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The Mary Ann Vs. Ginger Debate: Why Does Dawn Wells Always Win?

Entertainment | January 3, 2018

Dawn Wells as Mary Ann on 'Gilligan's Island' (1964-67). Source: IMDB, Wikimedia Commons

Even a half-century after Gilligan’s Island aired its final episode, Dawn Wells remained better known as Mary Ann Summers, one of the seven castaways on the show. Wells, who died on December 30, 2020, was a fan favorite, winning the hearts of viewers with down-home charm in direct contrast to the "sexy" movie star Ginger Grant, played by Tina Louise. Rounding out the cast were Bob Denver (Gilligan), Alan Hale Jr. (Skipper), Russell Johnson (Professor), Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer (the Howells). 

For fans of the beloved show, the question of whether you were drawn to Ginger or Mary Ann was an essential one. And though Ginger was conceived as the breathy sex symbol, the popularity of Dawn Wells as Mary Ann Summers proved that a lot of Americans prefer the humble charm of the girl next door.

In fact, it's not just a lot of viewers who prefer Mary Ann -- it's most of them. In poll after poll online, you'll find Mary Ann besting Ginger as the more appealing of the two unattached lady castaways, often by a wide margin.

Both actresses were beautiful -- but Mary Ann always wins. Why is that?

Seven Castaways. Three Single Men And Two Single Women. What Happens?

As the story went, the S.S. Minnow was a tour boat that capsized in an unexpected storm. What happened next would be a tale of their survival on the uncharted island where they ended up.

Each cast member had a backstory. Of course, the Skipper and Gilligan were the captain and first mate of the Minnow, and the passengers included Mr. and Mrs. Howell, the Professor, Ginger and Mary Ann. There they were marooned on an island and it would appear that they had left their carnal desires behind when they left civilization.

The Howells were married so they had each other. That left five other people consisting of three men and two women, leaving a dilemma. The men played up to Ginger for obvious reasons. She was a beautiful actress who had legs all the way up to her backside. Then there was sweet, innocent Mary Ann. They could not have been more opposite.

Mary Ann Had A Lot Going For Her

Mary Ann was a spunky little farm girl from Kansas. Unlike Ginger, she was a down to earth, resourceful, practical and definitely pulled her weight on the island. She was known for her tight tops and short shorts. She unassumingly pranced around the island looking cute.

In the real world, Dawn Wells was acclaimed for her beauty, having won the title of Miss Nevada in 1959 and competed in the Miss America pageant in 1960. Although she was theoretically plain in comparison to the glamorous Ginger, she wasn't unattractive at all.

Everybody Loves Mary Ann

There was no romantic action between any of the castaways (putting aside the Howells), but there was tension there if you were looking for it. All three of the single men clearly adored Mary Ann and harbored a wholesome type of TV lust for Ginger.

The fact that Mary Ann was never romantically involved with anyone on the island must have been a huge relief to many of her viewers. Like many stars do, Wells reported receiving thousands of fan letters, weekly, from (mostly) men; including countless marriage proposals. Some wrote her regularly and at least one wrote to remind her that it was the 35th anniversary of his writing letters.

The Pre-Daisy Dukes Version Of Daisy Dukes

Despite the fact that the show capitalized on Wells’ good looks and curvy figure, producers were very careful not to show too much for too long. Back in the 1960s, her signature outfit was considered very provocative for television. Even a little cleavage was a big no-no. Eventually, Mary Ann’s original outfit, the red gingham blouse and shorts, was sold by a Beverly Hills auction house for a whopping $20,700.00.

Dawn Wells Faced Stiff Competition For The Part

Source: eBay, Reddit

At times, Mary Ann seemed to be overshadowed by Ginger. Make no mistake though, Dawn Wells was a very accomplished actress and has many successes to her credit although she is probably best remembered for her role on Gilligan’s Island. Wells beat out both Raquel Welch and Pat Priest (Marilyn Munster) to win the part on the show -- pretty impressive.

Mary Ann's Eternal Appeal

The last original episode of Gilligan’s Island aired way back in 1967. Although the show is not current by today’s standards, Mary Ann is one of those characters that will live on in the memories of many.

Why does she always top Ginger in the polls? It's probably down to the writing of the show. Both Dawn Wells and Tina Louise were very attractive women -- one's character was written as an approachable, friendly, helpful kind of gal, and the other's was written as a conceited, high-maintenance diva. Island life can be challenging -- which would you rather be marooned with?

Tina Louise Remembers Dawn Wells

Dawn Wells and Tina Louise during 2004 TV Land Awards Airing March 17, 2004 - Backstage/Audience at The Pallidium in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

The death of Dawn Wells leaves Tina Louise as the only surviving member of the cast. Louise declined to appear on reunion shows over the years, leading viewers to think she regretted doing the show or perhaps even disliked her co-stars. The news of Wells' death from complications related to COVID-19 evoked touching sentiments. Louise told the New York Post:

I’m very sad. Dawn was a very wonderful person. I want people to remember her as someone who always had a smile on her face. Nothing is more important than family and she was family. She will always be remembered ... she was a person full of joy, and shared her joy with everyone. ... The show will live forever — and so will she. We’re going to remember her with a smile.

Tags: Career-Defining Moments | Dawn Wells | Gilligans Island | Mary Ann | TV In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.