TV URBAN LEGEND: Dawn Wells was the only cast member of “Gilligan’s Island” who had a clause in his/her contract that allowed for residuals from the syndication of the show.
“Gilligan’s Island” was a sitcom about eight (mostly) strangers stranded on a deserted island that ran for three seasons between 1964 and 1967 on CBS (Show creator Sherwood Schwartz believed so much in the premise of his show that he wouldn’t change it when CBS wanted him to make the show be just about Gilligan and the Skipper making successful tours, so CBS also aired an alternate version of the show where the tourists never get stranded – the other show didn’t last past its first season).
The cast members of the show were the two crewmen of the small touring cruise boat that got lost in a storm and shipwrecked on the island, Gilligan (Bob Denver) and the Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.), a millionaire (Jim Backus) and his wife (Natalie Schafer), a movie star (Tina Louise), a professor (Russell Johnson) and a country girl named Mary Ann (Dawn Wells).
Stories have surrounded the show in the years since that Dawn Wells (one of two members of the cast still alive. Tina Louise is the other) somehow made a bundle off of the show.
Here, from one website, is a very common story told about Wells’ role on the show:
No other castaways receive royalty checks like Dawn Wells. At the time of her deal, her husband was a talent agent and knew a thing or two about this industry. Per his advice, she added a clause to the already fine print of her contract. It demanded syndicated royalties. This was a genius move because she is still getting paid for work she did over four decades ago. Gilligan’s Island is one of the most syndicated TV shows of all time! Good for you Mary Ann!
Right off the top of my head, I’m dubious about whether having a husband who is an agent really means that you would get a clause that other actors, who also have, you know, agents, would get. But hey, weirder things have happened, you know?
Dawn Wells, though, has addressed the legend in recent years, like the following interview with Forbes:
Jim Clash: What’s one big myth about the show?
Dawn Wells: A misconception is that we must be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we got residuals. We didn’t really get a dime. I think my salary – of course, I was low on the totem pole, Ginger [Tina Louise] and Thurston [Jim Backus] got more – was $750 a week. Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone!
She also discussed the topic when she visited Australia last year for a pop culture convention:
“It’s a total lie,” Wells said. “I have no idea where that story came from, but I didn’t get a dime.”
She’s probably exaggerating when she says she made nothing off of the syndication deal, as syndication existed back then and it’s likely that she had some sort of deal where she would make some sort of money (just like I’m sure the other actors had such deals), but I tend to believe her when she says she didn’t have a unique deal that opened her up to large sums of money. Basically, you’d have to believe that she is actively lying for…what reason? I’ve seen her do some interviews where she gets pretty specific about how much she makes currently from memorabilia and conventions and how much she makes from stocks and real estate and the like, and since the whole story seemed fishy to begin with, I am willing to go with this legend as…
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