The passing of one of the greatest "down home" actors of all time -- Andy Griffith -- brings to mind that, sadly, many of the actors who lived in the fictional town of Mayberry, NC are no longer with us. Perhaps they are all now reunited in that great "Mayberry" community in the sky.
In 2010, I wrote a "Where Are They Now" piece on the cast of The Andy Griffith Show in tribute to the 50th Anniversary of TAGS.
Since that piece, we have lost two more members of The Andy Griffith Show cast, including the beloved actor Andy Griffith. Here is a tribute to all the wonderful character actors who -- through the magic of television -- lived, and have now died in our arms.
Andy Griffith (Andy Taylor), Don Knotts (Barney Fife), Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee), George Lindsey (Goober), Howard McNear (Floyd the Barber), Aneta Corsaut (Helen Crump), Hal Smith (Town drunk, Otis Campbell), Jack Dodson (Howard Sprague), Paul Hartman (Emmett Clark), Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass), Denver Pyle (Briscoe Darling), Hope Summers (Clara Edwards), Joyce Jameson & Jean Carson (the "fun girls") and composer Earle Hagen (composer and whistler of TAGS theme song) are all gone, but will never be forgotten.
Andy Griffith (Andy Taylor)
The handsome home-spun actor had already made his mark in Hollywood in films and had a hit record under his belt (now a classic) What It Was, Was Football, when he shot the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. Based on a small-town sheriff he originally portrayed on The Danny Thomas show (also known as Make Room for Daddy), in the first season Griffith played the part as a "heavy-handed country bumpkin," but soon realized that he should play the straight man to Don Knotts' high-octane character, Deputy Barney Fife ... proof that Andy Griffith is a creative genius. We loved Andy Taylor because we loved Andy Griffith.
After leaving Mayberry in 1968, it took 18 years for him to gain prominence once again in a television role. Playing country attorney extraordinaire Ben Matlock in the legal drama Matlock (1986-1995), he enjoyed another ratings bonanza as the show was nominated for four Emmy Awards. Andy passed away at his home in Dare County, NC on the morning of July 3, 2012 at the age of 86.
Don Knotts (Barney Fife)
The five-time Emmy winner for his role as the small-town, over-anxious deputy who carried an unloaded gun -- stashing one bullet in his pocket (just in case) -- got his big break on television in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow, (1953-1955). In 1956 he became famous on Steve Allen's variety show as the nervous "Man in the Street," always stating an occupation that would seem inappropriate for such a shaky person (i.e. surgeon or explosives expert). Barney Fife may have come off as being the funniest sitcom character of all time, but he couldn't have pulled it off without being handed the baton from teammate Andy Griffith. They were truly one of the best comedy duos in the history of television.
Knotts left Mayberry in 1965, signing a five-year film contract with Universal Studios. He went on to star in a series of film comedies such as The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West. Barney Fife returned to Mayberry several times in the late '60s in guest appearances. Knotts was teamed with comedian Tim Conway in a series of slapstick movies, most notably The Apple Dumpling Gang in 1975. He began a successful stint in the role of landlord Ralph Furley on Three's Company, (1979-1984). Knotts died in 2006 in Los Angeles, Calif. from pulmonary and respiratory complications related to lung cancer.
Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee)
A television actress who first appeared in vaudeville before moving to the Broadway stage, Bavier played the unforgettable "everybody's" favorite aunt, Aunt Bee -- the most famous matronly aunt on television, a role she played from 1960 to 1970, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Comedy Actress in 1967. We loved Aunt Bee because she had a heart of gold... and she cooked and cleaned and fussed over our favorite Mayberry father and son. A graduate of Columbia University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Bavier appeared in more than a dozen films as well as roles on The Eve Arden Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason and Wagon Train.
Bavier, who briefly returned to acting in the 1974 family film Benji, retired to Siler City, N.C. because she reportedly fell in love with "all the pretty roads and the trees." Her medical condition prevented the actress from reprising her role in the 1986 television movie Return to Mayberry. She died at home on December 6, 1989 (eight days shy of her 87th birthday), suffering from heart disease and cancer. Buried in Siler City, her headstone reads: Frances E. Bavier, "Aunt Bee" ... "To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die."
Aneta Corsaut (Helen Crump)
Although her most famous role was Opie's teacher and Andy Taylor's best girl (and future wife in Return to Mayberry in 1986), Corsaut made her film debut (along with Steve McQueen) in the 1958 independent film The Blob. Helen Crump epitomized "class" inside and outside the classroom. She always seemed to find the right dress to wear, whether it was for a dinner date with Andy, a visit to the county fair or a picnic on the lake. She was our choice as the perfect wife for Andy and stepmom for Opie so we always hoped for marital bliss for those two lovebirds. Besides her 66 episode credits on TAGS, the versatile actress appeared on episodes of Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Death Valley Days.
