NASHVILLE SKYLINE: RIP Goober: Goodbye to All That

Except for Syndication Forever

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

So how soon till a country singer records a song titled “Goober”?

Country music has its pantheon of icons — which today range from Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline to Jimmie Rodgers and also includes such institutions as the Ryman Auditorium, Mother Maybelle Carter‘s guitar, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the Grand Ole Opry and the The Andy Griffith Show. Country music still has great respect for its holy people and sacred places and talismans.

I was talking with a friend the other day about the legacy of George Lindsey (who died May 6), better known as Goober Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and Hee Haw. We had both run into George over the years all over Nashville, where he was generally friendly, if occasionally a bit prickly.

He was the first celebrity I spied on my first visit to Nashville many, many years ago. I was staying at the downtown Ramada Inn (long since demolished) and ventured into the bar early one afternoon just to see if anything was going on. Loretta Lynn‘s husband was sitting with some friends at the bar. In came George Lindsey. He asked the bartender, rather regally, “Any of my gang been in?” No, said the bartender. That was that.

After I was formally introduced to Lindsey at some function or other, I would say hello in public. Not “Hey, Goob.” Just, “Hello, George.” And he was always very civil. But he knew just how incredibly famous he was.

As my friend said, Goober was the one and only famous person that his young children were delighted to see in person in Nashville when they might see him at the Harris-Teeter grocery store or Bruegger’s Bagels. So, I asked, did they watch The Andy Griffith Show? He said it was the only TV show he can totally and comfortably share with his children. It means that much to both those generations. Goober and that show andHee Haw, as my friend pointed out, have been in syndication for going on 50 years and will be around and will be watched in one format or another for at least another 50 years — and probably much longer than that.

Why?

It’s not difficult to figure out. The Andy Griffith Show was one of the best-written programs ever on TV. The characters were carefully drawn and fleshed out and consistent. And very real. The story lines were totally credible. And very entertaining. The laughs were never forced but came naturally. And, along the way, little drops of wisdom made their way into the viewer’s head. The show, in a word, was gentle.

The Andy Griffith Show, which ran on CBS from 1960 to 1968 with General Foods as the only sponsor, featured a skilled ensemble cast unlike any other in television before or since. Every principal actor had considerable stage or movie experience and most had appeared on Broadway. The show came about as a sort of spinoff of The Danny Thomas Show. Griffith was seeking a comedic TV role, and Thomas hired a comedy writer to create a pilot TV episode for him. It featured Griffith as rural sheriff, Andy, featured first on Thomas’ show. It was soon green-lighted as a stand-alone show.

Griffith had been a comedy star in the 1950s with such recorded and performed routines as “What It Was, Was Football.” He starred in a one-hour television version of No Time for Sergeants and reprised that role when the show opened on Broadway. Griffith made his movie debut in 1957 in A Face in the Crowd in the role of the mesmerizing Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, now considered a movie classic.

Don Knotts was already an accomplished actor when he joined his friend Andy Griffith on the new show. He had proved his comedic mettle as a member of the repertory company on Steve Allen’s variety show and further displayed his acting abilities in appearing with Griffith in the movie version of No Time for Sergeants. On The Andy Griffith Show, the initial vision was to have Sheriff Andy Taylor as the lead funny man, with Deputy Barney Fife as the straight man. After only two shows, Griffith realized the roles should be reversed. And it became a perfect pairing. Knotts won an Emmy Award in each of the five seasons that he portrayed Barney Fife. Interestingly, Andy Griffith himself was never nominated for an Emmy for his role on the show.

Everybody’s favorite aunt, Aunt Bee, was portrayed by the accomplished actress Frances Bavier, a native of New York City and a Broadway and Hollywood veteran.

The celebrity child actor Ron Howard was cast as Sheriff Andy’s son Opie.

Further fleshing out Mayberry were such characters as the town drunk, Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), and the town barber, Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear).

And then there were the two auto mechanics and gasoline station attendants, Goober Beasley (George Lindsey) and Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors). Goober Beasley was later renamed Goober Pyle as Gomer’s cousin. He and Gomer appeared together on only one episode, I believe, before Nabors left for the show Gomer Pyle USMC.

There was no irony in Mayberry, N.C. Life there was completely literal and laid out before you, complete with little moral exercises.

And the shows usually had a moral. Without being preachy, Andy and friends taught one of life’s little lessons every week, with simple directness. The titles of some of the episodes underscore the show’s deceptive simplicity: “Opie’s Drug Store Job,” “Goober the Executive,” “Howard’s New Life,” “Goober Goes to an Auto Show” and “Aunt Bee’s Cousin.”

Goober himself, although depicted on the show as a little slow, was truly a man for his times and for all times — a sort of uncomplicated, good-hearted, straight-talking everyman. The ideal good ol’ boy.

After his Goober roles in The Andy Griffith Show and Hee Haw ended, Lindsey embarked on a number of ventures. He lent his voice to an assortment of animated Disney characters in movies including The Aristocats, The Rescuers and Robin Hood. He recorded a comedy album in 1971 called Goober Sings!. Lindsey also established scholarships at the University of North Alabama. He also raised considerable amounts of money for the Alabama Special Olympics.

He also did stand-up comedy, and his act included such jokes as this: “A football coach, holding a football, asks his quarterback, ‘Son, can you pass this?’ The player says, ‘Coach, I don’t even think I can swallow it.’”

Corny? Yes? Funny? You bet.

The Andy Griffith Show will be on TV long after Jersey Shore and American IdoI and all the other disposable reality and talent shows are reduced to so much cyber dust.

And Goober was an indispensable part of Mayberry, forever a valued part of our popular culture. He and Andy and Aunt Bee and Opie and Barney and all of Mayberry will always be a treasured American institution.