Starting in 1960, veteran actor Frances Bavier spent eight years in the role of kindly homemaker Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show.
Once the beloved series ended, the spin-off Mayberry R.F.D. was created, allowing Bavier to remain part of the show about the sleepy town for another three years.
Mayberry isn’t Mayberry without Aunt Bee and yet when the Griffith Show cast gathered for a reunion in the mid-1980s, Bavier was a no-show. Illness was offered as an excuse but reportedly the actor wouldn’t come for a specific reason.
Here’s what’s known.
Frances Bavier had a reputation on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ set
In the book titled The Andy Griffith Show, author Richard Kelly revealed that of all of the show’s cast members, “Aunt Bee” actor Frances Bavier was the most difficult actor for her fellow actors to deal with.
The show’s creator and executive producer Sheldon Leonard described the Emmy-Award winning Bavier as “a rather remote lady. Highly professional and a fine comedienne, fine actress with very individual character. She was rather self-contained and was not part of the general hijinks that centered upon Andy on the set.”
Pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, author of The Lucy Book, told Closer Weekly, “I can only repeat what I was told, but on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard Morris, who played Ernest T. Bass on the show and directed episodes of it, said that directing Frances was like stepping on a landmine. If you would ask her to move three inches to the right to get in the proper frame, she’d blow a fuse and refuse.”
1 of the few ‘Andy Griffith Show’ cast members Bavier got along with
Although Bavier made it clear she wasn’t showing up to the set to make friends, she did form a genuine camaraderie with Gomer Pyle actor Jim Nabors.
The actor helped Nabors with his line delivery as he had never acted before. They got along so well they started visiting antique stores together on the weekends, according to Andy and Don author Daniel de Visé.
As she watched Nabors rehearse his lines for his first episode, Bavier asked him, “Is this really your first time?” and offered feedback right away.
“Darling,” de Visé quoted Bavier as saying, “the camera never misses anything. It never misses a wink or a blink or a smile. I know you’re from nightclubs. You don’t have to do any of that expository, expressive acting. Just settle down and be yourself.”
She refused to attend the ‘Return to Mayberry’ reunion
In 1986, Griffith began work on a reunion television movie for the Griffith Show called Return to Mayberry. He was able to get the entire cast to agree to appear on the one-time special program – except for Bavier.
As de Visé noted, “In February 1986, the Griffith principals traveled to Southern California wine country to begin shooting Return to Mayberry.
“The exception was Frances Bavier, Aunt Bee. The official explanation was illness, but Frances simply wasn’t interested in returning to Mayberry. She refused to record even a few lines to be played, like a voice-over from beyond, in a scene that had Andy visit her grave,” he continued.
The author claimed that Bavier took particular offense with one line in the script: “She particularly disliked a line that instructed Andy to ‘always wear clean underwear.’ She said, ‘I will not say underwear. I have never said underwear, and I will not say underwear now.”
An executive producer of the reunion show, Dean Hargrove, was quoted as saying that the actors and crew “weren’t all that unhappy that she declined.”
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