She was 82 years old.
She was born in Reno, Nevada, and represented her home state at the Miss America contest in 1959.
This opened the door for her to start her career in Hollywood as she appeared on numerous TV shows including “77 Sunset Strip”, “Maverick”, “Bonanza”, “The Joey Bishop Show” and “Hawaiian Eye”.
Then she defeated 350 other actresses to play the next-door girl, Mary Ann, in “Gilligan’s Island”.
“There’s a misconception that we should be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we have leftovers. We didn’t really get a dime,” she said. “I think my salary – of course, I was low on the totem pole, and Ginger (Tina Louise) and Thurston (Jim Backus) got the most – was $ 750 a week. Our producer, Sherwood Schwartz, reportedly made $ 90 million in remakes alone!”
She has starred in over 150 TV shows, seven animations including “Winter Hawk” (which she also narrated) and more than 60 productions on and off Broadway.
Besides acting, Welles has also worked as a producer, author, journalist, motivational speaker, educator, humanitarian, spokesperson and president of the Terry Lee Wells Foundation, an organization for women and children in Northern Nevada, as well as running its training camp for film actors. For seven years in Idaho.
Received the Elephant Sanctuary Trumpeting Award for her work in support of The Elephant Sanctuary. The reserve, established in 1995, is the country’s largest natural sanctuary developed specifically for African and Asian elephants.
But it was her braid-wearing character on “Gilligan’s Island” that made her such a likeable star – and I enjoyed it.
Welles played the “pariah reporter” for Channel 9 in Sydney, Australia, where she interviewed actors and directors including Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Julia Roberts, Rene Russo, Mel Gibson, Ron Howard and Richard Donner.
At the Gravity premiere, she presented Sandra Bullock with a coconut cream pie, in honor of her shared experience with Stranded.
“Gilligan’s Island” was an unexpected hit and a tribute to Wells’ 50th anniversary series A Guide to Life: What would Mary Ann do? In it, I wrote about the meaning of the character of Mary Ann and noted the cultural shifts that have occurred since she was on the island.
The gingham dress she is wearing and her iconic shorts from Gilligan’s Island are currently on display in the foyer of the Hollywood Museum.
She was survived by her sister, Wesley Welles.