A Chat with Mayberry’s Goober Pyle
by Michael Buffalo Smith
There’s no doubt about it. George Lindsey will always been remembered first and foremost as the loveable goof known as Goober Pyle, whom he made famous on The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry RFD and later reprised on Hee Haw. As a member of the cast on what is ultimately America’s all time favorite TV show, Lindsey created a character that will live on long after the actor himself shuffles off of this mortal coil.
Still, there is a lot more to Lindsey than meets the eye, from his hundreds of television and film roles, to his work on Broadway, to his spearheading of The George Lindsey Film and Television Festival. The event is held each spring on the beautiful campus of The University of North Alabama, and offers young film makers an opportunity to show their best work, as well as learn insider information from speakers like actor Ernest Borgnine, singer/songwriter/comedian Ray Stevens, and this year’s speaker, Mike Curb, of Curb Records fame.
All of this, combined with a vast amount of charitable work with organizations such as The Special Olympics, help to paint a picture of a man who, while well loved for his Mayberry antics, goes a lot deeper than just that role. A man who is doing a lot of good in the world in which we live, and helping others along the way. We spoke with Dr. Lindsey by phone from his Tennessee home...
Do you have any idea how many episodes you did of the Andy Griffith Show?
I think I did 101 of the original Griffith show and I believe 60 of Mayberry RFD. There was 249 original Griffith shows.
Why do you feel the show has endured the years so well? I find that there are a lot of life lessons to be found in the show.
The bottom line was that it was funny and it made you laugh. I worked in Vermont this year and it’s just as popular in Vermont as in Tennessee. I watched one last night when Ernest T. was going into the army and I just fell out laughing.
How did you end up getting the role of Goober, on The Griffth Show?
I had done lots of TV and Broadway. But I auditioned for the part on the Griffith show.
Is it true that you originally wanted to be Gomer?
No, it is not that I originally wanted to be Gomer, but originally they had cast me as Gomer. That’s not how it works, whatever you want doesn’t make any difference.
(Laughs) They give you what they want you to have.
I was looking for a one role episode job. I had turned down the role of Charlene’s husband, and an actor named Hoke Howell had played that. I can’t remember what the character’s name was. Charlene in that episode was going to be married. But for some reason or another the universe told me not to take that role- and I needed the money- but that somehow or another I was going to be on that show. So, Jim got the part and when they spun him off (Gomer Pyle USMC) they brought me on. All of the roles were auditioned for, you know.
When they originally cast you as Goober was it going to be a continued role?
I think there was a try out. I think the first one, and it was called “The Fun Girls” was a try out to see if that character worked.
Well, it certainly did.
It did, but it took awhile, because I think that the first year I was just impersonating Nabors. You do not find your footing in a show until about one year.
What would you say was one of your favorite episodes?
I do have a favorite episode and it was called “Man’s Best Friend,” or “Goober and the Talking Dog.” It really shows you how cruel children can be to adults. My second favorite role is “Goober Grows a Beard.” Actually, the title of the show is “Goober, The Intellect.” I grew a beard and thought that that made me smart. I was boring everyone in town with everything. I picked an orange up in front of the store and I said, “You used to be a seed.” (Laughs) It was always a joy to go to work. You couldn’t wait, and you almost hated it when you had been written out of an episode.
Can you tell us about some of your co-stars from the show?
There’s very little I can tell you because I don’t know anything about their personal lives. You were working with one of the best casts in show business. Don won five Emmys and Frances won one. Howard McNeer is one of the greatest comedians that ever was. Andy without question is a legendary actor. To be thrown into that group and hold your own is the ambrosia of acting.
What would you say if someone asked you to describe the character of Goober? How would you describe him?
I asked Andy about that one time and he said, Goober is the type of guy that would go into a restaurant and say, “Hey, this is great salt!”
(laughs) That is funny. I wanted to ask you, we were talking a moment ago about how everyone in the cast had careers prior to that show, can you tell us some of the TV and movie type things that you had done prior to that?
I had appeared on Broadway in a comedy lead in a show called All American with Ray Bolger directed by Joshua Logan. I had done Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock, The Rifleman, M*A*S*H, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. On your computer there is a filmography that lists everything. There is one on there that lists Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and that is not me that is my son and he is a Jr.
So your son is following in your footsteps?
Yeah. I also had a long career on the Hee Haw Show after the Griffith Show.
My family never missed the Hee Haw show.
That may be coming back as a retrospective.
You have done some animated features too, right?
I did The Aristocats, Robin hood at Disney, and The Rescuers. I did three over there. I am getting an award next week -myself and Dean Jones. Dean and I did a picture together called Snowball Express, another Disney picture. He and I are being inducted into the Alabama Screen and Theatre Hall of Fame.
