Mary Ann introduced my friend and me to Gilligan, we were on a boat, and this was a three-hour tour.
A three-hour tour.
But the weather didn’t start getting rough, and the tiny ship wasn’t tossed. It wasn’t even tiny, more of a medium-size boat than a Minnow, and the vessel was safely docked in Marina del Rey.
We were down below, where the Professor (Russell Johnson) wasn’t worried about fixing the radio, but laughing enthusiastically at one table. I chatted for a while with Mr. Johnson, then I talked for a while with Dawn Wells, who portrayed Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.” It was a press event in the mid-2000s, promoting a release of a DVD for the iconic 1964-67 CBS comedy’s first season, and Ms. Wells led my friend and me over to meet Bob Denver, forever known as Gilligan.
Mr. Johnson was friendlier than the Professor, and Mr. Denver was more serious and far less klutzy than Gilligan.
But Ms. Wells was every bit as sweet as Mary Ann.
The beloved actress died Wednesday from complications of COVID-19. She was 82.
Her passage leaves Tina Louise, who played Ginger, the movie star, as the only surviving member of the original cast.
“I will always remember Dawn’s kindness to me,” Ms. Louise, 86, posted on Twitter. “We shared in creating a cultural landmark that has continued to bring comfort and smiles to people during this difficult time. I hope that people will remember her the way that I do — always with a smile on her face.”
That’s how I remember Ms. Wells, whom I met a few years before running into her on the boat in Marina del Rey.
It was the late 1990s or early 2000s, and I was at a Television Critics Association press party at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena. I was covering it for a newspaper and wire service, and Ms. Wells was there to promote a retrospective CBS special she was co-hosting about “Gilligan’s Island.”
I went up to her and told her something that I, like many guys who grew up watching “Gilligan’s Island,” had wanted to tell Mary Ann.
“I’ve always had a crush on you,” I told the star.
“I never get tired of hearing that,” Ms. Wells replied with that smile Ms. Louise mentioned.
Ms. Wells said she wasn’t surprised that many viewers preferred the more approachable Mary Ann over the more glamorous Ginger.
“She was the girl next door,” Ms. Wells told me.
Indeed she was.
On Gilligan’s Island, Mary Ann was the optimist, the one who cheered everyone up, one who cheered Gilligan on. She was the young woman from Kansas, the one baking the coconut cream pies, the one with the sunny personality. Sure, she got frustrated when Gilligan messed things up (well, so much for that rescue) and said, “Ooooh, Gilligan!” But that was as angry as she could get, and she was quicker to forgive than the Skipper (Alan Hale, who continued to wear his skipper’s hat long after the show).
Mr. Johnson discussed Ms. Wells in “Here On Gilligan’s Isle,” the book he co-wrote with Steve Cox (HarperPerennial, 1992). The actor who played the Professor wrote that during the filming, he felt closer to Ms. Wells than anyone else in the cast, with a strong platonic friendship.
Dedicated viewers will remember that the Professor and Mary Ann were simply referred to as “the rest” in the first season’s rendition of the theme song. That was corrected the next season.
Mr. Johnson wrote that the producers realized the Professor and Mary Ann “were the lone voices of logic,” on the island. That led to an expansion of their roles in the series, which was filmed at CBS Studio Center in Studio City. (You can easily see the lighting change between the lagoon, which was outside, and the rest of the island, which was inside a sound stage.)
Mr. Johnson said he and Ms. Wells ran lines together and recalled how she knew where each cast member was during the day, which scenes would be shot and the week’s filming schedule.
Ms. Wells grew up in Reno. She attended Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., and started as a chemistry major, but switched to theater.
She broke into television in Hollywood, and she and Mr. Johnson weren’t originally cast in the unaired “Gilligan’s Island” pilot. But she was brought onto the show before the episodes began airing. I’ve watched that pilot, and the two actors made the show, created by Sherwood Schwartz of “Brady Bunch” fame, better.
During its original TV run, “Gilligan’s Island” got bad reviews from the critics who found it silly, but was loved by fans who found its slapstick and situations hilarious (not to mention the clever dream sequences). It was a ratings blockbuster.
Ms. Wells continued to embrace the show that made her famous. She co-authored “Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook” (1993), which you can find on Amazon. Besides recipes, it includes photos and anecdotes from the set. And she and all the cast members except Ms. Louise appeared in reunion movies in the 1970s and ’80s.
And there was that retrospective CBS special, which meant I saw Ms. Wells a third time. She was in a conference room at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena and spoke fondly of her years on the island.
Like Mary Ann, she was all smiles.