Born in Reno, Nevada, Wells represented her state in the 1959 Miss America pageant. A theatre graduate from the University of Washington, she quickly pivoted to an acting career.
Wells’s early TV roles came on shows such as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, and Bonanza. She was then cast for Gilligan’s Island, which also featured Bob Denver (as the titular Gilligan), Alan Hale Jr (The Skipper), Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III), Natalie Schafer (Lovey Howell), Tina Louise (Ginger Grant), and Russell Johnson (Professor Roy Hinkley).
Gilligan’s Island, the tale of a group of castaways stuck on an island after a shipwreck, aired for three seasons between 1964 and 1967. The show, which presented itself as light-hearted and good-natured, seemed to strike a chord with viewers in America amid a period of social unrest.
Wells portrayed Mary Ann for the entirety of the sitcom’s run, until its finale “Gilligan, the Goddess”, in 1967. She kept working on television after the show wrapped up. In 1987, she was seen in ALF, and she appeared in Roseanne in 1995, among many other credits in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, she was featured in a 2016 episode of The Bold and the Beautiful.
The actor also reprised the role of Mary Ann several times, in the TV movies Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978), The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979), and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island (1981). She also voiced the character in the 1982 animated spin-off Gilligan’s Planet.
While Wells is primarily remembered for her portrayal of Mary Ann, Boll said in a statement that “there is so much more to Dawn Wells” than the character that brought her fame.
In addition to her TV, film and stage work, her other real-life roles included teacher and motivational speaker, Boll said.
Wells said it herself in a 2016 interview with Forbes: “There is more to Dawn Wells than Mary Ann. I’m deeper, smarter, more ambitious, funnier. I think if you meet me for 15 minutes, there is nothing you won’t know: what you see is what you get!”
Additional reporting by agencies