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'Gilligan's' Dawn Wells on her Chicago show
NUNN ON ONE
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2011-12-28

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Dawn Wells. PR photo


Dawn Wells brightened the castaways as Mary Ann Summers on television's Gilligan's Island. In addition, she has made numerous appearances over the years from Bonanza to Roseanne. For RuPaul's Drag U her character was named Chickadee and schooled by drag queen Raven.

She is currently one of the lead cast members for Nora and Delia Ephron's Love, Loss, and What I Wore. We sat down to discuss those three topics and how they tie into her life these days.

Windy City Times: Hello, Dawn. How did you become involved with this show?

Dawn Wells: This is interesting because I have never done this in my life. I saw it two years ago on Broadway. I don't know Tyne Daly or Jane Lynch, but they were in it and I went right up, shook their hands and told them that I loved the play. Tyne told me that I should be doing the show. I wrote a letter to Daryl Roth, the producer, and the cast director also. They asked if I would work in the Chicago cast and I said yes because I love Chicago! The director and cast are wonderful so I hope to do it again in New York.

WCT: Are you from New York?

Dawn Wells: L.A.

WCT: Have you met the Ephrons?

Dawn Wells: No, although Karen Carpenter, the original director, came in town to direct.

WCT: How much preparation did you do for the show?

Dawn Wells: Three days...

WCT: Wow, that is fast!

Dawn Wells: Everyone else in the cast had done it before. I was the new one. You are reading but still a lot of them don't even have to look down. It has grown and we have developed it since we have been doing it.

WCT: You have performed in Chicago before?

Dawn Wells: Yes; I did Bus Stop with Dawn Murray directing it at the McCormick Place Playhouse. I did See How They Run and The Vagina Monologues also.

WCT: Let's talk about the three subjects from the show. Do you have a favorite outfit that you wore in the past?

Dawn Wells: How could you not say the short shorts? Would that I could still wear them—I have them, of course! They were the first short shorts on television ever. They couldn't show my navel. "What I wore" really made a difference on television. That is pretty significant.

WCT: That is great that you kept it for all of these years.

Dawn Wells: We were waiting to see if we were picked up for another season. We had all of our scripts and we were cancelled while we were on vacation. Why I took the shorts home I don't know. My mother saves everything and was 94 when I was lost her. She told me she had the shorts and about six months ago I found them. They are just so tiny!

WCT: I think people think that show went on longer than three seasons.

Dawn Wells: Well, because it was 98 episodes; we did 39 episodes a year. You are lucky if you get 20 now. We have never been off the air since 1964 and it is in 30 languages all over the world. There is no time, no cars, no clothes, so some new kids thinks it's happening now.

WCT: Isn't that funny? As far as loss, there are only a few cast members still alive.

Dawn Wells: The professor, Ginger and myself; the first person who passed away was Jim Backus. We were doing something in at Lake Michigan and they were bringing us in with the Coast Guard. It was a rescue PR thing. They threw bouquets down mourning Jim. He was part of our family. It was a family that lost something, not just an actor. We have raised three generations of kids. There isn't any other show like that. M*A*S*H* was a grown-up show. Our age [was for those who started at] 14.

WCT: Tell me about love in your life.

Dawn Wells: I love love. I was married. I lost my father, the series was cancelled, and got a divorce all the same year. I only had one real love in my life and moved to Nashville for him. I lived there for 19 years.

WCT: I am going to Nashville Friday.

Dawn Wells: Are you? My best friend in the whole world lives there on 8th Avenue, with all of the antiques. I lived there before liquor by the drink. You had to buy a bottle in a paper bag. We would be in Printer's Alley and they would say, "The cops are coming" and we would run outside the bar.

WCT: There are still dry counties in some parts. You wrote a book, Mary Ann's Gilligan's Island Cookbook. Do you cook a lot?

Dawn Wells: I love to cook and love to eat!

WCT: Are you doing more books?

Dawn Wells: I am in the midst of one. We are looking for a publisher at the moment. It is about the world today with both Mary Ann's and Dawn's perspective. I don't think anyone has written a book as their character. What would she say with what is going on? Ninety percent of the men I meet married a Mary Ann. People like the values. The 40-year old fathers were raised on me and the values that Gilligan's Island portrays. Now they have a 13-year old daughter. I do a lot of motivational speaking and the questions are coming from the men "What do you do? What do you say?"

WCT: Are you similar to the character Mary Ann?

Dawn Wells: I am very similar in values. I was raised that way. I am more broadminded and worldly so the conversation between her and me is going to be interesting. She may not come to decisions about same sex marriage let's say but she would want to know what it's about and talk to me about it. She is not close-minded. She was very fair and open. She was just unsophisticated. We will see.

WCT: So maybe next year…

Dawn Wells: The film of Gilligan's Island is in the works. It is on the Warner Brothers list but not scheduled to shoot. The timing would be great if it were to happen at the same time. I hope they don't ruin the film. I don't think so since the authors have said they want their kids to see it. It will hopefully go into production in 2012. The script is not even approved yet. We lost Sherwood Schwartz the producer this year. He was 94 and still writing.

WCT: Isn't that something? We have to talk about RuPaul's Drag U, when you appeared as Chickadee.

Dawn Wells: This last summer I did Drag U, went to Burning Man, and visited the House of Ill Repute outside my hometown of Reno. When they called from Logo I told them I wanted to either be Margaret Thatcher or Queen Elizabeth and I wind up being Mae West. I was quite embarrassed how awful I was.

WCT: No you weren't bad at all. Was it fun working with Raven?

Dawn Wells: I asked Raven if she would do my makeup. They did a Loretta Young thing with my makeup but I couldn't turn my head. They had to loosen it up. It was a great experience! Is Raven still on?

WCT: Raven was on both seasons of Drag U.

Dawn Wells: RuPaul is quite proper and aloof. I wouldn't think he would be.

Time is running out as Love, Loss, and What I Wore closes Dec. 31 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St. For tickets and details visit www.broadwayinchicago.com; for more on Dawn, visit www.dawn-wells.com .


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