After leaving Mayberry following the 1968 season, the actress made appearances on Columbo, Nanny and the Professor, Hart to Hart, Hotel and three episodes of Matlock, reuniting with Andy Griffith. Corsaut sadly passed away on November 6, 1995 from cancer at the age of 62.
Hope Summers (Clara Edwards)
Hope springs eternal (no pun intended) as this late-blooming actress didn't roll into Hollywood to begin her career as a character actress until the age of 55. She made guest appearances on dozens of television series including Wagon Train, My Three Sons, Hazel and Gunsmoke. She'll always be remembered for her role as Aunt Bee's gossipy best friend, Clara Edwards, during her tenure on TAGS.
Ms. Summers made a few appearances on the TAGS spinoff Mayberry R.F.D. Her television credits after life in Mayberry included Marcus Welby, M.D, Hawaii Five-O, Chico and the Man and Welcome Back Kotter. Although her film work was usually small parts, she played the part of Mrs. Gilmore in the 1968 film Rosemary's Baby. She was still acting until the year before her death from heart failure in 1979 at the age of 83.
Howard McNear (Floyd "the barber' Lawson)
The actor, who created the role of Doc Charles Adams in the CBS radio show Gunsmoke (1952-1961), was featured in many of the network's radio and TV programs. Appropriately enough, in the TV sitcom Leave It to Beaver, McNear played a barber named Andy in one episode. Best known for his portrayal of TAGS's chatty barber whose shop often served as the social gathering place for the townsmen, he appeared in such films as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and two Elvis films: Blue Hawaii and Follow That Dream (where he allowed Elvis top billing). It's been said that Howard McNear was more like his character on the show than any of the other actors (although we're guessing Ronnie Howard was a close second).
Due to a stroke he suffered during the third season that rendered him unable to walk (although his speech remained intact), he left the show for almost two seasons, returning after Griffith urged him to come back. The production crew was able to accommodate his disability by constructing a stand for him which allowed him to stand and appear to be combing hair (with one hand). After the stroke, he was usually seen seated in his barber chair or on a bench outside the shop. He died in 1969 from the effects of a second stroke at the age of 63.
Hal Smith (Otis Campbell)
Portraying the lovable town drunk was the polar opposite of Smith's real life persona, as he did not drink in real life. Otis frequently locked himself in the Mayberry jail at night after a visit to the local moonshiner. He never caused havoc or was a troublemaker while inebriated, so his character didn't cause a stir at the time. Campbell worked as a disc jockey and voice talent for WIBX Radio in Utica, NY from 1936-1943. He was one of the most sought-after voice actors in Hollywood providing voices for many Disney and Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the 1960s and '70s. His early television credits include I Married Joan, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Red Skelton Show.
Otis Campbell stopped appearing on TAGS at the end of the run due to concerns over the portrayal of his character's excessive drinking. Smith returned to the 1986 TV movie Return to Mayberry as the town's ice cream truck driver, having licked his drinking problem. He later used his Otis Campbell character in commercials for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and appeared in Alan Jackson's Don't Rock the Juke Box music video. The New York native worked in many television commercials including Toyota, Green Giant, Pizza Hut, Chicken of the Sea and hundreds of other companies. He died of a heart attack on January 28, 1994 at the age of 77 and is resting in peace next to his longtime wife Louise.
George Lindsey (Goober Pyle)
Armed with a Bachelor's degree in biology after graduating from Florence State College in 1950, Lindsey became a high school teacher in Madison County, Ala. After serving in the Air Force, he made his way to New York City hoping to become a movie star. He got his big break in 1964 after auditioning and winning the part of auto-mechanic/virgin and Cary Grant impersonator Goober Pyle -- a man who always had a grease rag in his back pocket and a fashionable beanie on his head. We loved Goober because of his incredible comic book collection and his optimistic outlook in a square peg/round-hole world.
After Griffith left his show, Lindsey continued to play Goober on Mayberry R.F.D. until the show was cancelled in 1971. Later in the '70s, he guest starred on M*A*S*H and Gunsmoke. From 1972 to 1992, Lindsey put on his "Goober" face on the syndicated country music variety show Hee Haw. In 1998, he established the George Lindsey/UNA Film Festival that takes place annually in Florence, Ala., and has raised over $1,000,000 for Alabama Special Olympics through the George Lindsey Celebrity Weekend and Golf Tournament in Montgomery, Ala.
Lindsey passed away on May 6th at the age of 83.
