The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS) premiered on television on October 3rd, 1960. That means Sunday will mark the show's 50th anniversary! There are events scheduled all over the country (and on TV) to celebrate this milestone. In the series' eight-year run, we got to know the residents of Mayberry as if they were our own neighbors.
Sheriff Andy Taylor
The character Andy Taylor, and indeed the entire show was modeled on Andy Griffith's persona, which he inhabited as a storyteller and in the 1958 movie No Time for Sergeants. If you were to watch that movie today, you'd think that you were watching a Gomer Pyle who happened to look like Andy Taylor. By the end of the first season of TAGS, the sheriff toned down the wackiness and became the straight man to the even goofier deputy and the townspeople of Mayberry. The switch was necessary because someone had to rescue the protagonist of the week from their troubles.
Andy Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy, NC, which became the fictional town of Mayberry on TV. Griffith insisted that the characters in the show reflect a small town way of life as he knew it, without poking fun at rural or Southern people. TAGS was the number one show in its final season, but Griffith wanted to move on, so new characters were introduced as a transition to the spinoff series Mayberry, RFD. He then starred in several unsuccessful series between 1970 and 1980. Griffith also appeared in many made-for-TV movies, but fell ill with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 1983. Recovered, he made another name for himself as lawyer Ben Matlock in the hit series Matlock from 1986 to 1995. Griffith, who lives in Manteo, NC, is yet to retire at age 84. His latest project is a series of public service announcements promoting the benefits of the new health care reforms to seniors.
Deputy Barney Fife is the sheriff's cousin, best friend, and co-worker. However, several quotes later in the series lead us to believe they are not closely related. There is some speculation the character may have been related to Andy's deceased wife. His awkward, over-the-top personality provided more pure comedy than any other TAGS character. Some of Fife's quotes became pop culture touchstones, such as the catchphrase "Nip it in the bud". In 1965, Barney left Mayberry to work as a detective in Raleigh, but he returned home occasionally during the last three seasons.
West Virginia native Don Knotts met Andy Griffith when they both acted in the Broadway play No Time for Sergeants. They were reunited in the movie version. When Griffith told Knotts about the development of TAGS, Knotts himself suggested the character who became Barney Fife. After leaving the show in 1965, Knotts starred in The Don Knotts Show in the 1970-71 season and had several successful movies, including The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and The Reluctant Astronaut. He teamed up with Tim Conway for several more film comedies. He played landlord Ralph Furley on the hit TV show Three's Company from 1979 to 1984. Knotts continued to act in TV and onstage until shortly before his death in 2006.
Opie Taylor grew up on TAGS with his widowed father Andy and never spoke of his deceased mother. He learned many life lessons from the mistakes he made with the help of Andy, Barney, and Aunt Bee. Opie made an appearance on Mayberry RFD in the episode where Andy and Helen got married, and returned for the reunion shows Return to Mayberry in 1986 and The Andy Griffith Show Reunion: Back to Mayberry in 2003.
Ron Howard was only five years old when he was recruited for the role of Opie, but he had some acting experience already, most notably in the films The Music Man and in The Courtship of Eddie's Father. By the time TAGS finished, he was just 14, but had more acting experience than many movie stars. He made the transition to adult actor as the star of American Graffiti in 1973, which led to his role as Richie Cunningham in the series Happy Days from 1974 to 1980. Howard began directing movies in 1977 at age 23. His many directorial credits include Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, and Dilemma, scheduled for release in 2011.
When TAGS premiered on 1960, the first episode centered around Andy's Aunt Bee, who moved in with Andy and Opie to replace their departing housekeeper. Aunt Bee is no stranger to Mayberry, however, as she had only been gone for five years at that point. In fact, she had supposedly raised Andy. Many of the show's episodes revolved around Aunt Bee and her friends and suitors. One of the most memorable shows involved Aunt Bee's horrible homemade pickles, which is available on YouTube. In the spinoff series Mayberry, RFD, Aunt Bee moved out of Andy's home when he married and she went to live with Sam Jones, another widower with a son and the main character of the spinoff series.
Francis Bavier, the actress who played Aunt Bee, was a successful stage actress in the early part of the 20th century, appearing in vaudeville productions and on Broadway beginning in 1925. Her first movie was The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951. A dozen or so movies (and a few TV roles) later, she was cast as Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show. Bavier was the only cast member to stay "in Mayberry" from the pilot episode all the way through Mayberry, RFD. She retired from acting in 1972 and moved to Siler City, NC. The New York native fell in love with the beauty of rural North Carolina, no doubt influenced by her stay in Mayberry. Bavier worked in her retirement to support the Christmas and Easter Seal Societies. She died of a heart attack in 1989 at age 86.
Gomer Pyle was the not-too-bright mechanic in Mayberry from 1961 to 1964, when he joined the Marines and became Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. In Mayberry, he was sometimes deputized temporarily to help Andy and Barney with their crime-fighting capers. Thanks to Gomer, we still sometimes hear someone utter "Shazam!" and "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" or even "Citizens arrest! Citizen's arrest!"
After Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., actor Jim Nabors hosted a variety show called The Jim Nabors Show for one season (1977-78) and appeared in several movies, but focused more on his singing. He released quite a few albums and traveled the world in musical productions. Nabors underwent a liver transplant in 1994 due to hepatitis, but returned to work as soon as he was able. Now 80 years old, Nabors continues to sing and make occasional appearances.
Goober Pyle was Gomer's cousin and took over his job at Wally's gas station in Mayberry when Gomer joined the Marines. Strangely, the two only appeared together in one episode. Goober was a more skilled mechanic than Gomer, but almost as goofy otherwise. Goober eventually bought the gas station when Wally retired. He remained in Mayberry during the RFD years, and then moved to the variety show Hee Haw.
George Lindsey graduated from the University of North Alabama in 1952 and then taught science at Hazel Green High School. After serving in the Air Force, Lindsey decided to try acting. Lindsey was Gene Roddenberry's first choice for Spock in the original Star Trek series, but turned the role down. He played the character of Goober continuously from 1964 to 1990 on three series. Lindsey continues to perform and lend his support to the Special Olympics and an annual film festival at the University of Alabama.
Helen Crump was introduced as Opie's teacher in the third season of TAGS. Opie didn't like his teacher, which led to a conflict between Andy and Helen, but they worked it out by the show's end. Helen then dated Andy through the rest of the series. The two married in the first episode of Mayberry, RFD and moved to Raleigh, but returned for a guest appearance later and for the reunion show Return to Mayberry in 1986.
Aneta Corsaut made her film debut in the Steve McQueen movie The Blob in 1958. She was supposed to be a one-time guest star on TAGS, but impressed the producers so much that she was written in as a regular character. After Mayberry, she had regular roles in the TV shows House Calls, Adam-12, and General Hospital, and recurring appearances in Matlock. Corsault died of cancer in 1995 at age 62.
Barney Fife's girlfriend Thelma Lou only appeared in 26 episodes of TAGS between 1961 and 1966. Even during her run, Barney occasionally saw other women, particularly Jaunita, who he talked to on the phone but was never seen. Thelma Lou eventually married someone else. In the 1986 TV movie Return to Mayberry, Barney and the divorced Thelma Lou reunite and marry at last.
After TAGS, actress Betty Lynn guest starred in many TV series, then moved in Mt. Airy, NC. to escape the crime of Los Angeles. Ironically, she was the victim of a robbery in her adopted town earlier this year. Betty Lynn participates in Mt. Airy's Mayberry Days every year, and will be signing autographs this Sunday from 2 to 4PM.
Other residents of Mayberry we knew and loved include town drunk Otis Campbell, Ernest T. Bass, the musical Darling Family, Howard Sprague, barber Floyd Lawson, and neighbor Clara Edwards, among others. Learn more about The Andy Griffith Show and its characters and the many 50th anniversary celebrations at The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club, A Mayberry State of Mind, and at TV Land.