Today considered one of the best comedies in the history of television, The Andy Griffith Show began as a concept by producer Sheldon Leonard and writer Art Stander of The Danny Thomas Show about a small-town sheriff who also served as justice of the peace and newspaper editor, as described by University of Tennessee professor Richard Kelly in his book about the show. At the time they came up with their idea, Andy Griffith was appearing in a Broadway production of Destry Rides Again but had just been signed by the William Morris Agency and had told them he was interested in exploring a career in television. After hearing about Griffith's availability and seeing him in Destry, Leonard set up a meeting with Griffith, but Griffith was not keen on the concept, though he years later told Kelly that he liked Leonard himself. A second meeting was set up with the principals and Griffith's manager Richard O. Linke, and though Griffith still had reservations about the concept, he agreed to do a pilot for the new show as an episode of The Danny Thomas Show in which Thomas drives through the small town where Griffith is sheriff and is arrested for speeding. Though Griffith said that he was a bit wooden in rehearsals, he eventually got the hang of things by the time they were filming in front of a live audience, and the show went over well, so well, in fact, that Danny Thomas sponsor General Foods agreed to sponsor The Andy Griffith Show immediately.
But Griffith still had a few doubts about the show as conceived by Leonard and Stander, and these had to be addressed before development could begin. First, Griffith did not like the idea of his character wearing three hats and farcically changing his outfit based on which function he was serving at the time. By the time The Andy Griffith Show made it to the air, this conceit had largely been eliminated, though he continued his justice of the peace role in episodes such as "Andy and the Woman Speeder" (October 16, 1961) where he tickets a female journalist in a hurry to get out of town and when she refuses to pay the fine and demands to take her case before the justice of the peace, she meets Andy at the jailhouse and he turns his desk sign around from Andy Taylor, Sheriff to Andy Taylor, Justice of the Peace. The other idea that Griffith was against was the structure of typical television situation comedy in which plot development is used merely to set up jokes and one-liners, whereas Griffith believed that comedy should flow from the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Since Linke was able to borrow enough money to finance the show initially, he was able to structure Griffith's contract so that he owned half the show and Linke had the position of associate producer. In this capacity, Griffith was able to provide input during story development and script writing, which he did on a regular basis. Kelly maintains that Griffith's involvement was the primary factor in the show's success and ground-breaking position as a hybrid situation/domestic comedy.
In the pilot episode and in its original conception, Griffith was supposed to be the one getting the laughs, but after bringing Don Knotts on to play Deputy Barney Fife, Griffith soon realized that the show would be better with him playing straight man to Knotts' mercurial portrayal of Barney. Knotts' comedic skill was so dominant that he won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy three years straight from 1961-63 and twice more when he was brought back for guest spots after leaving at the end of the fifth season. Some fans believe that the show declined after he left, his departure the result of a miscommunication and change of plans by Griffith, who had originally intended for the show to run only 5 seasons. By the time the end of that span was approaching, Knotts sought opportunities elsewhere and received an offer from Universal Pictures for a 5-movie deal. When Griffith then decided to continue the series and asked Knotts to come along, Knotts had already acclimated himself to a movie career and was worried he might never get another offer like the one from Universal.
But while the show was strong on comic male characters like Barney, town drunk Otis Campbell, and barber Floyd Lawson, its female contingent, as Kelly has remarked, tended to be rather passive in a traditionally female way. Aunt Bee is a stereotypical home-maker, and when she stands up against Andy in suggesting that a jailhouse is not a proper environment to raise a boy in "Bringing Up Opie" (May 22, 1961), she has to retract her admonishment after Opie gets in much worse trouble when left to his own devices. However, she wins a small amount of satisfaction when she proves that men are just as bad about gossiping as women in "Those Gosspin' Men" (January 16, 1961). Barney's girlfriend Thelma Lou is first introduced in "Cyrano Andy" (March 6, 1961) and her role as his long-suffering and forever waiting soul mate is cemented when she tries to force the issue in getting Barney to express his affection for her by pretending that Andy is a rival for her attention. When Barney stubbornly refuses to give in and says that he wants to play the field, Andy foils her plot when he pretends to gladly accept her faux advances while his girlfriend Ellie Walker gives Barney the same treatment, thereby driving the two love birds back into each other's arms and restoring the status quo of Thelma Lou as the Lady in Waiting. In fact, the character of Ellie Walker is the only strong female character in the early cast, standing up to Andy in "Mayberry on Record" (February 13, 1961) to show him that he is wrong in suspecting a traveling record producer of being a con man, and manipulating him to help her rescue a young woman from a life of hard farm labor in "Ellie Saves a Female" (April 17, 1961), even if the rescuing is merely allowing the young woman to wear makeup and pretty clothes to attract a husband. And in an episode from 1960, Ellie runs for and wins a spot on the City Council despite strong opposition from the town's chauvinistic male population, including Andy. But Elinor Donahue, who signed a 3-year contract for The Andy Griffith Show, asked to be let out of her contract after the first season. Kelly relates that Griffith admitted that the show had a problem finding a suitable romantic partner for him because of his discomfort in dealing with women and difficulty in playing romantic scenes. Various actresses were tried out in her place. In Season 2, former Gene Autry acolyte Gail Davis appears as Thelma Lou's cousin in "The Perfect Female" (November 27, 1961). But after Barney and Thelma Lou try to hook her up with Andy, Davis' character Karen Moore bristles at the idea that she has to audition for Andy's approval and shows him up by beating him in a skeet shooting contest. Like Ellie, Karen has a strong personality and excels at a traditionally male sport, and though everyone is on friendly terms by episode's end when Andy has admitted that he was wrong, Davis did not appear in another episode. It wasn't until Aneta Corsaut was introduced as Opie's mild-mannered, reserved school teacher in 1963 that the show found a character and actress who could work with Griffith's temperament.
