Longworth at Large: Gilligan’s ‘Mary Ann’ to visit the Triad
*Editor’s note: The headline had a typo in the print version. It should have read “Gilligan’s” not “Gillian’s.” The online version has been updated.
By: Jim Longworth
Fifty-four years ago, Mary Ann Summers and six other shipmates set out for a three-hour tour that left them stranded on an uncharted desert island. Today Mary Ann’s alter ego, Dawn Wells, is setting out for a different kind of tour that will take her all over the world. This time, her first port of call will be the High Point Theatre on April 28. “What Would Mary Ann Do?…the Confessions Tour”, was inspired by Dawn’s 2014 book of the same name, in which she offers up common sense advice on a wide variety of topics. The live show will focus on her life and career, including humorous stories from her time on Gilligan’s Island, which premiered in September of 1964 and ran for three seasons.
Dawn Wells was born Oct. 18, 1938, in Reno, Nevada. Her father Joe was part owner in a Las Vegas hotel, and her mother Evelyn was a homemaker, and a bit overprotective of her daughter. “My mother knew where I was every single second. My junior year in college, I’m driving from Reno to Seattle with my boyfriend, and the highway patrol pulls us over. I rolled down the window, and the policeman said, ‘Is there a Dawn Wells in the car?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Call your mother,’ he said.”
Dawn won the Miss Nevada contest in 1959, competed in the Miss America pageant, then caught the acting bug in college. Soon afterward, she found steady work on television, often guest-starring in Westerns such as Cheyenne, Maverick, Wagon Train, and many others. She was a natural fit for Westerns because her great, great grandfather was a stagecoach driver, and Dawn had ridden horses since she was a child.
“I remember one of the first western episodes I did, they asked me, ‘Can you drive a buckboard?’ I hadn’t driven a buckboard in my life, but I said ‘Of course I can!’ My horse got away, and they had to come get me (laughs).”
After appearing as Mary Ann in over a hundred Gilligan episodes that are still in re-runs, Dawn is one of the most recognizable actresses on the planet and is in constant demand at nostalgia conventions and on talk shows. But starting next month, her schedule gets even busier as she launches her tour in High Point.
I first met Dawn in 2013 when she attended the Western Film Festival in Winston-Salem. We re-connected last week and talked about her book and the tour.
JL: Why did you write the book in the first place?
DW: Because we don’t have a Mary Ann today, and I think it’s very difficult being a parent, or a best friend. There’s no guidelines. My generation was pretty black and white. There were no drugs, no sex before marriage. Now with all of the temptations and all of the permissiveness everywhere, it’s much harder to raise a child. But there still needs to be a guideline behind it, and I think that’s Mary Ann.
JL: Mary Ann herself had a pretty good upbringing because she never engaged in intimate relations with the Professor on Gilligan’s Island.
DW: Back then there was never any romance. They couldn’t even show my navel. We’ve come a long way. If we were doing the show today, we’d all be living in the same hut (laughs).
JL: I understand your touring show is for the entire family, especially for fans of Gilligan’s Island, but what do you want the audience to take away from your presentation?
DW: When you’re in the audience, I want you to know that I’m relating to you. I’m not talking to you, I’m one of you, and that’s what I feel Mary Ann is. And what do I want you to take away from it? Don’t lose the values you’ve been raised with.
As a special treat, the audience will be able to ask Dawn questions during the second half of her show. You can ask her about Gilligan’s Island, or you can even ask her for advice. Just don’t ask her if she can drive a buckboard.
Tickets are still available for the April 28 performance and can be purchased online at www.etix.com or by calling the High Point Theatre box office at (336) 887-3001.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).