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Mary Ann or Ginger?

The Great TV Debate Turns 50

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Dawn Wells, The Actress Who Has Stolen The Hearts — And Stirred The Libidos — Of Millions Across The Globe, Discusses The Great Debate Of Whom Fans Would Most Like To Be With On A Deserted Island


By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special for Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 10, 2014 — Gilligan’s Island, the sitcom with one of the most ridiculous premises in TV history — a group of seven castaways stranded on an island with nothing but a hardworking radio to keep them in contact with the outside world — turns 50 this year!

The series originally aired for three seasons on CBS, where it enjoyed solid ratings, then grew into a campy hit in syndication and via several reunion sequels.

Bob Denver, fresh out of his role as beatnik Maynard G. Krebs in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, assayed the show’s eponymous title part of Gilligan – the biggest dunce ever shipwrecked on an uncharted island somewhere west of Honolulu.

Sight gags, malapropos, misunderstandings and slapstick abounded throughout the show’s 99 episode run, as did a question that persistently nagged at the viewing audience’s psyche: which castaway was hotter – Mary Ann or Ginger?

It’s a key question in the backyard barbeque debates that Baby Boomers of a certain ripe vintage, to this day, still mull over. If you had to be stranded on an island not inhabited by Gilligan, the Skipper, the Howells and the Professor who would you want plumping the pillow on your hammock in your bamboo hut – earthy Midwestern farm girl Mary Ann Summers or Tinseltown femme fatale Ginger Grant?

We once had the pleasure of sitting down with Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) and asked for her take on that eternal debate.

“Mary Ann was attainable,” she laughed. “To get Ginger, you had to have some cash in your pocket. She was every 14-year-old boy’s dream and she knew how to sell ‘sexy,’ but you’d better have the bucks!”

Remembering the man-made lagoon, grass huts and “Rube Goldberg” peddle taxis stitched together from palm fronds that Gilligan would drive around the island put Dawn in a nostalgic frame of mind of her TV heyday.

“They literally used to change the Gilligan set overnight,” she said. One day it would be overflowing with flora and fauna; the next day it was transformed into the Gunsmoke set with Matt Dillon riding down a dusty Dodge City street where the lagoon had just been. It’s enough to blow your mind.”

Well, that’s what happens when a three-hour tour goes awry.

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have been entertainment journalists for more than 30 years and co-authored the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV. Fantle teaches film and television at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Johnson is a former senior editor for Netflix. They can be reached at
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