Even with its conservative depiction of the role of women while demands for equal treatment have continually grown stronger in the real world, the show has remained popular because at its core, as Kelly also astutely observes, the characters genuinely care for each other, even if their opinions and beliefs may occasionally be misguided. Mayberry has come to be a nostalgic symbol for an idyllic world where there is virtually no crime because everyone is really just trying to get by. Rather than being the tough-on-crime, no-nonsense lawman that Barney imagines himself to be, Andy Taylor is always compassionate, arguing against eviction for folks who are just down on their luck in "Andy Forecloses" (April 24, 1961) and "Mayberry Goes Bankrupt" (October 23, 1961). As Kelly notes, Griffith had an ally in writer and story consultant Aaron Ruben (later the creator and producer of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.), who understood and valued the nuanced relationships between the characters in the fictional tight-knit southern town. When Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley producer Garry Marshall approached Griffith years later about developing a new series for him and Don Knotts, both actors were initially interested, but Griffith eventually declined when the sample script Marshall showed him had his and Knotts' characters making fun of each other at the other's expense. Knotts thought the problems Griffith indentified could be fixed, but Griffith felt that Marshall really didn't understand their characters and saw no reason to do business together. From the beginning, Griffith's instincts had proven correct about the way to build a comedy that will pass the test of time.
The theme song for The Andy Griffith Show was composed by Earle Hagen, who is profiled in the 1960 post for The Barbara Stanwyck Show.
The complete series has been released on DVD by Paramount Home Video.
For the biography of Elinor Donahue, see the 1960 post for Father Knows Best.
Andy Samuel Griffith was born the same day as actress Marilyn Monroe in 1926 in Mount Airy, North Carolina, an only child to a carpenter and home-maker. Because his family initially could not afford a home of their own, the infant Griffith was cared for by relatives and at one point was sleeping in a dresser drawer. Years later he still recalled as a youth being stung by the epithet "white trash." Griffith developed an interest in music from an early age and was taught to play the guitar by his mother. After seeing jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden in the 1941 feature film Birth of the Blues, Griffith persuaded Baptist minister Ed Mickey to teach him to play the trombone (Teagarden would later have a bit part in the 1961 Andy Griffith Show episode "Sheriff Barney"). While in high school Griffith also developed an interest in acting, participating in his school's drama program. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated with a degree in music in 1949. While performing there as part of the school's Carolina Playmakers, Griffith met his first wife, dancer Barbara Edwards, as well as character actor R.G. Armstrong (who would later appear in the 1961 Andy Griffith Show episode "Ellie Saves a Female"). He also performed in school operettas and considered a career as an opera singer after graduation but ended up teaching music at Goldsboro High School. He and Barbara also developed an act for local civic groups in which she danced and he played a country preacher who told jokes. Out of these performances Griffith developed a series of comic monologues and in 1953 pressed 500 records of a bit called "What It Was, Was Football," in which he plays someone unfamiliar with the game trying to explain its complex rules. The record was a local hit on radio and caught the attention of Capitol Records executive Richard O. Linke, who rushed to North Carolina to acquire the rights and sign Griffith to a contract. Linke would go on to be Griffith's manager for the rest of his life, as well as an associate producer on The Andy Griffith Show. Griffith credited Linke with steering his career in a successful direction that he could not have managed himself. Released on Capitol, the record sold over 900,000 copies and was a top 10 hit in 1954. The following year Griffith was cast as naive country Air Force recruit Will Stockdale in the teleplay "No Time for Sergeants," which appeared on The U.S. Steel Hour. The play was then adapted for Broadway, where it ran for two years, earned him a Tony nomination, and included Don Knotts in the cast. The play would eventually become a feature film in 1958 with Griffith and Knotts retained in the cast. But Griffith would make his film debut a year earlier in 1957 in Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd in which he would play a rough folk singer turned into a celebrity by his handlers and then a megalomaniac who proves to be his own undoing. Griffith's character Larry Rhodes is said to have been loosely based on Arthur Godfrey. In 1959 Griffith returned to Broadway to star in the latest production of Destry Rides Again, which is where he was spotted by producer Sheldon Leonard and recruited to play the role of Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show.
