|FADE IN: Guitar music and whistling the tune "Eleanor."
Being a member of both the National Lum and Abner
Society and the Andy Griffith Show Appreciation Society,
and a devotee of both, I have always felt that there was a
strong tie or link between them. Listeners who were
entertained by L&A right up to their last show must have
been pleased only six short years later to find (although on
television) another small country town with characters
equally as lovable as those in Pine Ridge. Mayberry, North
Carolina... a fictional town, as was Pine Ridge, Arkansas, in
the beginning... was the setting for the same stuff that made
Lum and Abner great. Richard Kelly, in his book The Andy
Griffith Show, sets out to give an informative account of how
the Griffith show was produced and developed, and how it
grew to be a national and international success. Kelly tells
how a fictitious group of characters can "arrest and delight"
the imagination. Radio always did this better than television.
Andy Griffith fans, numbered by the millions, need to be
reminded that in the beginning there was Lum and Abner.
When familiar with The Andy Griffith Show, one suspects
that the writers, Harvey Bullock and Everett Greenbaum,
may have been drawing from their memories of radio, and
Lum and Abner in particular. Both writers had backgrounds
working in radio; Greenbaum admits having been greatly
influenced by Vic and Sade (the spawning ground for
Clarence Hartzell's Uncle Fletcher/Ben Withers), while
Bullock once wrote for television's Charley Weaver Show,
starring L&A's onetime regular Cliff Arquette ("of Mt. Idy"). It
is quite evident that certain similarities of characters and
plots would surface. (And let us not forget that it was Griffith
himself, recalling the character of Opie Cates from the L&A
series, insisted on his TV son being named "Opie.")
One does wonder how well Lum and Abner might have
prospered on television during the run of the Andy Griffith
program (1960-1968). Griffith was written with a distinct
1930s flavor more similar to L&A, and quite unlike the
turmoil and unrest in America and the world during the
1960's. Had Danny Thomas been arrested in Pine Ridge
instead of Mayberry, how much more America today might
be endeared to Lum and Abner! But instead, we were
introduced to the rather similar duo of Andy Taylor and
Andy Taylor (Griffith of course) was originally a man of many
hats. He was the sheriff, the town's newspaper editor, and
originally to be featured more in his role officiating as justice
of the peace. Those who are familiar with Lum and Abner's
history know that Lum Edwards was once the town's
newspaper editor (1936), and as the justice of the peace
shared an office with town constable Abner Peabody.
Abner, the "great detektive and human bloodhound," as
Goff described him in 1932, was extended through the
equally small, feisty, and scrappy deputy Barney Fife, ably
portrayed by Don Knotts.
Andy Taylor, as Lum Edwards before him, had numerous
romances. For Andy, there was Ellie Walker, Peggy
McMillan (descendant of the MacMillan Boys and Mother?),
Mary Simpson (kin of Sister Simpson?), and Helen Crump
the schoolteacher. Lum's list includes Evalena Schultz,
Emaline Platt, Miss Fredericks (all schoolteachers), among
Another female character in Mayberry was one Clara
Edwards, and in one of the earliest episodes, Andy himself
pronounced her surname "Eddards"! (Memories of radio
days must have been fresh on someone's mind!) Names
mentioned in passing were "Chester," who quits the
Mayberry band, and "Norris," who runs the gas station for
Both L&A and Andy & Barney would, on occasion, pass the
time at their work by duet singing. Roots ran deep in
religion as well, Griffith having studied for the ministry and
Lauck being a former Sunday School teacher in Mena.
Rural music was enjoyed in Pine Ridge through the talented
MacMillan Boys and Mother, while Mayberry had, coming
down from the hills, Briscoe Darling and his boys. Fishing
was the favorite pastime, and both towns had legendary fish
that folk had tried to catch for years. "Old Sam" was in
Tucker's Lake near Mayberry, and in the Ouachita River at
Pine Ridge, L&A tried to catch old "Moby Dick" in 1954.
Another similarity in character is that of Cedric Weehunt and
Gomer Pyle, both kind and gentle men with simple minds;
both very childlike and good-natured. Had television invited
us to visit Pine Ridge instead of Mayberry, one of the
popular shows of the mid-to-late 1960s might have been
Cedric Weehunt, USMC! As it was, Gomer Pyle, USMC was a
top-rated show itself, and gave Jack Benny a terrible time in
the ratings for that time slot.
