An Ohio resident’s “bucket list” became a little bit shorter last week, thanks to a visit with one local Andy Griffith Show star.
On Friday, Todd Beckett entered the busy Andy Griffith Museum. Other tourists watched excitedly as he made his way through the crowd. Their enthusiasm was understandable. Sporting a familiar uniform, Beckett bore more than a passing resemblance to a certain famous deputy.
“Everybody at home calls me ‘Barney,’” said Beckett.
By “home,” he was referring to Massillon, Ohio — 365 miles, or six hours, away from Mount Airy.
This was no ordinary vacation, however. Beckett ventured from Ohio to Mayberry to fulfill an item on his “bucket list,” a list of actions he wants to accomplish before he “kicks the bucket.” As a lifelong fan of The Andy Griffith Show, he desired to meet retired actress Betty Lynn, best known for her role as Barney Fife’s girlfriend Thelma Lou.
Hurriedly, Beckett entered an office to see Lynn, as she prepared to sign autographs from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. With a calm demeanor, he pulled up a seat beside her.
Indeed, the sight almost looked like a reunion of Lou with her love Fife, post-Return to Mayberry.
Asked what he loved most about Lynn, Beckett joked, “Well, Barney has gotta love Thelma Lou.”
“I would be really upset if he didn’t love me!” said Lynn.
“But seriously, it’s her friendly, outgoing spirit,” he added. “She’ll do anything for a fan” — including spending a day with one.
Last Monday marked Beckett’s 52nd birthday. As he pointed this out, Lynn began sweetly singing “Happy Birthday” to him.
“I’m 52. But I’m a mechanic, so that’s 85 in mechanic years,” he said. “I know I look 85.”
“No, you don’t!” said Lynn, bursting into laughter.
“He’s trying to get close to my age, you see,” she continued. “He knows my age.”
Beckett said he had spoken with other people in the museum who shared his birth date.
“You know, I don’t meet many people who were born on my birthday,” said Lynn. “I’ve met a few, but not many.”
When asked her birth date, Lynn started to respond.
“August 29,” answered Beckett, beating her to the punch. Clearly, he knew his idol well.
As a child, Beckett enjoyed watching The Andy Griffith Show with his family. But his die-hard passion for the series sparked in adulthood, when he found an abandoned blue 1963 Ford Galaxie parked at the end of his street.
“Ohio uses a lot of salt,” said Beckett. “So most cars that are 40 or 50 years old have rusted away. But this one wasn’t.” Fortunately, the vehicle’s former owner had sprayed its underside with oil.
Beckett’s family and friends saw only one downside to the Galaxie: it was a four-door vehicle. “All my friends said, ‘If you had a two-door Galaxie, you would have something,’” he recalled.
Looking out his shop window, Beckett stared at the vehicle. Suddenly, he realized it had a striking similarity to the mode of transportation for America’s favorite deputy.
Hence, he converted the Galaxie into a replica of Fife’s four-door squad car.
“When I drove it through town, somebody hollered, ‘He even looks like Barney!’” said Beckett. “The first two or three people, you ignore. But after a while, it’s like, ‘Maybe I should go check. I think I might actually look like Barney.’”
“Well, he was built like you,” said Lynn. “Very thin. Small face.”
Beckett even tailored his driver’s license to look like one Fife might have owned. For its photo, he donned a deputy uniform. As for the height and weight, Beckett rounded his measurements close to those of Fife’s actor, Don Knotts: 5’8” and 132 pounds. He showed the license to Lynn.
“Oh my gosh!” said Lynn, laughing at resemblance. “Now that is funny.”
“My family and friends are this close to having me committed,” joked Beckett.
“You tell them you are perfectly sane,” said Lynn, “at least as far as I can see.”
One of those family members, said Beckett, is none other than his wife. Asked if he was married, Beckett wryly replied, “Yes. To Thelma Lou. It was in all the papers.”
“He has his own ‘Thelma Lou’ up in Ohio,” joked Lynn.
Beckett actually owed a great deal of thanks to his wife, Cathy, for the Mayberry visit. Due to her car rusting, the couple discovered a replacement vehicle — a Pontiac — located father south. Beckett agreed to retrieve the replacement, with one small quid pro quo.
“I told her I would be back sooner or later, but first I’m going to stop in Mayberry and hang out for a while,” said Beckett.
Of course, it was not his first trip to Mayberry. Beckett has been a regular at the town’s Mayberry Days festival each September. Due to the large amount of attendees, however, he had not been able to meet Lynn.
“At Mayberry Days, I can hardly talk with anybody,” said Lynn, “because we’re so busy.”
“Yeah, I figured this probably isn’t a real busy time of the year for tourists,” responded Beckett.
“I don’t know about that,” said Lynn, looking at the increasing line of tourists backed out the door of the museum.
Meanwhile, Beckett already was looking ahead to other items on his bucket list. They included visiting the Mayberry Day Festival in Graysville, Ala., and Mayberry Days in Westminster, S.C.
“My bucket list has pretty much anything to do with Mayberry Days,” he said.
But there was one item on the list he expressed doubt about completing: imitating Fife as well as professional impressionist David Browning.
“I want to be half as good as David Browning,” he said. “But that is a tall order to shoot for.”
“I’d say you’re doing pretty well,” said Lynn.
Beckett smiled. Appreciative of the compliment, he was glad to finally share the personal time with one of his favorite actors.
“I’m about to go do some autographing,” said Lynn. “He’s going to stay with me. He can follow me around, if he wants. He can come and sit with me while I do that.”
“I think I’m just going to sit in the background and be happy,” said Beckett, “because this is great.”
Reach Josh Armstrong at 719-1921 or email@example.com.