"The little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped America"

Tatiana Blacker ... or Dawn Wells?

By Paul Niemann

Send a link to a friend

[August 06, 2009]  I always assumed that the name of the Wells Cargo Co. was a takeoff of the Wells Fargo name.

InsuranceI was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. There is so much more to this story than you can imagine. Maynard Wells founded Wells Cargo in Reno, Nev., back in 1954 to manufacture cargo trailers. But this story is not about him; it's about his daughter Dawn and her friend Tatiana Blacker.

Dawn grew up wanting to be a ballerina, but bad knees prevented her from fulfilling that dream. She had a pretty successful career anyway. She entered the Miss Nevada pageant in 1959 -- and won. The following year she entered the Miss America pageant -- and lost. She moved to California to become an actress and ended up in a sitcom that made her and her character a household name both during and after the show's three-season run from 1964 to 1968.

I think it's safe to say that the success of her father's business meant that she never had to work if she didn't want to. The same could be said about her friend Tatiana. Miss Blacker's grandfather invented a flange that was very successful, and her parents operated a successful candy store in Brooklyn.


Like Dawn, Tatiana also became an actress. She starred with Julie Newmar in the Broadway play "Li'l Abner." In fact, she was such a great singer that she probably could have had a career as a singer if she wanted to. Like many Hollywood stars, she took a stage name. Her biggest success, by the way, was for a role that she really didn't like.

I have to credit Tatiana's friend Dick Heckenkamp, who provided me with some of the background information about her. Dick is my dad's first cousin, and he was a Hollywood agent who represented Tatiana and still keeps in touch with her. His son, Spencer Garrett, was in the Johnny Depp movie "Public Enemies."

[to top of second column]

As the age-old question goes: Do you prefer Ginger or Mary Ann?

While you might not recognize the name of Dawn Wells, you undoubtedly recognize the name of her character on the sitcom -- unless you've been stranded on a deserted island for 20 years, that is. Dawn played Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island." Then what about Tatiana Blacker?

Her stage name was Tina Louise, aka Ginger Grant, also on "Gilligan's Island."

Here are a few other little-known facts about "Gilligan's Island"...

  • Gilligan's first name -- although it was never revealed on the show -- was Willie. Yup, Willie Gilligan. Producer Sherwood Schwartz later revealed in an interview that he chose the name of Gilligan by picking it out of a phone book. He was looking for a funny name to indicate that the show was a sitcom.

  • The agent who signed "Gilligan" star Bob Denver to his first contract was the above-mentioned Dick Heckenkamp.

  • The skipper's real name on the show was Jonas Grumby.

One of life's great mysteries is... if the professor could make a radio out of a coconut, why couldn't he figure out how to patch the hole in the boat to get the castaways off the island?


Paul Niemann's column has appeared in more than 80 newspapers and counting. He is the author of the "Invention Mysteries" series of books and can be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2009

(Other columns)

< Recent articles

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor