Ginger or Mary Ann? It’s the kind of pop culture problem that could give Sigmund Freud a headache.
When Gilligan’s Island premiered on television fifty years ago, the critics quickly dismissed it, stating that it was one of the worst television shows ever made. Little did they realize that it would become not only a beloved television staple, but would entertain generations of kids for decades to come. Part of the success of the show was creator Sherwood Schwartz’s creation of some of televisions most beloved characters – Gilligan, the Skipper and the other stranded castaways. But they were more than just an eccentric gathering of odd ball characters. They were broad stereotypes taken from a cross section of society – the fool, the leader, the intellect, the elite, the vamp and the all American girl. These social archetypes have managed to transcend the years, giving Gilligan’s Island a timeless appeal. The characters are as relevant today as they were five decades ago.
As genuine pop culture sex symbols, Ginger and Mary Ann, played by Tina Louise and Dawn Wells, became the first crushes for kids watching throughout North America. The juxtaposition of the two characters were so broad that they became opposite ends of the sexual ying and yang – the good girl/bad girl, the virgin/whore, the girl you bring home to Mom/the girl you don’t. Perhaps Schwartz didn’t plan it that way, but there was a lot more going on on that Island then maybe met the eye.
But what messages did Ginger and Mary Ann give to girls that grew up on the show? Well, as Dawn Wells reveals in her new book, What Would Mary Ann Do: A Guide to Life, perhaps today’s society needs a lot more “Mary Ann’s” and a few less “Ginger’s.”
Raised by a single mother is Reno, Nevada, Dawn Wells, a former Ms. America contestant, made her way to Hollywood in the late 1950’s where she appeared on TV programs such as Bonanza, Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip before taking the role of Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers on Gilligan’s Island in 1964. Pretty, bright eyed and enthusiastic, the role made her a cultural icon.
Drawing from a combination of personal life events and plain common sense, Dawn Wells uses her famous role as a symbol in her new book to talk to modern girls about values and morals . As she explains, it’s not about being a “goody two shoes” as much as making good decisions. While “Gingers” may seem to have more fun, but “Mary Anns” are the ones who get married.
Dawn Wells has been touring North America with her new book and talking to girls from coast to coast, proving that there is still a lot that can be learned from Ginger and Mary Ann. While on tour she took a moment to talk to me about how her own experiences helped shape this book and how Mary Ann has become a good pop culture role model for girls and women of all ages and generations.