EVEN IN A REMOTE TRIBAL MILAGE IN the Solomon Islands, Dawn Wells couldn’t escape her castaway past. While on a vacation visit two years ago, she was unexpectedly ushered into a chief’s hut. “I walk in and his wife looks up at me and says, ‘I know you,’ ” laughs Wells, 47. “Turns out she had been to nursing school on another island in the ’70s, and had seen Gilligan then.”
Wells spent three seasons as Mary Ann, the naive farm girl on TV’s Gilligan’s Island sitcom, but in the 25 years since CBS yanked her and her fellow castaways oil their uncharted set, she hasn’t been resting on her palm leaves. These days she’s often at the drafting table in her home in the Toluca Lake area of Los Angeles sketching designs for her Wishing Wells Collection, a colorful line of clothing for the elderly and the disabled that uses Velcro fasteners instead of zippers or buttons. “They need something that’s easy to get in and out of, with bright colors and pretty fabrics that make them feel better about themselves,” says the unmarried Wells, who cared for a boyfriend’s invalid mother for several years. “Just because you’re sick doesn’t mean you can’t look nice.”
With the business now fairly well established (she recently signed a contract with a nursing home chain), Wells is hoping to relaunch the TV acting career that drifted after Gilligan. One prospect is a return voyage on the Minnow, in a musical stage version of the show that is being developed. Until that, or a new series falls her way, she says she’s content to take her place in TV’s rerun pantheon. She mentions a letter she received last spring from a Desert Storm GI, telling her how Gilligan was an instant topic of conversation in sandy Saudi Arabia, and how some soldiers taught their Iraqi prisoners to sing the show’s theme.
Says Wells of the show’s impact: “We made a mark, and as little as it might be, it’s something.”