The 98 episodes invariably involved their efforts in vain to get off the island, even as a parade of guest stars dropped in and had no trouble getting out. The show drew the wrath of critics, but its innocent fun caught on with viewers at a time of tumult in America after the assassination of a president and during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Wells, playing a cheerful brunette Midwestern farm girl, appeared in the series wearing short shorts, midriff tops and pigtails. Louise, playing a buxom red-haired sensation akin to Marilyn Monroe, wore slinky, form-fitting dresses. The two inspired what became an enduring pop culture question for men: “Ginger or Mary Ann?”
Wells said that question was the most common topic mentioned to her by fans. “Mostly they’ll pick a favorite, Ginger or Mary Ann. For some reason, they feel they have to make a choice,” Wells told Forbes magazine in 2016.
Wells had effusive praise for Denver and her other cast mates but was not especially close to Louise, who distanced herself from the Ginger character and declined to appear in various Gilligan’s Island reboots with her former co-stars.
“We had nothing against each other,” Wells told the Los Angeles Times in 2014. “We didn’t have much in common.”
Gilligan’s Island was canceled by network executives despite respectable ratings, then became ubiquitous in syndicated reruns.
“A misconception is that we must be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we got residuals. We didn’t really get a dime,” Wells told Forbes.
Wells said she was paid $750 a week, adding, “Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone.”
Like some of her co-stars, she suffered from typecasting in Hollywood in the years after the series ended, appearing in TV guest spots and stage work before taking roles in B-movies.