As Nevada begins its 150th year, we thought an appropriate interview for this space would be Miss Nevada 1959, who held that title just five years before Nevada’s centennial. We caught up with her during a break from her meetings as a member of the board of Reno’s Wells Discovery Museum, named for her cousin. She is seen in this photo with a small member of a Reno family outfitted like Gilligan at a signing for her new book, What Would Mary Ann Do?
What is your role in the museum?
Well, I’m chairman of the Terry Lee Wells Foundation. And we give grants, and we fund it. … So it’s one of our big priorities. And I haven’t been here in a year. So all the new things that are coming in this summer and this fall are very exciting. So that’s what we started with this morning. We have meetings the rest of the afternoon with whatever else we’re going to support. It’s kind of nice coming back to your hometown. Terry Lee Wells was my cousin and left me in charge of her foundation money when she passed away, so I really have an opportunity of coming back to my hometown and helping out.
Were you close?
Oh, yes. We were like sisters, the only girls in the family. I mean, I had a half-sister but there was Howdy [Howard] and Jim and Clinton and Frankie and me and Terry. And she was three or four years younger than me or maybe even more, but the older we got, the closer we got—not necessarily in school, but we were very much like sisters. …
Gilligan’s Island has always been connected to comedy. Even you have never treated it seriously. Now, with the book, you’re connecting it to values. What made you do that?
Well, because the character of Mary Ann, I think, was really the moral compass of the show. And even though it was silly and trite, she kept everybody in line. We didn’t bully Gilligan. He got us there, in the first place. She always helped the Skipper get the weight off. And were the Howells being nice to each other? She was sort of the grounding factor, I think. And after the three generations of kids that we’ve raised, they come to me with lessons to their children from watching the show. And I’ve had fathers say to me, “I wish my daughter were a Mary Ann.” What is it about—we all had crushes on Mary Ann when we were young. Ginger was a little too high maintenance, you know? And I realized that there’s something to say here. And I laugh and say, my mother raised me with Mary Ann values in a state of legal prostitution, gambling and divorce. How did that happen? Mary Ann came from Kansas. But I was really raised by a mom who knew where I was every single second. And my parents were divorced—I was raised with my mother here. My father was in Las Vegas. They were friends, so I had two families that loved me. But my mother kept her eye on me. Now it’s too hard for families. Both parents have to work, there’s mixed families with divorced kids and all of that. … So it’s much harder to raise a 13-year-old daughter. And I think there’s some values that I talk about in the book about manners and what’s your work ethic and things that are important to deal with that I don’t know that families have a chance to even talk about.