No question does a better job of giving you insight into the psyche of the average middle age man than this one. If you’re not familiar with the question, then you never watched Gilligan’s Island. This popular situation comedy followed the adventures of an unlikely group of castaways thrown together on a deserted island. Who would have guessed that a “three hour tour” on the S.S. Minnow would turn into a three year successful television run in the late 60’s? The fact that the castaways knew they were most likely on an uncharted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and that the island was full of secrets was fuel for some of television’s funniest moments. Wait, I think I just figured out where they got the idea for Lost!
There were seven castaways in total: Gilligan (Bob Denver), the Skipper (Alan Hale, Jr.), the Professor (Russell Johnson), Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), Ginger (Tina Louise), Mrs. Howell (Natalie Schafer), and Mr. Howell (Jim Backus). If you’ve ever wondered why the island was named after Gilligan, it’s simple; he was the one person who enjoyed being on the island and didn’t want to leave. Gilligan represented all of us kids who wanted to join the castaways on the island. I, for one, dreamed about tasting one of Mary Ann’s coconut pies, sleeping in a hammock, and meeting some of the crazy characters that would arrive on the island once a week. When I got older, my friends and I would joke about which girl we would rather have as a girlfriend, Mary Ann or Ginger? Let’s just say Mrs. Howell was never part of the equation since she was, well, how do I put this? Because she was married, yah that’s it!
Tina Louise’s character, Ginger, was a beautiful movie star who used her sex appeal to get what she wanted from the men on the island. Don’t forget, this was a show primarily for kids that aired in the 60’s so only so much sex appeal was allowed. But no censor could hide Ginger’s straight out physical attraction. She was a knockout. It’s fair to say that Ginger’s character was the kind of girl that could be a little naughty. She wasn’t necessarily a bad girl but she had an edge to her that was quite noticeable. There’s a memorable episode on the show when Ginger attempts to seduce a native in order to help the castaways get off the island. Outraged, the native screams in his language and begins to dance around Ginger. The Professor appears on the scene (naturally he speaks the language) and explains to a terrified Ginger that the native likes her but, “she’s not the type of girl he take home to mother.” Ginger storms off clearly insulted. It was the first time that the show had ever suggested that Ginger’s character was somehow not a good choice for a long term relationship. It’s interesting to note that the Tina Louise was working on becoming a movie star prior to landing the role on Gilligan’s Island and had actually posed in Playboy earlier in her career. It seems Tina was more like her character Ginger than some might have imagined.
Dawn Well’s character, Mary Ann, was born on a farm in Kansas. Her character is kind hearted and always willing to be of assistance. Mary Ann’s coconut pies are a big hit with the men on the island. Her country girl looks, while not necessarily sexy, give you a warm feeling inside. Now this is not to say that Mary Ann was not attractive. Some might argue that Mary Ann was actually more attractive than Ginger. Even her clothes, while not as flashy as Ginger’s, had a country girl sex appeal that was hard to ignore. It’s easy to conclude that Mary Ann was created to be the yin to Ginger’s yang; or is it the other way around? There are subtle similarities throughout the sitcom between Mary Ann and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Both are from Kansas and lived with their aunt and uncle. Mary Ann has no clear love interest on the show but seems to be very fond of Gilligan. Gilligan, for his part, doesn’t seem to share her interest. One of Mary Ann’s most memorable episodes is when she bumps her head and thinks she is Ginger. To protect her mind from further damage and at the Professor’s insistence, the castaways pretend that Mary Ann is indeed Ginger, even going so far as to pretend that Ginger is Mary Ann. Mary Ann eventually snaps out of it but later admits that she feels inferior to Ginger’s glamour and sophistication. This episode clearly demonstrates that the show’s producers were aware of the Mary Ann v. Ginger debate. Mary Ann believing she is in fact Ginger and Ginger pretending to be Mary Ann? Now that was an interesting conundrum.
So what's the answer, Mary Ann or Ginger? Naturally, the answer depends on who you are and what characteristics you find important in a person. It might be easier to answer, Betty v. Veronica (Archie Comics), or even Daphne v. Velma (Scooby Doo); both topics deserving of their own articles. But with my mother being a regular reader of my work, I’m proud to say I’m a Mary Ann man all the way. I only hope that Ginger and I can still be friends.