Dawn Elberta Wells (born October 18, 1938) is an American actress widely known for her role as Mary Ann Summers on the CBS sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, during its run from 1964 until 1967.
Wells was born in Reno, Nevada, where she attended Reno High School. She later attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she majored in chemistry. She transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle, where she graduated in 1960 with a degree in theater arts and design. She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
In 1959, Wells was crowned Miss Nevada and represented her state in the 1960 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In Hollywood, Wells made her debut on ABC’s The Roaring 20s and was cast in episodes of such television series as 77 Sunset Strip, The Cheyenne Show,Maverick, and Bonanza, before she took the role of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. She reprised her character in the various Gilligan’s Island reunion specials, including three reunion movies Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.
She also appeared on Wagon Train, Tales of Wells Fargo, 87th Precinct, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, It’s a Man’s World, Laramie. Burke’s Law, The Invaders, The Wild Wild West, The F.B.I., Vega$, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, ALF, Herman’s Head, Three Sisters, Pastor Greg, and Roseanne.
Wells had small roles in the early 1960s films Palm Springs Weekend and The New Interns and later starred with Michael Dante in the independent film Winterhawk (1975), playing a Western settler kidnapped by a Native-American chief. Other films include The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Return to Boggy Creek, Lover’s Knot, Soulmates, Forever For Now and Super Sucker. In the fall of 2011, she began filming Hotel Arthritis, a comedy horror film set for release in 2012.
Following Gilligan’s Island, Wells embarked on a successful theater career that is still going strong. She has appeared in nearly one hundred theatrical productions as of July 2009. She spent the majority of the 1970s and 1980s touring in musical theatre productions. She also had a one-woman show at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1985.
In the 1990s, she became a spokeswoman for Western Union, Cuisinart, Long John Silver’s, Coca-Cola, and 1800collect.
In 1993, Wells published Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook with co-writers Ken Beck and Jim Clark, including a foreword by Bob Denver.
In 2005, Wells consigned for sale her original gingham blouse and shorts ensemble from her signature role. A Beverly Hills auction house, Profiles in History, sold it for $20,700.
In 2008, Wells came to Los Angeles to join Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of Gilligan’s Island for the celebration of Schwartz’ entry into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Wells appeared on a celebrity episode of Food Network’s Chopped, entitled Celebrity Holiday Bash’ which first aired Dec 1, 2013.
In 2013, Wells also made a number of personal appearances involving food and beverage including one with whiskey personality Tom Fischer at the Kentucky State BBQ Festival in Danville, KY celebrating Bourbon and BBQ. During her appearance in Kentucky, Wells teased forward to her forthcoming book Mary Ann’s Good Girls Guide to Life for the first time. The book is expected to be released in 2014 along with other festivities which will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Gilligan’s Island.”
Following the January 2014 death of Gilligan’s Island co-star Russell Johnson, Wells and actress Tina Louise are the only two surviving cast members of the original sitcom.