When he finally left his eponymous series, Griffith had intended to launch a movie career but found himself the victim of type-casting for many years--producers couldn't see him as anybody but Andy Taylor, though Griffith's real-life personality was somewhat different from the character that made him a household name. Griffith was said to have been more of a loner, a very private man prone to worrying. Though he maintained life-long friendships with cast-mates Don Knotts and Ron Howard, as well as other actors like Dick Van Dyke and Armstrong, he also revealed in an interview that Frances Bavier did not like him, though he did not explain why. In any case, with his hoped-for film career failing to materialize, Griffith attempted to return to TV in the 1970s but failed to find the old magic on series like Headmaster and The New Andy Griffith Show. Besides an occasional guest appearance on TV series, he began turning to TV movies, some with him cast in darker roles, such as 1974's Savages. In the late 1970s he appeared in a number of mini-series, including Washington: Behind Closed Doors, Centennial, and Roots: The Next Generations. He continued working on TV movies in the 1980s and won his only Primetime Emmy for his role as the father of a murder victim in 1981's Murder in Texas. After recovering from a 1986 attack of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which left his lower legs paralyzed and unable to walk, Griffith launched his second successful TV series Matlock later that year. The series ran for 9 seasons--one more than The Andy Griffith Show. He reprised his role as Ben Matlock in a two-episode story on friend Van Dyke's Diagnosis Murder in 1997. Though Griffith had recorded a handful of albums during the 1950s and '60s, he returned to recording more prolifically in the 1990s and won a Grammy in 1996 for his gospel album I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns. He continued appearing in occasional films and TV episodes until age 83, his last credit being in the 2009 feature film Play the Game. Griffith had an 11-mile stretch of highway named after him in North Carolina, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005. A life-long supporter of Democratic politics, in 2010 he appeared in a series of commercials promoting the Affordable Care Act, but the commercials were canceled after he received numerous death threats. Two years later he suffered a fatal heart attack on July 3, 2012 at the age of 86.
Ronald William Howard was born in Duncan, Oklahoma to Rance and Jean Speegle Howard, both actors. Rance Howard had studied drama at the University of Oklahoma and was a director of entertainment programs while serving in the Air Force. Ron Howard made his first appearance on film at 18 months in a movie in which his father also had a role, 1956's Frontier Woman. At age 2 he appeared in a theatrical production of The Seven Year Itch, and in 1958 his father moved the family to Hollywood, taking a house only one block away from Desilu Studios, where The Andy Griffith Show would be filmed. In 1959, Ron Howard began getting a series of TV appearances on programs such as Five Fingers, Johnny Ringo, and The Twilight Zone. He played Opie Taylor in the back-door pilot for The Andy Griffith Show on The Danny Thomas Show. Also at this time he appeared 6 times as Stewart on Dennis the Menace and played various small boys in 4 episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, in addition to single episodes of Cheyenne and Pete and Gladys. Both Sheldon Leonard and Don Knotts have since remarked about what a natural, adaptable actor young Howard was and both consider his father, who was on the set with him, as being the primary reason for his success. During his 8 years on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard also made occasional appearances in feature films, such as The Music Man and The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and he would also show up as a guest on TV programs such as Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Fugitive, and I Spy. For his 8th birthday Howard was given an 8-millimeter movie camera by Griffith, Linke, and Ruben, which undoubtedly led to an early fondness for making movies.
After his 8 years on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard was eager to break out of his Opie Taylor persona, appearing as a guest on TV dramas such as The F.B.I., Land of the Giants, and Gunsmoke. His next regular role was playing Henry Fonda's son in The Smith Family during 1971-72, but it was a guest spot on Love American Style that would lead to his next big starring role as Richie Cunningham, first in the episode "Love and the TV Set" (since renamed "Love and the Happy Days"). Before the series Happy Days was launched in 1974, Howard also appeared in George Lucas' 1950s nostalgia feature American Graffiti. Howard was not especially enthused about his role on Happy Days, but during his 7 years on the show he began taking the necessary steps toward his preferred vocation--directing. He worked out a deal with legendary B-movie director Roger Corman to appear in Corman's 1976 Eat My Dust in return for Corman producing Howard's directorial debut, 1977's Grand Theft Auto. After directing a few TV movies, he reunited with Henry Winkler on the decidedly adult-themed Night Shift in 1982. After another TV movie in 1983, Howard achieved his greatest directorial success to date with the romantic comedy Splash in 1984, followed by a series of other successes with Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Apollo 13, and culminating with an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture for 2001's A Beautiful Mind. He received a second Oscar nomination but did not win for 2008's Frost/Nixon. Howard has also garnered a pair of Primteime Emmys, the first for the 1998 mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and a second for co-creating and narrating the comedy series Arrested Development. His daughters Bryce Dallas Howard and Paige Howard have continued the family's acting dynasty into a third generation.
Jesse Donald Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, the youngest of four sons to a shizophrenic/alcoholic father who once threatened his wife with a knife, spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, and died from pneumonia when Don was only 13. His mother then ran a boarding house to support herself and her sons. His brother William Earl Knotts died four years later at age 31 from complications from asthma. Knotts has recounted that he had an unhappy childhood and felt like a loser, but in his early years he began to develop a ventriloquist act that he would perform at various functions around Morgantown. After graduating from high school, he went to New York to pursue a show business career but returned home within a few weeks. He enrolled at West Virginia University until joining the Army in 1943. In the Army he was assigned to provide entertainment for the troops, but in a later interview he said that it was during this time that he decided to ditch the ventriloquist act, throwing his dummy Danny "Hootch" Matador overboard from a ship in the Pacific. After he returned home from service, he returned to West Virginia University and after graduating with a degree in drama he returned to New York and used contacts he had made in the military to land gigs doing stand-up comedy in clubs and then play a character Windy Wales on the radio show The Bobby Benson Show. He landed his first TV role on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow from 1953-55, playing a neurotic young man who communicated only with his sister. In 1955 he first met up with Griffith during the theatrical production of No Time for Sergeants. The following year he landed a regular supporting role as Mr. Morrison, a nervous man who did not like to be interviewed on camera as part of Steve Allen's "Man in the Street" recurring sketch on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, a role he continued until 1960. Knotts said that he developed the character after seeing a nervous man attempt to give a speech back in Morgantown. He first performed it on The Garry Moore Show and then got a chance to audition for Steve Allen through a friendship with Bill Dana, who was on Allen's staff. In 1958 he made his feature film debut alongside Griffith in the big screen version of No Time for Sergeants and after Steve Allen's show was canceled and he heard that Griffith was starting a new series, he called Griffith and suggested that as sheriff he could use a deputy. After auditioning his nervous character for Sheldon Leonard, Knotts was signed to a 5-year contract for a role that earned him 5 Primetime Emmys and would make him a comic legend. However, even during his 5 years on The Andy Griffith Show Knotts added to his feature film resume, appearing in Wake Me When It's Over, The Last Time I Saw Archie, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Move Over, Darling. Playing the title role in 1964's The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Knotts had his first starring role in a feature film. As mentioned above his departure from The Andy Griffith Show was due to a communication mix-up with Griffith, who told him at the outset that the program would run for no more than 5 years.