Bill Jarnigan at University of North Alabama had told me about that, and we are coming to your Film and TV Workshop.
I am very excited about that as well. This will be five years. Did he tell you about the scripts archives? We are trying to build the largest script archive library in the country.
Yeah, he told me that Ernest Borgnine donated all of his.
So did George Lindsey.
That is amazing.
They have every script that I have ever done that I could get a hold of. I think we have about 900 scripts to date. Anyway, once we all did Griffith, it sort of obliterated everything else we had all done because the show was number one and it was so good! Without question, we had the best acting ensemble, I believe, and I have read that we were the first ensemble television show and the first show to have a spin off. Andy Griffith was spun off The Danny Thomas Show. When Danny came through town and Andy arrested him. That was the pilot really. This was also the first television show that allowed the supporting cast to have story lines.
Wow, it was a ground breaker for a lot of things.
It was the first one that had done that. It was always Lucy and Desi you know, the two supporters didn’t get story lines. We had Goober shows, Aunt Bea shows, Barney shows, Floyd shows, etc.
That’s another thing that made it so good.
Well, Andy was the best script constructionist that has ever been. He knew what was right and what was wrong and we worked very, very hard.
Are there any plans for another reunion show?
Not a reunion show, but a retrospective show I think. That’s what I have read in the paper. Did you see The Carol Burnette Reunion ?
Well, it would be like that. Well, a lot of people had died. But amazingly enough, most of the main cast of the Griffith Show are still l alive, except for Frances, and Howard.
Well, moving over to the Hee Haw end, like I said we watched that every weekend and I wondered how you were cast into that show?
I just stopped by the producer’s office to say hello to Roy Clark and he asked me if I would do a couple of takes. Then I stayed, I think 18-19 years. I was perfect for that show anyway.
Did you make lots of friends on that show?
Grandpa Jones. I got to do his eulogy. You do those shows and then you never see these people again. I haven’t seen lots of them since the show. You make acquaintances. Minnie Pearl and I worked a lot together on the road. The thing about it is everyone you work with is so talented and you feel like that you have to do the best you can to be equal to them. I have not seen Buck and them since it was over. That was 100 years ago. A lot of them have passed away.
The casual viewers probably just feel like the Hee Haw gang just call each other up on the phone.
People in television work all day together and they don’t run together at night. They all have families, so then you go to your real life family from your television family.
This magazine does a lot of music and what is some of your favorite music?
One of my favorite songs is my Ferlin Huskey, “My Cup Runneth Over.” I loved Charlie Rich, and I work with, on the road, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Roy Clark and Mel Tillis. I love B.J. Thomas. I had two albums on Capital. As a matter of fact, I still have those albums, here at the house.
Were they character albums?
No, they were singing albums. One was called Goober Sings and the other is called 96 Miles to Bakersfield. Talking about music did they tell you that Mike Curb is going to be speaking at my festival?
Yeah, I think that is a great thing.
Well, I was a Broadway jazz buff before I ever went to New York. When I was in New York studying I would go to the club and listen to jazz. In All American we had some songs that were great. Ray Bolger sang a song that Lorrie Morgan later had a cover on.
So you got to work with Ray Bolger, the scarecrow?
Yeah, he was such a wonderful actor and dancer and that is all he is remembered for. I think that is how this Goober thing has happened to me.
Yeah, but what a mark to leave in your career? The best TV show ever.
Yeah, but as an actor you like to grow and do other things. I have a Hitchcock that won an Emmy that I was so proud of called “The Jar.” I did a M*A*S*H that was terrific called Roy Dupre and the 803. Do you know who Tom Cherones is? He was the guy that produced Seinfeld. He was my first speaker at the film festival and he is doing a project at the University of Alabama and he called and said he had just seen me on Gunsmoke and told me it was so much fun to see me as a bad guy.
Right. Yeah, even when in the late 60’s and early 70’s I’d flip over and see you on there and think wow, Goober can’t be mean. But it is the same as Deforest Kelly who played McCoy, the doctor on Star Trek and then you flip over and see him on Bonanza playing a black hat bad guy.
Some people don’t realize that you had a life before you got into this part. It tickles me to see Howard McNeer play a heavy, you know Floyd the barber, and I just fall down to see him be serious.
Yeah, he was great and very funny.
He was the funniest actor we had.
Let’s talk about this festival. The George Lindsey Film and TV Festival, how did it get started?
