If we were ever shipwrecked, we'd want three things: Stoli, digital cable and Dawn Wells and not necessarily in that order, either. After all, the actress who played castaway Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island not only remains cute as a button at age 64, she's also far more enterprising than the Professor. Today, for instance, in a classic-TV edition of the syndicated game show Street Smarts (check local listings), she quizzes John Q. Public to raise funds for her Film Actor's Boot Camp. Next month, the co-executive producer of Surviving Gilligan's Island unveils her second small-screen tell-all, the fanciful Batman exposé Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt. And right now, she dives into our rather random questions without ever reaching for a life preserver. So sit right back and you'll read the tale!
TV Guide Online: How unfair was it for Street Smarts to pit you the eternal girl next door against curmudgeonly Eight Is Enough dad Dick Van Patten?
Dawn Wells: Well, I did the Survivor [competition] with a bunch of [fellow Nick at Nite types] on Jay Leno, and I thought I had it made. But then Jerry Mathers [from Leave It to Beaver] beat me! Street Smarts really shows how pathetic we are. There'd be a question like, "Where's Montana?" and someone would answer, "In Missouri." The American public needs a little more education!
Wells: I had a guy get into an elevator with me once, and when the doors closed, he dropped to his knees, took off my shoes and started kissing my feet! When the elevator door opened, he left and said, "I've always wanted to do that." Talk about being terrified! And I never knew if he just thought it would be a strange thing to do or if he even knew who I was. TVGO: Oh, I knew. Um... moving right along... As a Batcave producer, you were the Caped Crusader's boss. How was Adam West as an employee? Did you have to break out the ol' Batpaddle to discipline him?
Wells: No. He was real agreeable... real easy to work with, so I didn't have to discipline him. I'm not sure it would have worked if I'd tried! We're old friends. TVGO: If I enrolled in your boot camp for wannabe matinee idols and starlets, what's the first rule that I'd be taught?
Wells: Follow the rules! We've got some pretty strict ones. We treat students as if they're on location, and we work them from six in the morning until 11 at night. It's intense. TVGO: Ah, like Club Med. In the 1982 cartoon Gilligan's Planet, you got to voice glamorpuss Ginger as well as down-to-earth Mary Ann. Was that a stretch?
Wells: Nah. It's just a different approach. I've played several hookers in a lot of plays. Mind you, I'm not saying Ginger was a hooker! But I've played all kinds of roles. At first, I said, "I can't do both voices at once," so I said, "Let's just go through and do Mary Ann, then I'll go back and do Ginger." But by the time I got halfway through, I was talking to myself. TVGO: Happens to us all the time. No, it doesn't. Yes, it does. Shut up, you're embarrassing me in front of Dawn Wells! ... Ahem. How insulted were you when Gilligan's Island premiered, and the theme song referred to you and Russell Johnson as "... and the rest"?
Wells: Oh, I wasn't insulted, I was brand new! I didn't know anything about billing! And [the producers] didn't do it on purpose. We were just the three replacements Ginger, Mary Ann and the Professor. Tina Louise just happened to get her role first, and her agent negotiated a "nobody after her" clause, so that was just politics. I was perfectly happy to be in a series! TVGO: We know just how you feel. Well, except for the part about being in a series. Back in '59, you were Miss Nevada. What did you do for the talent portion of the pageant?
Wells: I did a scene from Our Town for Miss Nevada and, for Miss America, a scene from As You Like It, where Rosalind is dressed like a boy trying to ask her lover what he thinks about her.
TVGO: Is there anything quite as all-American as a girl hitting on a dude while dressed like a guy? We think not.