After leaving The Andy Griffith Show Knotts starred in a series of comedies that saw him adapting his nervous character to various situations in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Love God?, and How to Frame a Figg. Though current comedic actors such as Jim Carrey and Martin Short credit Knotts as an inspiration, the films did not score big at the box office and Universal terminated his contract at the end of the 5-picture deal. Knotts' career waned somewhat at this point, punctuated only by occasional TV movies and guest appearances, until he found steady work in the mid 1970s in a series of Disney family films, a few with Tim Conway, such as The Apple Dumpling Gang, No Deposit, No Return, Gus, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Hot Lead, Cold Feet, and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. When Audra Lindley and Norman Fell's characters were spun off from Three's Company into their own series, The Ropers, Knotts was brought on as the new landlord as middle-aged swinger wannabe Ralph Furley, a role he continued until the series ended in 1984. His work through the later 1980s was sporadic--a Mayberry reunion TV movie Return to Mayberry and four appearances as F. Jerry McPherson on What a Country--until he was reunited with Griffith as Matlock's pesky neighbor Les Calhoun on Matlock from 1988-92. His late career work dwindled even further, often appearing as variations of earlier characters--a landlord in a 2005 episode of That '70's Show--or voicework for animated productions and video games. He developed a number of health issues, including macular degeneration, late in life and finally succumbed to lung cancer on February 24, 2006 at the age of 81. Like Ron Howard, a sixth cousin, Knotts has a daughter, Karen Knotts, currently working as an actress in feature films.
Born in New York City, Frances Elizabeth Bavier attended Columbia University and at first had planned to become a teacher but later graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and found work in vaudeville, stock repertory groups that toured the midwest, and eventually Broadway. There she appeared in productions such as The Poor Nut, On Borrowed Time, and Point of No Return with Henry Fonda. Though she had a pair of feature film appearances in 1931's Girls About Town and 1943's O. My Darling Clementine, her film career took off in 1951 with appearances in the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, the Martin & Lewis farce The Stooge, and her first aunt role in support of David Niven and Joan Caulfield in The Lady Says No. Her first television appearance came in a 1952 episode of Racket Squad and by 1953 she was finding more work on TV than in feature films. Her first recurring role on television came in 1954 playing doting home-maker Mrs. Amy Morgan who runs a boarding house, home to a pair of ex-G.I.'s in It's a Great Life. The show ran for two seasons, after which Bavier found occasional guest spots, including a first-season episode of Perry Mason, before being cast as Nora the housekeeper on The Eve Arden Show in 1957. She continued occasional guest spots thereafter on shows such as Wagon Train, Sugarfoot, and Rawhide before appearing as Henrietta Perkins in The Danny Thomas Show episode that served as the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. Though she felt that the role of Aunt Bee didn't take advantage of her full dramatic range, she is the only main actor who stayed with the show the full 8 seasons and continued with its sequel Mayberry R.F.D. for two more seasons. She was remembered both by associate producer Richard O. Linke and actor Jack Dodson (who played Howard Sprague in later seasons) as a private, very contained individual who could be easily offended. Dodson would tell author Richard Kelly, "She was the only person in the whole company whose feelings you had to be careful not to hurt." Besides Don Knotts, she was also the only member of the cast to win an Emmy, garnering the Best Supporting Actress award in 1967.
After leaving Mayberry R.F.D. in 1970, Bavier made only one more acting appearance as a woman with a cat in the 1974 feature Benji, an ironic twist given the state of her home upon her death. Despite being from New York, she retired to Siler, North Carolina in 1972, drawn by its natural beauty, and was described by neighbors as a recluse who rarely left her house, though for a time she was active promoting Christmas Seals and Easter Seals. In November 1989 she was admitted to a local hospital and was placed in the coronary ward with heart disease and cancer. After a two-week stay she was discharged and returned home, where she died two days later from a heart attack at the age of 86 on December 6, 1989. Her obituary in the Los Angeles Times went on at length about the sparse, decrepit, and unkempt condition of her house, which she shared with 14 cats, who used a basement room and a shower stall as a litter box. Her 1966 Studebaker, a brand of automobile she avidly supported, was parked in her garage with four flat tires and an interior shredded by the cats. Never married and with no heirs, she left her $700,000 estate to a hospital foundation.