A lady named Bobbie Hurt and another lady named Lisa Darnell. We sort of came up with it. Bobbie was in the Communications Department. We just started talking about it, and went to see the legislature department and I volunteered to get speakers and have something that will be for the kids in North Alabama where they can learn more about acting, casting, production, script writing, marketing and all of the stuff that you are not actually privy to. This is a nonprofit, educational endeavor is what it is. We have had some success. I think that three films have been bought by cable because of the festival and shown commercially, which is great. If we had had something like this in Jaspur, Alabama I would not have had to go to New York.
It’s great to give back like that.
It’s not really giving back as much as it is something that I can make happen.
There was lot of great stuff at this year’s festival for aspirants of the industry.
To do this you have to go where it is done. They do not do it in a lot of places down there. We have gotten people that do it and try to share that information. The reason that I went to New York was so I could go to acting school. There were not any here that I knew of.
I understand you are also in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. For what sport?
I played football at UNA. But what it is really for is I have done lots for the Special Olympics in the State of Alabama through the celebrity golf tournament for 17 years. I brought 50 stars into Montgomery. Every year, people would come in and give their time for free. I had all kinds of stars, Ernie Borgnine, Andy Griffith, The Judds, Fred McMurray, Roy Clark. When I left we had 26,000 special Olympians involved.
That’s a wonderful thing. Being in the Sports Hall of Fame and The Film Hall of Fame, we need to get you into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame with those albums! Let me write to Marcia Weems and get you nominated.
Well, you better hear the albums first. “I Ain’t Good looking But I am Mighty Sweet,” or “I Like Ugly Girls,” you have never heard of such a mish mash. Then I have one called Goober, Live in Vegas.
Do you have any message for your fans? What would you tell them?
I would say that I really appreciate you watching the show and believe me if you ever get a show I’ll watch you!
Everyone thinks of you as funny, but it was said that on the Andy set that you were one of the most serious actors about their work on the show.
Well, you have to be 100% at 5 a.m. and if you are doing scenes with those kinds of actors, you better bring all your guns.
And have more than one bullet...
Acting with Don Knotts was such a pleasure, and I don’t even know him really.
We get so enthralled with the show we feel like you all were good friends.
Yeah. Did you know that The Darlings can actually talk? But on the show they didn’t speak and so everybody thought they could not talk.
Yeah, well that’s a good job of acting. I imagine everywhere you go everyone is going to call you Goober.
Think about Boris Karloff and he had to wear those things in his neck. Can’t you imagine that his wife would say ‘Boris put those things in your neck and we will go to the store.’ I do still work and I am working in a place in Arkansas a week from Saturday. I work in the Goober suit doing a stand up routine. Someone said that the three most famous hats in television were Goober’s, Argon’s in F-Troop, and Bob Denver’s in Gilligan.
Yeah, I guess all three of those should be in the Smithsonian.
Well, I’ll tell you about the Smithsonian. They will take them but not tell you where they will put them, like maybe next to a Nazi helmet or something.
Any advice for aspiring actors?
What I would say to a young actor is, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. I came back after the first year of doing the Griffith show and the big thing was to get a barbershop shave. You know, this was the big deal. I went into the barbershop and got in the chair and he asked me what I was up to, and I told him that I was on a show called the Andy Griffith Show and he said, “No, I know that, but what kind of work do you do?”
(laughs) Oh, if they only knew how much work was involved.
Not only that but crying, terror, and everything you know. Every time you get a job you are out of work. My son is trying and he was on America’s Most Wanted on Saturday night and he was so proud of that. He got the job over 200 people.
What was his role?
They simulate people that are arrested and they did the story of that little girl in San Diego. They had the real guy and the actor playing the guy, that was my son. (In funny voice) He got him an actor’s job. There were 200 people in San Diego auditioning and then it went to two and he got it and they filmed it the next day.
You just have to be ready to jump when the time is right.
I think the hardest thing about him being successful is having me as his dad. My kids would not tell anyone who their dad was because their daddy played kind of a moronic, dumb guy. They had to either fight or they were made fun of.
Have you done any more stage work?
I went out for six months with Roy Clark and did Paint Your Wagon, a few years ago. We played the Houston Opera and Seattle for about 6 months.
What about TV?
I am in a show called TV Town and I took a film crew to Mt. Airie and it is a two hour special on the Travel Channel. They showed the Bat Cave, and Dallas, and went to Virginia for the Walton’s and John Ritter is the host.
I appreciate your time and everything that you have done for the industry and also for the people in the Special Olympics and all the goodwill that you do. I feel like that is a wonderful thing and you will certainly be remembered for all of that as much as for the character Goober.
What a nice thing to say. Thank you, Michael.
Special thanks to Bill Jarnigan at The University of North Alabama, and to Jim Clark. Visit www.mayberry.com