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

It's hard to believe that it has been over 50 years since we last saw Dawn Wells as Mary Ann on the final original episode of Gilligan’s Island. Wells portrayed one of seven castaways on the show, alongside Bob Denver (Gilligan), Alan Hale Jr. (Skipper), Russell Johnson (Professor), Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer (the Howells). Tina Louise played Ginger Grant, a glamorous movie star and Mary Ann's foil. 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 fan favorite 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 is 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) for her role 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 (who are the only members of the cast who are still with us) 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. Which would you rather be marooned with?

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

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Rebeka Knott


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.