Howard Terbell McNear was born in Los Angeles and studied acting at the Oatman School of Theater. He honed his dramatic skills as a member of a San Diego stock company, where, according to Griffith, he was a leading man. In the 1930s he began finding work in radio dramas such as Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, and after the War moved to Hollywood where he was cast as Doc Adams in the radio version of Gunsmoke, which ran from 1952-61 (he appeared in 6 episodes of the TV version, the last 3 as Howard Rudd). He also played a variety of roles in the radio detective series Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar from 1955-60. His career on film began with an uncredited role in the western Escape From Fort Bravo in 1953, and his first appearance on television came the next year in an episode of Dragnet. From that point forward, he found steady work in supporting roles on TV and in feature films such as Bundle of Joy, Bell, Book and Candle, Anatomy of a Murder, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. His first recurring TV role came as Cuthbert Jantzen on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show in 1957-58. He crossed paths with Frances Bavier appearing in a 1956 episode of It's a Great Life and appeared in many other TV series as well, including Lassie, I Love Lucy, December Bride, The People's Choice, Leave It to Beaver (on which he played a barber), The Donna Reed Show, The Real McCoys, and Peter Gunn, to name but a few. Griffith said that McNear was a nervous man by nature and that he developed his nervous character that evolved into Floyd Lawson while on The Jack Benny Program, on which he appeared 7 times between 1958 and 1962.
McNear made his first appearance as Floyd the barber in the first episode aired in 1961, "Mayberry Goes Hollywood" (January 2, 1961). (Walter Baldwin had made a single appearance as Floyd in the 1960 episode "Stranger in Town.") During his tenure on The Andy Griffith Show, McNear continued finding regular work in feature films, including three Elvis Presley vehicles (Blue Hawaii, Follow That Dream, and Fun in Acapulco), three Billy Wilder films (Irma la Douce, Kiss Me, Stupid, and The Fortune Cookie), and comedies starring such TV stars as James Garner (The Wheeler Dealers), Troy Donahue (My Blood Runs Cold), and Ricky Nelson (Love and Kisses). He also appeared on a variety of TV programs such as The Twilight Zone, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and Honey West. During The Andy Griffith Show's third season McNear suffered a stroke that paralyzed most of the left side of his body and did not appear on the show for nearly two years. But producer Aaron Ruben was determined to bring him back, and so scripts were written to either have him sitting down or secretly propped up by structures built by the production crew in order to accommodate his disability. However, his delivery over time grew slower and slower, and Jack Dodson recalled his last appearance in a 1967 episode where he had great difficulty remembering his lines, causing him great frustration and despair, as being one of the most troubling scenes he ever witnessed. A second stroke killed him on January 3, 1969 at the age of 63.
Though he will forever be known as Otis Campbell, the affable town drunk of Mayberry, teetotaler Harold John Smith, born in Petoskey, Michigan, actually had a more prolific career as a voice actor for countless cartoons, commercials, and radio dramas. His family moved to Massena, New York, where he graduated from high school. His mother was a seamstress, and his father worked in the local Alcoa plant. He worked as a radio DJ and voice talent for WBIX in Utica, New York after graduating from high school. His agent Don Pitts said that he also sang with big bands in the 1930s. In 1943 he joined the U.S. Army's Special Services branch, responsible for entertaining the troops during World War II. After finishing his service, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he first worked as a staff announcer at KFI and eventually began to get minor roles in feature films, his first playing a peddler in Stars Over Texas in 1946. Roles were scarce during his early years, but things began picking up around 1952, which included his first television appearance on the series Life With Elizabeth. That year also marked his first appearance as Charlie Henderson on I Married Joan, and he would return in the role for 5 more episodes in 1954. The latter 1950s included a spate of uncredited feature film roles and occasional TV spots on The Great Gildersleeve, Broken Arrow, and Tombstone Territory before landing another minor recurring role as Hickey in 6 episodes of Jefferson Drum in 1958. The following year marked the beginning of his long and prolific voice acting career, appearing in 51 episodes of Clutch Cargo as well as multiple episodes of The Huckleberry Hound Show and Quick Draw McGraw. In 1960 he began appearing in voice roles on The Flintstones, eventually becoming the regular voice of Fred Flintstone's father Tex, and he replaced the late Arthur Q. Bryan as the voice of Elmer Fudd for the next two years. His first of 32 appearances as Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show came in the 1960 episode "The Manhunt."
During his tenure on Griffith, Smith also found steady work appearing in other live-action TV programs, such as Peter Gunn, Dennis the Menace, Have Gun -- Will Travel, and Perry Mason. He played Santa Claus in the 1960 feature The Miracle of the White Reindeer, King Thesus of Rhodes in The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, and the Mayor of Boracho in The Great Race. He voiced three different characters in The Funny Company in 1963, was the voice of Engineer Taurus (said to be the inspiration for Star Trek's Mr. Scott) on Space Angel, and voiced Yappee and The King on The Peter Potamus Show. He also voiced Goliath and several other characters on the long-running cartoon series Davey and Goliath, and in 1966 became the voice of Owl in the Walt Disney Winnie the Pooh animated shorts and features. After Sterling Holloway's death, he also took turns with another actor providing the voice for Pooh himself. His other longest-running voice role was host John Avery Whittaker in Focus on the Family's radio drama Adventures in Odyssey from the show's inception in 1987 until just before Smith's death at the age of 77 on January 28, 1994, two years after his wife of 53 years had passed away. According to his manager Pitts, he was listening to a radio drama when he passed.
