Actress Dawn Wells, best known for her role as "the girl next door" Mary Ann Summers in iconic '60s CBS sitcom Gilligan's Island, passed away in Los Angeles on Tuesday from causes related to COVID-19. The actress was 82 and is survived by her stepsister, Weslee Wells (with no services scheduled at the time of this writing). Along with Tina Louise, Wells was the last surviving cast member of the Sherwood Schwartz-created series that featured a tour group marooned on a desert island after their three-hour boat tour goes way off course. Wells' Mary Ann and Louise's Ginger were joined by Bob Denver's Gilligan, Alan Hale Jr.'s the Skipper, Jim Backus' millionaire Thurston Howell III, Natalie Schafer's Lovey, and Russell Johnson's the Professor.
Before joining the iconic series, Wells was a success on the beauty pageant scene, being crowned Miss Nevada in 1959 and going on to compete in the 1960 Miss America pageant (while also earning a degree in theater arts from the University of Washington). From there, she would appear in smaller roles in television shows such as Wagon Train, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, and Bonanza before her career-defining turn as Mary-Ann on the three-season series. After her run, Wells would go on to appear in a number of other series, including The Wild Wild West, ALF, Gowing Pains, and more. The actress would return to the role in a series of Gilligan's Island television movies and even reprised the role for a 1992 episode of Baywatch as well a 1995 episode of ABC's Roseanne. Wells also had substantial stage experience and has a cult following on the big screen for her turn as a real-life murder victim in the 1976 horror film The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
In her 2014 book What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life (co-written with Steve Stinson), Wells explained why it was so easy for viewers to confuse Mary Ann with her: Wells was her. "Every character on Gilligan's Island was given a broad 'stock' comedy role to fill — captain, mate, wealthy man, wealthy wife, professor, movie star — except me," Wells explained in her book. "She was given a name and location — Kansas farm girl. I had to fill in the blanks. So, from the get-go, the Mary Ann character was different. She wasn't a Hollywood creation. She was molded by me, from me."