Dawn Wells visits Stephens College, talks about role as Mary Ann

Monday, April 29, 2013 | 7:14 p.m. CDT; updated 10:04 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 29, 2013
Dawn Wells visited Stephens College's stables as well as spoke with students and faculty on Monday morning. Wells, best known for her role as Mary Ann Summers on "Gilligan's Island," studied theater at Stephens College for two years. Her visit was filmed as part of an upcoming special on the 50th anniversary of the show.

COLUMBIA — Molly Beard smiled as she guided Blondie, a 14-year-old miniature horse, from behind a barn at the Stephens College Equestrian Center. The girl and her horse came to a stop in the center of the clearing, where actress Dawn Wells was waiting to feed Blondie.

"Make a plate with your hand. She’ll eat it all out," said Ellen Beard, equestrian operations coordinator at Stephens, as she poured granola into Wells' open hands.

“Mary Ann was raised on a farm, but I’m only just learning," said Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers, a kind-hearted Kansas girl, on "Gilligan's Island."

In addition, Wells met with the theater faculty of the Macklanburg Playhouse and spoke with students at Stamper Commons while touring her alma mater. The visit was filmed for a documentary commemorating the 50th anniversary of the classic sitcom "Gilligan’s Island." The documentary, along with a book, will be released in September 2014.

On "Gilligan's Island," Wells played Mary Ann, a girl stranded on a desert island with the crew and passengers of the S.S. Minnow, which ran aground during a "three-hour tour." The show aired on CBS from September 1964 through September 1967.

The role of Mary Ann became so well-known that Wells has been recognized as far away as China and Africa, but Wells said she would rather be famous for a more thoughtful role.

"I would rather be known for something more serious, but Mary Ann allowed me to do so much more," Wells said.

"Gilligan’s Island" has become one of the longest-running syndicated shows in television history. Wells, 74, said the show's lasting appeal comes from its simple but interesting plot and its timelessness.

"There’s nothing onscreen dating it," she said. "It’s funny. People have been talking about being stranded on an island since 'Robinson Crusoe.'"

Twelve-year-old Molly Beard watched the entire series in three days when she was home sick from school. Her mother, Ellen Beard, said she showed Molly the show because she wanted something more wholesome than current television shows.

"It’s about the message," Beard said.

Wells attended Stephens for two years, earning an associate degree before moving on to the University of Washington in Seattle, but she said her time at Stephens was formative.

"It’s about knowing who you are, and I found that here," Wells said. "The essence of Mary Ann came from Dawn, and Dawn came from Stephens."

Wells was first exposed to acting when she signed up for an acting class after an injury kept her from taking her physical education classes. While at Stephens, Wells acted in several stage shows such as "Anastasia," experiences that would inform her later performances.

"Mary Ann was born here," she said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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