Elizabeth Ann Theresa Lynn was born in Kansas City, the daughter of a singer, began her career singing in supper clubs and acting in radio dramas, eventually appearing on Broadway in musicals and dramatic roles before being discovered in a production of Park Avenue by Darryl F. Zanuck and signed to a contract by 20th Century Fox. Her film career kicked off in 1948 with appearances supporting Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Jeanne Crain and William Holden in Apartment for Peggy, and Bette Davis in June Bride. Over the next four years she appeared in such light comedies as Mother Is a Freshman, Father Was a Fullback, and Cheaper by the Dozen, but her film career slowed in the early 1950s and she began appearing in television roles in 1952, landing her first recurring role as June Wallace on Ray Bolger's Where's Raymond? in 1953-54. She appeared on a string of drama anthology TV series through the mid 1950s, as well as an occasional minor film role, before finding regular guest spots on TV series such as Sugarfoot, Lawman, and Wagon Train by the late 1950s. She played the role of Viola Howell/Slaughter in 9 episodes of the Walt Disney serial Texas John Slaughter from 1959-61 before finally landing her career-defining role as Barney Fife's girlfriend Thelma Lou in the March 6, 1961 episode "Cyrano Andy" of The Andy Griffith Show.
Lynn would appear 26 times in the role over the next four years but left the show when Knotts did, even though the producers had originally planned for her to stay on; she figured there would be little of consequence for her to do with Barney gone. Though she never found another continuous role like that of Thelma Lou, she appeared as Miss Lee in 4 episodes of Family Affair, as Janet/Janice Dawson in 6 episodes of My Three Sons, and 4 times as Sarah, Ben Matlock's secretary, during the first season of Matlock. She appeared in the TV movie Return to Mayberry in 1986 and reprised the role of Thelma Lou one more time in a 1991 episode of Nashville Now titled "Mayberry Reunion." After her West Hollywood home was burglarized twice in a short span, she moved to Griffith's home town of Mt. Airy, North Caroline in 2007 and continues to appear monthly at the Andy Griffith Museum to sign autographs and meet fans.
Sarah Hope Summers was born in Mattoon, Illinois, the daughter of U.S Representative John W. Summers. Summers' first career was as a speech teacher after graduating from Northwestern School of Speech, where she taught before being hired as the head of the Speech Department at Bradley University. In 1939 she moved to Chicago and performed in a number of radio dramas based there. Additionally she performed with various theater companies, often in one-woman shows, and founded two stock companies of her own. At age 55 she moved to Hollywood and landed her first TV role as Belinda Catherwood on the series Hawkins Falls. After that series ended in 1952 she didn't land another television role for 4 years but began picking up regular work in 1957 on series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Date With the Angels, and Wagon Train. In 1958 she began appearing semi-regularly as Hattie Denton on The Rifleman, appearing in 16 episodes over the next two years. She also found occasional feature film work in movies such as Zero Hour!, Hound-Dog Man, and Inherit the Wind. Her role as Aunt Bee's friend on The Andy Griffith Show went through a series of character names from Bertha Edwards in the March 13, 1961 episode "Andy and Opie, Housekeepers," to Clara Johnson and finally Clara Edwards. In all she appeared in 32 episodes of Andy Griffith and another 5 episodes of Mayberry R.F.D.
At the same time she found work in feature films such as The Children's Hour, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Rosemary's Baby, and The Learning Tree. She was also rather busy guest starring on TV series such as Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, and The Phyllis Diller Show, to name but a few. After Mayberry R.F.D. was canceled, she continued to remain active until within a year of her death, most notably in Tommy Smothers' Get to Know Your Rabbit, Peter Sellers' Where Does it Hurt?, Walter Matthau's Charley Varrick, and as a foul-mouthed Scrabble player in Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn's Foul Play. She finally found another recurring role as Olive Gardner in the 1978 TV series Another Day, but the show was canceled after just 4 episodes. She died from congestive heart failure on June 22, 1979 at the age of 83.
Hailing from Salem, Massachusetts, Richard Damon Elliott's early career is not well documented, though it is known that he had logged nearly 30 years in stock theater before landing his first film role in 1933's Central Airport. His resume lists some 375 credits over the next 30 years. Many of his early film roles were uncredited in features such as Annie Oakley, The Public Menace, and Go West Young Man. He appeared in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Li'l Abner, Christmas in Connecticut, and It's a Wonderful Life, telling Jimmy Stewart from his second-story window to go ahead and kiss Donna Reed. His television career began in 1950 when he was cast as Officer Murphy in 11 episodes of Dick Tracy, and he found regular work thereafter on shows such as Adventures of Superman, December Bride, The Red Skelton Hour, Rawhide, and The Real McCoys. His role as Mayor Pike during the first two seasons of The Andy Griffith Show was the last before his death, though he appeared posthumously as a guest star in episodes of Laramie and The Third Man filmed before he died from natural causes on December 22, 1961 at the age of 75.
Notable Guest Stars
Season 1, Episode 13, "Mayberry Goes Hollywood": Dan Frazer (Capt. Frank McNeil on Kojak and Lt. McCloskey on As the World Turns) plays Hollywood movie producer Mr. Harmon. Josie Lloyd (Nurse Roth on Dr. Kildare) plays Mayor Pike's daughter Juanita.
Season 1, Episode 14, "The Horse Trader": Max Showalter (shown on the left, appeared in Niagra, The Music Man, Dangerous Crossing, Indestructible Man, The Monster That Challenged the World, and How to Murder Your Wife and played Gus Clyde on The Stockard Channing Show) plays antiques dealer Ralph Mason.
Season 1, Episode 15, "Those Gossipin' Men": Harry Antrim (appeared in Miracle on 34th Street, Words and Music, Ma and Pa Kettle, and Teacher's Pet and played Judge Hooker on The Great Gildersleeve) plays pharmacist Fred Walker. Mary Treen (appeared in Babbitt, A Night at the Ritz, Love Begins at Twenty, and It's a Wonderful Life and played Emily Dodger on Willy and Hilda on The Joey Bishop Show) plays gossiper Clara Lindsey. Sara Seegar (starred in The Last Curtain, Dead Men Tell No Tales, and The Music Man and played Eloise Wilson on Dennis the Menace) plays a gossiper on the phone. Phil Chambers (Sgt. Myles Magruder on The Gray Ghost and Jed Ransom on Lassie) plays hotel clerk Jason.
Season 1, Episodes 16, "The Beauty Contest": Frank Ferguson (Gus Broeberg on My Friend Flicka, Eli Carson on Peyton Place, and Dr. Barton Stuart on Petticoat Junction) plays councilman Sam Lindsey. Elvia Allman (shown on the right, played Aunt Vera on I Married Joan, Jane on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Cora Dithers on Blondie, Mrs. Montague on The Bob Cummings Show, Elverna Bradshaw on The Beverly Hillbillies, and Selma Plout on Petticoat Junction) plays neighbor Henrietta Swanson.
Season 1, Episodes 17, "Alcohol and Old Lace": Gladys Hurlbut (Harriet Conroy on It's a Great Life and Mrs. Gray on The Ann Sothern Show) plays moonshiner Clarabelle Morrison.
Season 1, Episode 18, "Andy, the Marriage Counselor": Jesse White (shown on the left, appeared in Harvey, Bedtime for Bonzo, The Bad Seed, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad,Mad World, and The Reluctant Astronaut and played Mickey Calhoun on Private Secretary, Jesse Leeds on Make Room for Daddy, and Oscar Pudney on The Ann Sothern Show) plays angry husband Fred Boone. Forrest Lewis (Mr. Peavey on The Great Gildersleeve) plays his friend Cliff. Norman Leavitt (Ralph on Trackdown) plays his friend Gil.
Season 1, Episode 19, "Mayberry on Record": Hugh Marlowe (starred in Twelve O'Clock High, All About Eve, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and played Ellery Queen on Mystery Is My Business and Jim Matthews on Another World) plays record producer Mr. Maxwell. Bill Erwin (Joe Walters on My Three Sons and Glenn Diamond on Struck by Lightning) plays a prospective record investor. George Dunn (Jesse Williams on Cimarron City and the sheriff on Camp Runamuck) plays another prospective record investor. The Country Boys (bluegrass group later known as The Kentucky Colonels which included guitarist Clarence White, a member of the Byrds in the 1970s) plays a local bluegrass group.
Season 1, Episode 20, "Andy Saves Barney's Morale": Florence McMichael (shown on the right, played Phyllis Pearson on My Three Sons and Winnie Kirkwood on Mister Ed) plays Barney's girlfriend Hilda Mae. Burt Mustin (Foley on The Great Gildersleeve, Mr. Finley on Date With the Angels, Gus the fireman on Leave It to Beaver, and Justin Quigley on All in the Family) plays checker player Jud Fletcher. George Dunn (see "Mayberry on Record" above) plays barbershop customer Pete.
Season 1, Episode 21, "Andy and the Gentleman Crook": Dan Tobin (Terrance Clay on Perry Mason) plays famous criminal Gentleman Dan Caldwell.
Season 1, Episode 24, "The New Doctor": George Nader (shown on the left, starred in Robot Monster, Lady Godiva of Coventry, and The Female Animal and played Ellery Queen on The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen, Dr. Glenn Barton on The Man and the Challenge, and Joe Shannon on Shannon) plays physician Dr. Robert Benson.
Season 1, Episode 25, "A Plaque for Mayberry": Isabel Randolph (Mrs. Boone on Meet Millie, Ruth Nestor on Our Miss Brooks, and Clara Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) plays historical society representative Mrs. Bixby. Carol Veazie (Maude Endles on Norby) plays historical society representative Mrs. Harriet Wicks. Burt Mustin ("Andy Save Barney's Morale" above) returns as Jud Fletcher.
Season 1, Episode 26, "The Inspector": Tod Andrews (Maj. John Singleton Mosby on The Gray Ghost) plays state inspector Ralph Case. Willis Bouchey (Mayor Terwilliger on The Great Gildersleeve, Springer on Pete and Gladys, and the judge 23 times on Perry Mason) plays his superior Mr. Brady.
Season 1, Episode 27, "Ellie Saves a Female": R.G. Armstrong (shown on the right, played Police Capt. McAllister on T.H.E. Cat and Lewis Vendredi on Friday the 13th) plays farmer Mr. Flint.