Jack Dodson (Howard Sprague)
Jack Dodson was in the right place at the right time in 1964 in the Broadway play Hughie, when Andy Griffith saw him and decided to hire the actor to play mild-mannered county clerk Howard Sprague. Howard was always the voice of reason when things went awry in the sleepy little country town, and was most famous for catching Old Sam -- the biggest and most elusive fish in the lake (played by the fish who made his comedy debut in that episode, playing himself).
After Dodson departed Mayberry, he landed a number of other TV roles including Maude, Archie Bunker's Place, Newhart, Matlock and Mama's Family. He also had a recurring role as Ralph Malph's eye doctor father on Happy Days. In 1985, Dodson returned to Broadway in the revival of You Can't Take It With You. He reprised his role in the 1986 TV movie, Return to Mayberry. He died in 1994 from heart failure at the age of 63.
Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass, a.k.a. George the TV repair man)
Surprisingly Howard Morris was a classically trained Shakespearean actor but started his television career as a sketch comedy artist in Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. He's best known for his wild "mountain-man" character Ernest T. Bass, going off on never-ending temper-tantrum tangents trying to impress his "Sweet Romeena." The lesson learned: never trust a man the size of a Fig Newton carrying a sack full of bricks.
Life after Mayberry found Morris playing a variety of voices in many Hanna-Barbera series including The Jetsons and The Flintstones. He was the original voice of Atom Ant, and provided the original vocalizations for the Hamburglar in the 1971 McDonald's ad campaign. In the 1980s, he was the voice of Wade Duck, a regular character on the cartoon series Garfield and Friends. Mel Brooks cast him a few of his films including the 1977 comedy High Anxiety. Morris died of a heart ailment in 2005 at the age of 85.
Denver Pyle (Briscoe Darling)
Briscoe Darling and his hillbilly clan made life interesting for Andy Taylor when they came down from the mountain, as Andy had to fend off romantic overtures from sweet little mountaineer daughter Charlene Darling (played by Maggie Peterson) on more than one occasion. The sheriff had to figure out a way to keep Helen Crump from marrying one of the sons of those pioneers, get Opie out of a marital contract with Charlene's infant daughter Andilina and stop Briscoe from courting Aunt Bee (picture it). We loved Briscoe because he was a loveable, civil hillbilly family man and because he knew how to play the musical instrument "the jug" better than any other musician we can name.
Pyle jumped into another exceptional role when he was cast as Uncle Jesse Duke in the CBS series The Dukes of Hazard (1979-1985). Later in life he played cameo television roles although his last cinematic role was alongside James Garner, Jodie foster and Mel Gibson in the 1994 film Maverick, playing a cheating card player who jumps off a riverboat. He reprised his role of Uncle Jesse in the 1997 television movie The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! Pyle died of lung cancer on Christmas day in 1997 at the age of 77.
Paul Hartman (Emmett Clark)
Paul Hartman was a song and dance man before he "moved" to Mayberry as handyman Emmett Clark. According to TV Land, "Born in 1904, he and his wife, Grace had a comic dance routine in the 1930s and were in several Broadway hits. They won the equivalent of the Tony in 1948. The Hartmans had their own TV series by the same name (1953-55). Paul made guest appearances on a variety of series throughout his career. He joined the cast of The Andy Griffith Show as fix-it man Emmett Clark, in 1967. Hartman died in October, 1973 at the age of 69."
The "Fun Girls":
Jean Carson (Daphne)
Jean Carson played the "fun girl" Daphne, who was sweet on Andy, always greeting him with that husky "Hello Doll" flirtatious greeting. A great little piece of trivia: Carson was voted "Girl Most Likely to Succeed as an Actress" in high school. In September 2005, she suffered a severe stroke, and on November that same year, she died of complications of the stroke at the age of 82.
Joyce Jameson (Skippy)
Joyce Jameson acted in a few notable film roles including the role of Abigail in the Elvis Presley film Frankie and Johnny and Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number with Bob Hope and Elke Sommer. TAGS fans will, of course, remember her fondly as the bimbo "dumb" blonde, life-of-the-party "Skippy," who pursued Barney Fife (much to the dismay of Thelma Lou). Jameson reportedly suffered from depression, committing suicide on January 16, 1987 at the age of 54, by overdosing on pills. "Her body was cremated and her ashes were buried at sea."
Earle Hagen (Composer and whistler of the TAGS theme song "The Fishin' Hole")
Earle Hagen, who was an American composer, composed theme songs for several television shows including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle - USMC, That Girl, Eight Is Enough, and Mod Squad will forever be remembered for whistling "The Fishin' Hole," the TAGS theme song he co-wrote. Hagen was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011. He died of natural causes on May 26 2008 at the age of 88.