Dawn Wells: Mary Ann's financial ship
never ran aground
Island" is one of the longest-running shows in the history
of television syndication. Much of its appeal is no doubt due to
the sense of good, clean, innocent fun conveyed by the cast, as
they spent years trying to get off that island. And the character
that best epitomizes that innocence was Mary Ann.
Dawn Wells, the actress who played her, thinks the
show's appeal derives from these innocent qualities. But as a savvy
businesswoman, Wells is not quite the naif her character was. In
the wake of "Gilligan's Island," Wells maintained a busy
and productive career for herself -- in theater, in which she was
trained pre-Gilligan, and in capitalizing on the Gilligan phenomenon.
While keeping busy with numerous film and theater
projects (including a TV Movie for CBS called "Surviving Gilligan's
Island," which she is both appearing in and executive producing),
Wells sells Gilligan memorabilia on her Web site, dawn-wells.com.
In addition, she also runs a film-acting boot camp at her ranch
near Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Bankrate.com spoke with Wells about making a living
in the aftermath of a pop-culture legend.
Bankrate.com: You hear about
such outrageous salaries for sitcom performers now, $450,000 an
episode, insane things. How much were you making from "Gilligan's
DAWN WELLS: (Laughs)
I don't know, but it wasn't anywhere near . . . it was probably
$1,000 or $2,000 a week. I don't know for sure, but it wasn't five
B: Did you save your money?
DW: I don't know there was a whole lot to save,
but I'm a businesswoman. I know this business is fickle, so I've
tried very hard with investments. I'm not rich by any means. Had
we had some of those residuals everybody had, sure. But I've managed
to make a good living all my life and to provide for when I get
old and I'm alone.
B: So you don't make money from the show in
DW: Not a bit. Not after the first five runs
of each episode, which took about two years.
B: So at this point it's all (show creator)
DW: No. Time Warner.
B: You've turned the show's memorabilia into
a Web business. Is that lucrative?
DW: Kind of. You know what it is, I get requests
all the time, and for years I did everything free, I sent out pictures
for free, and you get to the point where it's just exorbitant. You
need a staff of two who have to open and sort the mail. So I'm selling
it, as is everyone. If there's a person who can't afford it, I give
it away. I don't like to say that, but I do. If there's a sad letter,
they'll get it for nothing. I don't make any money on it. It almost
pays for itself. Some people have also come up with ideas for ways
to make money on it, so I share that with them. Like someone comes
up with a teddy bear, then it's helping somebody else make a little
B: Can a performer from an old show make a
full-time living from nostalgic memorabilia?
DW: I don't think you could make a living.
If you're retired, if you're married and there's another income,
if you're doing something else, it's a nice little supplement. You
can make a nice living doing personal appearances, you could make
a personal appearance every week, but you don't want to travel and
do that every second of your life. But I think "Gilligan's
Island" is kind of unique in that it has lasted this long.
I've been doing this for 30 years. Somebody may be really hot for
four or five years and make a real good living at it, and then what
B: What can sales of
DW: Oh, I don't know.
Probably $35,000 a year, maybe.
B: What about appearances
and things of that nature?
DW: Now you're in the
B: Has the "Gilligan's
Island" phenomenon been your primary income over the years?
DW: No. I have a lot
of real estate and I have stock, and then my acting has been pretty
equal to the Gilligan's stuff. I don't know how to separate that.
I'm sure they've hired me because you'll come see Mary Ann, but
my acting career has been equal to the personal appearance career.
B: You mentioned you
have real estate. I'm guessing the ranch is one of the things you're
DW: The ranch. I have
property in Florida and then I have property in Nevada. At one point,
I also had 10 to 14 rentals.
B: Have you done well
in real estate?
DW: Very well, and
I believe in it very much.
B: Do you do better
in real estate or in stocks?
DW: I do better in
real estate because I understand it more. Stocks I have to leave
up to someone else. I was very uncomfortable with the stock market
until about 20 years ago. I was never very lucky. Now I have a wonderful
broker who has helped me plan for the future, which for actors is
very difficult. We have a pension, but it's nothing compared to
other people's. I woke up one day and thought, wait a minute. Since
I don't have children, and nobody to take care of me, I've got to
be able to take care of myself at 80 and have someone to wheel me
around. So I've been trying to plan for that, and I didn't start
until late. We didn't start with IRAs and that stuff until I was
in my late 30s. As an actor, if you're not into the Tom Cruise salary,
you have to do some careful planning, because it's not consistent.
You can't take 20 percent of your salary and put it away like you
can if it comes in every week. You have to be a little bit more
creative in your financial management.
B: Have there been
any stocks that have been really well or really poorly for you?
DW: I love Coca-Cola. I've done pretty
well with a couple of mutual funds. Way back I did a couple of those
investments myself, where I went out and did a Levitz or something
(laughs). That didn't do very well. I was doing a play in Dallas
and got hung up on Levitz Furniture (laughs). I think I lost a lot
of it. But I'm not a real gambler. I don't put everything in one
place. I'm pretty good with diversity.
-- Posted: July 18, 2001