Season 1, Episode 28, "Andy Forecloses": Will Wright (Mr. Merrivale on Dennis the Menace) plays department store owner Ben Weaver. Sam Edwards (starred in Captain Midnight, Twelve O'Clock High, and The Beatniks and played Hank the hotel clerk on The Virginian and Mr. Bill Anderson on Little House on the Prairie) plays debtor Lester Scobey. Margaret Kerry (voiced Spinner, Paddlefoot, and other characters on Clutch Cargo and played Crystal Mace on Space Angel) plays his wife Helen.
Season 1, Episode 29, "Quiet Sam": William Schallert (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) plays reclusive famer Sam Becker.
Season 1, Episode 30, "Barney Gets His Man": Barney Phillips (Sgt. Ed Jacobs on the original Dragnet, Lt. Sam Geller on Johnny Midnight, Lt. Avery on The Brothers Brannagan, Doc Kaiser on 12 O'Clock High, Mike Golden on Dan August, and Fletcher Huff on The Betty White Show) plays escaped convict Eddie Brooke. Robert McQuain (later played Joe Waters on The Andy Griffith Show) plays state policeman Sgt. Johnson. Burt Mustin (see "Andy Save Barney's Morale" above) returns as Jud Fletcher. Norman Leavitt (see "Andy, the Marriage Counselor" above) plays a sidewalk bystander.
Season 1, Episode 31, "The Guitar Player Returns": James Best (shown on the right, played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard) plays guitarist Jim Lindsey. Herbert Ellis (Officer Frank Smith on Dragnet (1952-53), Frank LaValle on The D.A.'s Man, Wilbur on Peter Gunn, and Dr. Dan Wagner on Hennesey) plays band leader Bobby Fleet. Phil Chambers (see "Those Gossipin' Men" above) returns as hotel clerk Jason.
Season 2, Episode 2, "Barney's Replacement": Mark Miller (Bill Hooten on Guestward Ho!, Jim Nash on Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and Ross Craig on The Name of the Game) plays county attorney Bob Rogers.
Season 2, Episode 3, "Andy and the Woman Speeder": Jean Hagen (shown on the left, starred in Adam's Rib, The Asphalt Jungle, and Singin' in the Rain and played Margaret Williams on Make Room for Daddy) plays journalist Elizabeth Crowley.
Season 2, Episode 4, "Mayberry Goes Bankrupt": Andy Clyde (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Real McCoys) plays evictee Frank Myers.
Season 2, Episode 5, "Barney on the Rebound": Beverly Tyler (starred in The Fireball, The Cimarron Kid, and Voodoo Island) plays new Mayberry resident Melissa Stevens. Jackie Coogan (starred in The Kid, Oliver Twist, A Boy of Flanders, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn and played Stoney Crockett on Cowboy G-Men, Sgt. Barnes on McKeever & the Colonel, and Uncle Fester Frump on The Addams Family) plays her father George.
Season 2, Episode 6, "Opie's Hobo Friend": Buddy Ebsen (shown on the right, played Sgt. Hunk Marriner on Northwest Passage, Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, Barnaby Jones on Barnaby Jones, and Roy Houston on Matt Houston) plays drifter Dave Browne.
Season 2, Episode 7, "Crime-Free Mayberry": George Petrie (Freddie Muller on The Honeymooners, various bit roles on The Jackie Gleason Show, Don Rudy Aiuppo on Wiseguy, Harv Smithfield on Dallas, and Sid on Mad About You) plays photographer Joe Layton.
Season 2, Episode 8, "The Perfect Female": Gail Davis (shown on the left, trick shot and rodeo performer who appeared in 15 Gene Autry films, played various roles on The Gene Autry Show, and played Annie Oakley on Annie Oakley) plays Thelma Lou's cousin Karen Moore.
Season 2, Episode 9, "Aunt Bee's Brief Encounter": Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Joe Carson on The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction, Red Connors on Hopalong Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean on Judge Roy Bean, Bob/Doc Dawson on Tales of Wells Fargo, Doc Burrage on The Rifleman, and J.J. Jackson on Cade's County) plays handyman Henry Wheeler. Doodles Weaver (narrated Spike Jones' horse-racing songs, played Jack Stiles on Lawman, and hosted A Day With Doodles) plays mailman George Bricker. George Cisar (Sgt. Theodore Mooney on Dennis the Menace and later played Cyrus Tankersley on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.) plays Mt. Pilot Sheriff Mitchell.
Season 2, Episode 10, "The Clubmen": George N. Neise (Capitan Felipe Arrellanos on Zorro, Dr. Nat Wyndham on Wichita Town, and Colonel Thornton on McKeever & the Colonel) plays Esquire Club member Roger Courtney. Ross Elliott (Freddie the director on The Jack Benny Program and Sheriff Abbott on The Virginian) plays club member Tom Wilson. Burt Mustin (see "Andy Save Barney's Morale" above) returns as Jud Fletcher.
Season 2, Episode 12, "Sheriff Barney": Ralph Dumke (Zack Morgan on Waterfront and Mr. McAfee on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) plays Greendale Mayor Purdy. Dabbs Greer (shown on the right, see the biography section for the 1960 post on Gunsmoke) plays Greendale councilman Dobbs. Jack Teagarden (legendary jazz trombonist) plays an unnamed Greendale councilman. Orville Sherman (Mr. Feeney on Buckskin, Wib Smith on Gunsmoke, and Tupper on Daniel Boone) plays argumentative farmer Welch. Paul Bryar (Sheriff Harve Anders on The Long, Hot Summer) played argumentative farmer Osgood.