Commentary by Nick Thomas
Fans of the often zany 60’s television sitcoms will instantly recognize “Gilligan’s Island” star Dawn Wells who played Mary Ann Summers, the perky Kansas farm girl shipwrecked on an uncharted Pacific island with six other castaways, including a professor, a movie star and a millionaire.
Fifty-one years after the show first aired, some still humorously speculate on the castaways’ fate. Wells offers one possibility in her recent short film, “She’s Still on That Freakin’ Island.”
“I’ve just started a production company called CarterWells Entertainment and we were looking for projects,” said Wells from Los Angeles. “Terry Ray, a writer and actor, approached me with the idea of doing a short film about Mary Ann, and I just loved it.”
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Despite the obvious connection to the popular TV series, Wells says she and Ray refrained from using the characters’ names to avoid any copyright issues.
The film opens with Wells sitting on the beach sipping coconut cocktails, as a water-logged man in tuxedo (Ray) scrambles ashore through the waves, having fallen off a boat. Their conversation soon drifts into quaint “Gilligan’s Island” references, providing a dose of nostalgic charm for fans of the show.
“There’s a reference to ‘Pass the Vegetables, Please,’ a popular episode where everyone gets superhuman powers after eating vegetables grown from radiated seeds that Gilligan finds,” explained Wells.
There’s also some witty payback for the writers of the well-known first season theme lyrics which famously relegated Wells and Russell Johnson, who played the professor, to “the rest” in the opening credits.
“Fans will appreciate that,” laughed Wells, indicating that her wardrobe was another subtle nod to co-star and long-time friend Johnson. “He always wore a pale blue shirt during the show’s run. So I went to Goodwill for a similar one, sewed on some patches, and wore it.”
While Mary Ann was sometimes seen wearing ‘short shorts,’ Wells, who turned 77 this year, complemented the shirt with blue jeans for the film. “I actually have a pair of the original shorts from the show, but I’m not sure if they would fit me now.”
The film, just under 6-minutes, was shot in one day by the crew of four, including Leonard Carter as director, cinematographer and editor. The team rolled onto a stretch of California beach between Malibu and Paradise Cove around 8 am on Oct. 20.
“Everyone involved just volunteered their time and we finished by mid-afternoon,” recalled Wells. “Filming was fairly straight forward with the sound from the wind and waves being the only technical difficulties.”
While shooting, Wells observed some 50 seagulls nearby at the water’s edge.
“Suddenly, a baby seal crawled up onto the beach and the birds surrounded it as it flapped its little tail,” she said. “It lay there for about 45 minutes then disappeared into the water again. It felt like we were really on an island with no one else around.”
After posting the film on her Facebook page (see http://www.dawnwells.com), fans seemed delighted. “An adorable riot!” wrote one. “It is too darn cute,” claimed another.
“After all these years, ‘Gilligan’s Island’ is still loved around the world,” said Wells. “It was a show about seven people from various walks of life who were thrown together and had to adapt to get along despite their differences. That’s a lesson we can all learn.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks