But I Digress… Siler City’s Improbable Tie to Hollywood

Siler City today, from the same vantage point as the mural in the opening image.

Siler City, North Carolina.

In recent posts about a couple of small towns in North Carolina, we discover that the town of Siler City became the retirement home of Frances Bavier, the character actor who played Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith Show from 1960 to 1968. As we learned in Josh Steiner’s guest post (here) for this week’s Travel Tuesday, Siler City no longer feels “like fictional Mayberry, but more like suburban anywhere, USA.”

Upon her retirement, however, Siler City seemed to be much like the Mayberry that Frances Bavier imagined. At least so it seemed as she chose to purchase a larger home in the town to live out her retirement years. First appearing on Broadway in 1925, Miss Bavier was a successful Broadway actress. But Hollywood and the siren call of the movies called her west where in 1951, she appeared in her first motion picture, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Prior to her role in The Andy Griffith Show, she appeared in many television series episodes in the 1950s. Her tenure on The Andy Griffith Show, however, is what she is best remembered for, and no doubt a source of frustration in her career. After Andy Griffith called it quits for the popular TV show, CBS brought in Ken Berry, who along with George Lindsey and Frances Bavier soldiered on in Mayberry R.F.D.  Suffering from that dreaded malady that befalls many television actors… Miss Bavier became type-cast. Abruptly, at age 70, she called it quits and left Hollywood for the small town goodness she apparently came to believe she would find in Siler City, the real-life analog for the “Mayberry”  that she appeared to come to despise.

Her celebrity followed her there. She could be found driving the city streets in her beloved 1966 Studebaker Daytona, the same green two-door sedan she drove on Mayberry R.F.D. She was Grand Marshall in parades and pretty much had all the “celebrity” she could stand. Interaction with the town folk and tourists who would drive by became less than neighborly. The often-mentioned pickles and well-meaning references to other specific episodes, eventually drove her to reclusiveness. She became the celebrity cat lady of Siler City. To this day, visitors leave a jar of pickles at her headstone in the city’s cemetery.

"The Pickle Story" from a 1961 episode of The Andy Griffith Show followed Aunt Bee to her grave.

“The Pickle Story” from a 1961 episode of The Andy Griffith Show followed Aunt Bee to her grave.

Having grown up on a steady diet of 1960s sitcoms, with The Andy Griffith Show being one of my favorites, I am surprised I don’t personally remember “The Pickle Story” episode from the original run, or even from the many years of syndication that I watched. Coincidently, for the 2015 holiday season, CBS featured a one-hour holiday presentation of The Andy Griffith Show on December 25. Since the original show was only 30 minutes, the one-hour block was composed of two episodes, a holiday-themed episode followed by “The Pickle Story” where Aunt Bee’s less-than-perfect pickles were substituted with store-bought pickles by Barney and Andy. Of course, as they say in Hollywood, the scheme backfires and hilarity ensues.

Miss Bavier and Mr. Griffith had a well-known reputation for not getting along on set. A visit to Siler City by Mr. Griffith and Ron Howard famously ended abruptly when she refused to open the door when they came to call, speaking to them only for a few minutes before she sent them packing. So much for her appearance on an Andy Griffith Reunion Show.

Another Andy Griffith Show regular, Betty Lynn found her way to Mount Airy, North Carolina. She moved there in 2007 and at age 88 was still signing autographs every third Friday of the month at the Andy Griffith Museum. For those who don’t remember, Betty Lynn played Barney’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou.

In one of the episodes, Aunt Bee said to Emma, “We can’t hold a candle to some of the stories that’ve come out of Floyd’s Barber Shop!” I beg to differ. Aunt Bee’s retirement in Siler City certainly qualifies as candle-worthy.

Background for this article came from:

http://imdb.com

http://wikipedia.com

http://www.fayobserver.com/living/with-a-heart-as-big-as-aunt-bee-s-frances/article_398c01f5-38e6-5a72-9b89-bddb0bfad29c.html

http://articles.latimes.com/1990-01-17/entertainment/ca-368_1_aunt-bee

http://greatentertainersarchives.blogspot.com/2012/08/what-character-frances-bavier.html

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/dbc98546768c417ebf2ba9bde422f996/thelma-lou-transforms-mayberry-local-legend

John Steiner

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2 thoughts on “But I Digress… Siler City’s Improbable Tie to Hollywood

  1. Great post! Lots o’ details I was unaware of, thanks for the info. They still air the Andy Griffith show out here, like clockwork every Sunday. You know the old saying; Good fences make good neighbors? Mrs. B sounds like she could’ve used a good fence, and possibly a posse. LOL, or maybe should’ve moved just about anywhere else as the shows locale made her more famous in NC than just about anywhere else…

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