Frances Bavier's Aunt Bee on the Griffith show was
broadened much more than that of L&A's Aunt Charity
Spears, but both were kind, benevolent souls. Had there
been a reason to expand the character of Aunt Charity, she
could have been Aunt Bee. And just as the party line phone
system was a central feature of Lum and Abner, Griffith used
it equally as well. Mayberry's "Sarah" was Pine Ridge's
Naturally, any small town could expect to have a barbershop
for the hub of male activity (loafing). Pine Ridge had Mose
Moots, while Mayberry had Floyd Lawson... played by
Howard McNear, remembered from his L&A appearances as
Mr. Tolbert the store robber, Dr. Roller the Pest Controller,
Detective Wilson, and other characterizations. Both shows
brought us into the barbershops more often for comedy
than for a shave and a haircut. Another crossover cast
member (after a fashion) was Dick Elliott, Mayor Pike in the
early Andy Griffith episodes. Nearly twenty years earlier,
Elliott had been assigned the role of Squire Skimp in several
of the RKO Lum and Abner movies! (And the story goes on
... in 1940, Elliott had played Squire's comic-strip clone,
Marryin' Sam, in a film version of Al Capp's Li'l Abner... but
that's another article.)
Besides similar characters, a few of the episodes carried
similar plotlines, but rarely the same "payoff." An example
would be the December 12,1960 "Ellie For Council," in
which Ellie Walker runs for office in Mayberry, creating a
feud between the women and their husbands. There were at
least two occasions in Pine Ridge when the men and
women were divided politically (1940 and 1946).
Another similar episode is "Mayberry Goes Hollywood,"
January 2, 1961, in which a film producer comes to town to
film a motion picture based on the quiet, simple town and its
inhabitants. But the townsfolk change that image to fit the
silver screen and become exactly what the producer didn't
want! Let us remember that L&A made the same mistake in
the Jot 'Em Down Store in 1940, during the advance
publicity for their first film, Dreaming Out Loud.
On January 22, 1962, a lovely young lady (Barbara Eden)
gets a job in the barbershop; the women of Mayberry
disapprove and convince their husbands to stay away from
that business establishment. In Pine Ridge, 1946, a Miss
Kitty (Kitty O'Neil, the "Laughing Lady" of the Al Pearce
show) became the new town barber and received the same
response from the womenfolk.
April 23, 1962, brought us "Andy On Trial," when Sheriff
Taylor is tried for alleged wrongdoing. Lum was arrested
and tried for that sort of thing with alarming frequency. Also,
both shows had "Cave Rescue" programs and concerned
themselves with "Abandoned Babies." When Aunt Bee
innocently fronted for counterfeiters by selling greeting
cards, we were instantly reminded that L&A once
unwittingly fronted for counterfeiter Diogenes Smith, and
later used his printing press to print greeting cards!
In the January 2, 1967, "Don't Miss A Good Bet," a con artist
"takes" some Mayberry folk in a get-rich-quick scheme to
uncover oil or minerals from a tract of land. Thirty years
before, Squire Skimp was already at it, and this same
situation formed the basis for the entire plot of one L&A
movie, Goin' To Town (1944). Both programs explored the
problems with chain letters. And this gets deep: Mayberry
had a town drunk named Otis Campbell. At the funeral of
Cling Wilhite, the real-life Pine Ridge's model for
Grandpappy Spears, one of the pallbearers was named...
Both Mayberry and Pine Ridge had nearby cities that were
referred to and visited (Mt. Pilot/Mena). And let's not ignore
the fact that, after the Griffith show had become Mayberry
RFD in the late 1960's, none other than L&A's longtime
writer Roz Rogers provided some of the scripts! The whole
business was capped off on September 13, 1965, when
Tuffy Goff himself appeared in Mayberry, in the guise of Mr.
Doakes, the kindly old grocery store owner!
Certainly no one here is yelling "plagiarism." But it does
make Lum and Abner fans realize that L&A could have made
a very successful transition from radio to television.. . if not
in the early years of the medium, at least by 1960. And
should the millions of Andy Griffith Show fans ever discover
Lum and Abner in the family tree, I believe they'll exclaim
with Gomer: "Gaw-aw-lee! SurPRISE, surPRISE!", while Lum
and Abner followers simply say, "Wonderful World!!"
- Kurt Jensen
(The photographs that accompany this article were very
generously loaned to us by Jim Clark, "Presiding Goober"
of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers' Club. For more
information on this fine organization, write to them at 27
Music Square East, Suite 146, Nashville, TN 37203.
2011 UPDATE: CLICK HERE for the Andy
Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club today!
|PHOTOS AND CAPTIONS:
"Old Sam" is caught! "Wonderful World!"
Howard "Floyd / Talbert / Dr. Roller /
Detective Wilson" McNear
"OPIE LOVES HELEN" (or Evalena, or Miss
Fredericks, or Miss Emaline...)
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