Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale….
A tale of Dawn Wells’ career, that is.
The actress who starred as Mary Ann alongside six other castaways on the TV show “Gilligan’s Island” in the 1960s is coming to Morganton for the next stop of her “What Would Mary Ann Do?” Confessions Tour at CoMMA on Oct. 13.
Wells will tell stories from her time on the show and other moments from her career when she takes the stage at the auditorium. Those who are in attendance also will have the chance to ask questions.
The show coincides with the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Gilligan’s Island, as well as the release of Wells’ book, “What Would Mary Ann Do?” Wells will present a funny and candid self-portrait story and a multimedia presentation featuring vintage family slides, rare video clips and funny stories.
“I think this kind of thing has developed in maybe the last eight or nine years. It really gives you a chance to actually meet your viewers. We’re so far away from you just on a television set that you don’t know who the people really are or what they’re really like. I find it very rewarding, not because they’re fans, but because you’re in touch with the public today. You’re in touch with kids and parents and what the world is doing.
“I don’t have children, so I don’t have kids over at the house to know what’s happening. I really do enjoy it. And everybody is really very respectful. It’s quite a new thing, and I think it’s great.”
Wells, who will turn 80 on Oct. 18, has appeared in more than 150 TV shows, 70 theatrical productions and a number of feature films. Gilligan’s Island has enjoyed the most staying power, still broadcast in more than 30 languages worldwide, and Mary Ann still is Wells’ defining role.
“I think for one thing, (the show) is not dated. There are no cars or clothes or anything that tells you what generation it is or what 10 years we’re covering,” Wells said. “I think the combination of the seven people is almost like seven personalities. We all have to get along with different people.
“We all have to get along with Mrs. Howell. We all have to get along with a Ginger that’s temperamental. We all have to get along with the (Skipper) who’s in charge. Gilligan was sort of a buffoon, but we loved him anyway. I think it’s kind of a situation where it’s everybody trying to get along. It’s not just a sitcom of a family, and I think that makes an impression.”
Whem she fields questions from fans, Wells said she also likes to turn around and ask counter-questions like how old folks were when they first watched the show, who their favorite character is or which episode is their favorite.
Wells said her favorite episodes of the show are the ones that center around dreams.
“I loved the dream sequences when we got to be other people,” she said. “(I loved) the imagination of playing a witch or whatever we were doing. The dream sequences were fun. Otherwise, the shows had a conflict between the Professor and Gilligan or Mary Ann and Ginger. Each little script was different. It was seven different people who were complete misfits together who learned to get along.”
Wells said it was great to work with the other actors on the show, saying that Jim Backus (Mr. Howell) kept the cast and crew laughing and that Bob Denver (Gilligan), who she described as a genius in physical comedy, and Alan Hale Jr. formed a classic pair together. Wells said she learned a lot about makeup and glamor from Tina Louise (Ginger) and Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell) was exactly like her character and a good friend to Wells.
“I think it was very well cast,” she said. “I don’t know that all sitcoms are such with the variety of personalities in seven people. It worked, and it’s telling us all today how we should get along.”
As for the classic question of Ginger or Mary Ann, Wells has a simple answer.
“Well, I approach that question with the fact everybody tells me they love Mary Ann. Why would they not say that to me?” she said, laughing. “A lot like Ginger best, but I think Mary Ann would have been your best friend. Mary Ann would have been your first crush. Mary Ann would have been the person you married. Ginger was none of those. That was a very well-rounded character that had a lot of impact on young boys, I think.”
In more recent years, Wells’ career has focused more on her theater roots, recently working on a stage production of “Steel Magnolias.” Originally from Reno, Nevada, she graduated Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and the University of Washington in Seattle as a theater major.
“I’ve done a lot of theater and I really love the live theater,” she said. “I like the instant gratification and the rehearsals and all of that. I think the background of where I came from allowed me to adapt to this kind of a show.”
In the years since Gilligan’s Island ended in 1967, Wells has hosted a fly-fishing show called “Dawn Wells’ Reel Adventures,” describing herself as a longtime fisherwoman, and established the Dawn Wells Film Actors Boot Camp that took place in Idaho. Wells also noted that she is a big-time football fan.
CoMMA is located at 401 S. College St. in Morganton. Next Saturday’s show will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $28-30 for adults and cost $23 for youth, all plus sales tax. For more information, call 828-433-SHOW or visit commaonline.org.
Justin Epley can be reached at email@example.com or 828-432-8943.