, Kan., a secretary for the Bye Bye Birdie Electronic Scarecrow Company whose perfect five-year record — never absent and never late — has been rewarded by her employers with four fabulous, fulfilled days on a cruise.
• • •
THUS IT WAS that the Minnow left the harbor that memorable morning and turned her bow toward open sea, destined to go down in history with other famous shipwrecks.
And now, somewhere in the vast Pacific, seven castaways fight valiantly for survival, awaiting the day when somehow, some way, they will be rescued from the tropical wilderness of Gilligan's Island.
It probably shouldn’t surprise you that Wells doesn’t appear to have been interviewed until toward the end of the show’s second season. For one thing, she was unknown. Bob Denver had been featured in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, while Jim Backus was a veteran of radio, cartoons (he was still loved as Mr. Magoo) and the sitcom I Remember Joan. They got the bulk of the media coverage. And for another thing, critics hated the show. Just hated it. Hal Humphrey of the Los Angeles Times called it “A TV series that never should have reached the air this season, or any other season.” Programme analyst James Cornell of the N.W. Ayer ad agency predicted a flop and a 74th place at the end of the season (by April, it was tied for seventh with Red Skelton). It seemed like they would only write about the show under duress.

But here’s Vernon Scott in a feature story that appeared in newspapers starting on June 4, 1966.
Dawn Wells Likes Sun On Or Off Gilligan's Isle
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Dawn Wells, the pretty little thing in shorts running around "Gilligan's Island," is a sun worshipper who spends most of her time at home in shorts too.
Unlike the character of Mary Ann, which she plays weekly in the CBS-TV series, she does not wear pigtails nor is she, more's the pity, unmarried. Dawn, in fact, is the wife of Larry Rosen, a Hollywood agent.
They live in a 17-year-old Spanish house in the suburb of Tarzana on an acre lot which qualifies in California as a "ranch." It is planted in a multitude of fruit trees—five varieties of citrus, peaches, plums' and apricots make up the orchard.
Last year Dawn went native and canned a dozen jams of each fruit.
"They turned, out pretty good," she says, "but we still have a lot of them left over. I don't think I'll do any canning this year."
The house is filled with antiques, mostly Spanish. Dawn is particularly proud of her bedroom suites which dates back to 1840. She bought it in Virginia City. There are two bedrooms, a den and guest house out by the pool which is shaded by enormous evergreens. It is around the pool that Dawn wears her shorts, sopping up the sun and entertaining on weekends.
Saturdays and Sundays are virtually open house at the Rosen place. As many as 30 friends stop by to swim, play bridge, charades and enjoy an evening barbecue with Larry manning the charcoal and steaks.
Dawn must watch her weight at all times. She eats no breakfast, settling for a cup of coffee at CBS Studio Center every morning at 7:30. Lunch consists of steak and salad.
"When I get home it takes me about an hour to get out of my makeup," she says. "By that time I'm not very hungry, but I do fix Larry's dinner—usually steak or chops.
"He prefers pot roast or spaghetti, and I have those dishes for the occasional day off I get from the series."
Dawn doesn't eat dinner. She does the dishes and devotes the balance of the evening to reading her scripts.
The Rosens have no children, but Dawn has a pet sparrow named Lyndal Bird, a beady eyed little character who lives happily in a cage and eats from her hand. “Lyndal Bird fell out of a tree three years ago when it was just a baby,” Dawn says. “I kept him in a shoe box and took him to work with me. Now he’s a wonderful pet.”
She also has a calico cat who wandered into the yard one day and decided she’d found a home. The cat is Samantha and would like to make a meal of Lyndal Bird—which keeps the family in an uproar whenever the bird is loose in the house.
Because their home and surroundings provide a year round vacation land, Dawn and Larry seldom go to the beach or mountains.
They enjoy skeet shooting however, and during the summer hiatus from the series the couple head for Dawn's father's cabin in Idaho where they spend a week or two fly fishing.
Dawn drives a 1956 American sports car which she had reupholstered and painted. Larry drives to his Beverly Hills office in a 1961 sedan.
Most of their friends are neighbors, including Mike Ansara and his wife, Barbara Eden. Otherwise, the Rosens avoid actors.
"I don't care much for actors as close buddies," Dawn says. "All they want to talk about is show business."
“Gilligan’s Island” is a far cry from the kind of life Dawn lives off-screen. But both at work and play Dawn manages to spend plenty of time in the sunshine.
Scott’s column leaves one with the impression of Dawn Wells that she’s a happy person with ordinary problems just like you and me. And I suspect that’s why she got all kinds of fan mail (Sherwood Schwartz said she got more than Tina Louise, who played Ginger) and still has a loyal following almost 50 years after her show left prime time.


  1. She still does get lots of fan mail (now including online) still more than Tina Louise aka Ginger...when I saw this article this morning I thought that it was a death notice..that goodness it isn't! I prefer her to Tina.:)SC

  2. Game Show book writer Adam Nedeff saw Dawn Wells the other day just by chance and she consented to have a picture taken with him..According to Adam, she couldn't have been nicer..

  3. Last night, having read this entry earlier in the day, I happened to watch a 1966 episode of Lost in Space with guest star Michael Ansara and thought to myself, "I wonder if he'd just come from a barbecue at Dawn Wells's house."