Dawn Wells Takes Tough Gal Role in Steel Magnolias

Regional News   Dawn Wells Takes Tough Gal Role in Steel Magnolias
After dozens of stage roles, Mary Ann of Gilligans Island fame still has her eye on Broadway.
Dawn Wells
Dawn Wells Carla Van Wagoner / Shutterstock

Ever wonder what the perky farm girl Mary Ann did with her life once she was rescued from Gilligan’s Island? The answer is that she—not the movie star Ginger—went into theatre.

Actually, that was Mary Ann’s alter ego, actor Dawn Wells. Her latest gig is Steel Magnolias at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida, May 24 through June 25.

Born in Reno, Nevada, in 1938 and holding a degree in theatre arts and design from the University of Washington/Seattle, Wells will be co-starring as Ouiser Boudreaux, the role played by Shirley MacLaine in the 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s 1987 play about a group of Southern women who frequent the same hair salon in rural Louisiana.

“People say she”s crazy, but she’s not,“ Wells told Playbill, quoting the script. “'She’s just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.'”

In her decades crisscrossing the U.S., Wells said she has appeared in what she estimates as more than 100 theatre productions, including several previous stagings of Steel Magnolias, in which she has played nearly all the characters at various times. “The play is full of irascible, cantankerous, strong, and independent women. It's got a little bit of everybody in it. You put all these women together and you have a complete picture of womanhood. That's what makes this play so beautiful. There’s a Ouiser in everyone’s life.”

Wells has accomplished a lot in her career since starting as Miss Nevada in the 1959 Miss America pageant. Along the way she has appeared on TV series Wagon Train; 87th Precinct; Surfside 6; Hawaiian Eye; The Everglades; Laramie; Burke’s Law; The Invaders; The Wild Wild West; The Love Boat; Fantasy Island; ALF; Roseanne; and the many Gilligan’s Island sequels and specials.

But Wells says she still has one thing left on her bucket list: she’d like to appear on Broadway.

The closest she came was appearing as one of the rotating cast members in Delia and Nora Ephron’s 2009 Off-Broadway Love, Loss, and What I Wore. She said one of her favorite stage roles over the years was that of Doris, an aspiring actress who works as a prostitute, in a production of the play The Owl and the Pussycat, because it was the role that helped her “break out of the character of Mary Ann.”

If she gets to Broadway, however, it's not likely to be in a musical. She was hired in the 1980s to play the leading role of Sonia in the national tour of the Marvin Hamlisch/Carol Bayer Sager musical They’re Playing Our Song, and despite the musical interludes on Gilligan’s Island it was quickly apparent that singing was not her forte. In San Francisco a local critic noted the problem in a review. “We all have ego,” Wells said, ”but I wrote to him and said, ‘I give you credit.You told the truth and I respect you for that.’ He wrote back saying, ‘I’ve never had anybody be so honest.’”

The final episode of Gilligan’s Island aired September 4, 1967. Wells and Tina Louise, who played Ginger, are the only still-living cast members.

Click here to see Wells’ other upcoming appearances.

Wells’ production of Steel Magnolias is being presented by the Alhambra Theatre as part of the dinner theatre’s 50th anniversary celebration. Tickets can by ordered by calling (904) 641-1212 or by visiting Alhambrajax.com.


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