Originally created 01/14/02

Pro tips from 'Gilligan's' eternal 'Mary Ann'

Do or die. Truth or dare. Paper or plastic. Men reveal much about themselves in the choices they make.

Especially in this choice:

Ginger or Mary Ann.

No less an authority on this issue than Dawn Wells - the actress who played Mary Ann, the object of this reporter's desires, on "Gilligan's Island" - led a workshop recently at a collegiate theater festival at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa.

"If it's a one-night stand a man wants, Ginger is his kind of girl. If it's a marriage, then Mary Ann," Wells said in an interview after her lecture.

If only she had stopped there.

"Ginger is a little more high-maintenance. You would have to be a real man to handle her," she continued. "You could be a kid and handle Mary Ann."

Unlike her interviewer, Wells seems to have a healthy relationship with Mary Ann.

None of the seven co-stars of the classic CBS sitcom, dubbed by at least one writer as "Survivor Lite," has ever been able to shake the role they played. What started as a three-hour tour has turned into 35 years of reruns. A fateful trip, indeed.

In contrast to Tina Louise, who has tried in vain to distance herself from Ginger, Wells has done what any sensible person would do: Cash in.

Just last year, she co-produced "Surviving Gilligan's Island," a two-hour, behind-the-scenes documentary that scored big ratings for CBS.

"(Being Mary Ann) has given me financial security, to a certain extent, that I wouldn't have had otherwise," Wells told the 75 or so theater students who filled a Carnegie Mellon classroom for her workshop.

Wells showed up for the event dressed as success.

Looking little like the naive farmgirl she played on TV, Wells arrived in a full-length mink coat and designer sunglasses.

But she still has the turned-up nose that has turned on three generations of less-than-real men.

The printed schedule for the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival did not offer any biographical information about the speakers, so many students entered Wells' workshop without realizing who she was.

"I didn't know she was Mary Ann at all," said Art Hall, an Anne Arundel Community College student. "That's kind of crazy to think I just met Mary Ann."

In her two-hour workshop, titled "Getting Ready to Go Professional," Wells presented lots of insights, some inspiration, and what amounted to an infomercial.

She pitched the Film Actor's Boot Camp she runs on a ranch in Idaho.

For $2,500, campers receive one week of intensive instruction, college credits, and, according to Wells' eponymous Web site, a "True Western Experience," which might mean participants should watch their step to avoid horse droppings.

Besides leading the boot camp, Wells speaks about a half-dozen times a year at colleges, as she did yesterday.

"I feel there should be mentors for everybody," she said. "I don't have kids and sometimes you need to nurture something."

She still acts, primarily on stage.

On screen, she remains typecast as the sweet Mary Ann. No television or movie director will give her a role as a psycho.

But on stage - where the play, not the star, is the thing - Wells has had the freedom to play varying characters.

Next year, she said she will act in a rendition of "The Vagina Monologues" in Chicago.

For her young audience at Carnegie Mellon, the workshop was not just an opportunity to gawk at a semi-celebrity but a chance to pick up some pointers from a pro.

"It's great stuff that she is telling us to do," said Eileen Fulford, a student at Goucher College in Maryland.

"We know you know how to act," Wells had told the students. "Now you need to know how to get a job."

More than 30 years ago, she got a job that is still paying dividends.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)


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