Born in Reno, Nevada in 1938, Wells got her start at the Miss America 1960 pageant before transitioning to Hollywood. Her debut role came in ABC series The Roaring 20’s in 1961, and she subsequently booked roles in prominent series such as Maverick, Wagon Train, and 77 Sunset Strip.
In 1964, Wells landed the role of a lifetime in Gilligan’s Island, in which she played Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers. The actress appeared in all 98 episodes of the beloved sitcom, and after the series ended in 1967, she reprised her role in various reunion specials and a cartoon spinoff. Wells also appeared in three Gilligan’s Island reunion movies, Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island, and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.
Over the next four decades, Wells appeared in countless high-profile film and TV projects, including Bonanza, The Love Boat, Growing Pains, Baywatch, and Roseanne. Her final role came in a 2019 episode of The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, “Captain Underpants and the Ghastly Danger of the Ghost Dentist,” in which she voiced Gumbalina Toothington.
Shortly after news of Wells’ death broke, tributes began pouring in from stars across Hollywood who had worked with the talented actress. “It was such a thrill for me to meet Dawn Wells when she came to see Two and a Half Men,” wrote Jon Cryer. “She could not have been more lovely and gracious.”
“Rest in Peace, Dawn Wells,” added actress Frances Fisher.
According to Variety, Wells is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells. Those interested in paying tribute to the Gilligan’s Island star can donate to the Elephant Sanctuary, Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, or the Shambala Preserve.
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