If Gilligan’s Island left us with anything to ponder, it was this seemingly simple question: “Ginger or Mary Ann?” Ginger Grant was the cooing, Hollywood bombshell who used her sexuality as a weapon, whereas Mary Ann Summers was the sweet, corn-fed farm girl who forever stood in her shadow. In the decades since the S.S. Minnow washed up on that uncharted, desert isle, “Ginger or Mary Ann?” has fueled many a late-night, dorm-room discussion.
Yet I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone who admitted to preferring Ginger. Working to Mary Ann’s advantage was that despite being the “good girl” of the two, she frequently displayed a good bit more skin. She rocked a pair of short shorts when Daisy Duke was still in 1st grade.
More important, I think, was that a guy could feel like he might actually have a shot with Mary Ann. Ginger was all promise, no delivery, and once she’d talked you out of the key to the supply hut you might as well go off to the other side of the island, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, while you’d probably never get past first base with Mary Ann, she’d probably let you hang around and lick the leftover coconut cream from her latest batch of pies.
Needless to say, I’ve always been a Mary Ann kind of guy. Most of my real-life crushes were Mary Anns. Yet, to my surprise, when I consider other TV Land “Ginger or Mary Ann?” duos out there, I find that I’ve occasionally preferred a Ginger.
WKRP in Cincinnati: Jennifer Marlowe (Ginger) vs. Bailey Quarters (Mary Ann)
One of Sitcom Land’s most blatant examples of a Ginger/Mary Ann pair was Loni Anderson as buxom, blonde radio station receptionist Jennifer and Jan Smithers as mousy, brunette traffic manager Bailey. Jennifer got all the attention, both within the show and in the real world: a Google image search will draw up all manner of vintage Loni Anderson cheesecake, whereas you can scarcely find a decent photo of Jan Smithers.
Jennifer was very much a Ginger. Big hair, big…you know. She wasn’t a “dumb blonde,” she knew what she had and how to work it. She pulled down a receptionist’s salary without performing any actual duties, and collected expensive gifts while hobnobbing with the rich and powerful.
Bailey, especially in the show’s first season, was “TV plain”: glasses, loose sweater vests and toned-down makeup coded her as the less attractive of the duo. With time her character became more confident, and out came the form-fitting jeans and the “sexy librarian” look.
Oh, did I mention that I married a traffic manager?
My pick: Mary Ann
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Cordelia Chase (Ginger) vs. Willow Rosenberg (Mary Ann)
Willow started out as not only a Mary Ann, but a Bailey. In fact, all of producer Joss Whedon’s shows have included one or more Baileys, characters meant to be “nerds” played by actors far too attractive to comfortably fit the role. (See: Kaylee the mechanic on Firefly, Angel‘s science geek Winifred, and fellow Buffy alum Xander, who pulled off a Speedo for cryin’ out loud.)
At first, Willow’s dress sense was said to have come from “the softer side of Sears.” She had to be coaxed into wearing a mildly revealing outfit for Halloween midway into the second season of the series. (Not so actress Alyson Hannigan, who posed for FHM.) But by season four, Willow had transformed into both a powerful witch and, less convincingly, a lesbian. (Yes, yes, I know that they previously hinted at the possibility when Willow’s evil, alternate-universe, vampire twin turned out to be bicurious. But come on, the gal spent three and a half years depicted as sincerely and exclusively boy-crazy. So it was a bit hard to accept when she abruptly went all girl-on-girl.)
Cordelia was initially the stereotypical prom-queen-in-training, complete with a cadre of “mean girls.” Early on, I couldn’t even figure out what made her a series regular, as she had so little interaction with the main cast of “outsiders.” Cordy was quick with the barbs, but as time went on, she softened and found herself falling for Xander the self-proclaimed “butt monkey.” By the time she exited the spin-off series Angel, she had become downright (and improbably) saintly.
My pick: Mary Ann
Friends: Rachel Green (Ginger) vs. Monica Geller (Mary Ann)
Monica wasn’t really supposed to be a Mary Ann. Her backstory was that she’d been overweight in high school (nickname: “Big Fat Goalie”) but had slimmed down into a hottie. They even went so far as to put Courteney Cox in a fat suit for the flashbacks, but that joke became less funny as Cox herself grew ever more skeletal.
Rachel wasn’t quite a Ginger either. She had the looks and the hair (and goodness knows that Jennifer Aniston got the media attention), but her persona showed an appealing vulnerability. She was the object of gawky paleontologist Ross’ fancy, so there was a big dollop of nerd wish fulfillment there as well. (At least, until Ross became so insufferably self-absorbed that I began to root for Joey to land Rachel instead.)
Oh, and did I mention that when I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist?
My pick: Ginger!
Scooby-Doo: Daphne Blake (Ginger) vs. Velma Dinkley (Mary Ann)
Here’s where I may just have to admit that at times I can be just as superficial as the next guy. When it came to cartoon ghost-hunters, there was never any contest. Daphne was a leggy redhead; Velma was stumpy and frumpy with a shaggy blob of alleged hair. (Granted that she came off better in the live-action version, but there she had the benefit of being personified by “TV plain” gal Linda Cardellini.)
By the way–and I’m not suggesting that you look for yourself–a Google search for “Velma Dinkley” results in a number of pornographic fan-art images that I truly wish I could unsee. Jinkies!
My pick: Ginger
Charlie’s Angels: Jill Munroe (Ginger) vs. Sabrina Duncan (Mary Ann)
Maybe it’s the hair. Farrah Fawcett, who played Jill Munroe in the first season before breaking away for an unremarkable film career, was for a brief time the “it” girl with her long, tawny locks. Her best-selling, benippled poster image was the only T-shirt design I can recall being banned from my junior high. And I had no interest in her whatsoever.
The funny thing is that I didn’t really go for the designated “smart” gal of the Angels either. I did like Kate Jackson by the time of Scarecrow and Mrs. King, but her Angels incarnation left me cold. I really think it was the hair.
I split the difference and went for Jaclyn Smith.
My pick: Er…Mrs. Howell?
30 Rock: Jenna Maroney (Ginger) vs. Liz Lemon (Mary Ann)
Jenna, the fictional star of 30 Rock‘s show-within-a-show, was originally played by ex-Saturday Night Live performer Rachel Dratch. However, someone at the real NBC felt that Dratch wasn’t quite credible (read: blonde) enough to be the star of the fictional NBC series, and the part was recast with Jane Krakowski. Dratch got the consolation prize of appearing in a number of bizarre walk-on roles in the first season, something which I felt better played to her strengths as a sketch performer. (She’s disappeared completely as of this season.)
I do think casting Krakowski was a good call. She’s a funny actress, and provides a bigger visual contrast than Dratch would have.
Liz Lemon is played by 30 Rock‘s creator, Tina Fey. And while Tina Fey based Liz on her own experiences as head writer for SNL, she certainly resisted any urge to paint the character as an idealized version of Tina Fey. Liz (Tina Fey) Lemon is thoroughly neurotic; slovenly in both dress and domesticity; and unlucky in love. Completely unlike the real Tina Fey.
My pick: Tina Mary Ann (oh, like you didn’t see that coming)
At this point, you may be thinking that I’ve put entirely too much thought into pondering Gingers and Mary Anns, and you are most likely correct. But in my view, there are two types of people in the world: those who offer lengthy comparative analyses on Ginger and Mary Ann, and those who wish those other people would shut the hell up.