Who would have ever believed a character named “Goober” could be so well-loved by generations of TV fans over a nearly 50-year period?
Maybe it has something to do with the actor who played him in “The Andy Griffith Show,” George Lindsey — the subject of a special tribute Saturday at the Earle Theatre in downtown Mount Airy.
The tribute was scheduled during this weekend’s Mayberry Days in remembrance of the actor who died on May 6 at age 83.
It was led by professor and author Neal Brower and featured George Lindsey Jr., who fielded questions from Brower about his dad’s career before a special screening of “A Man’s Best Friend.” The audience packing the local movie house for Saturday’s tribute was told that this was the elder Lindsey’s favorite episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
A color segment first broadcast in November 1965 during Season 6 of the series, some critics might argue that it amply showcased what Lindsey brought to the role of Goober — a bumbling but lovable character. The plot concerns Goober being tricked into believing that his new dog can talk, which was due to one of Opie’s friends planting a walkie-talkie in the animal’s collar.
Goober is hurt at first and reacts in typically comic fashion, but with Andy’s help, later turns the tables with a practical joke of their own. In the end, he makes it clear there is no hard feelings and everyone comes away with a smile.
That included Saturday’s audience, which applauded as the end credits rolled.
Life Imitates Art
Lindsey’s real-life behavior tended to mirror that on the TV series, his son said during the tribute.
“I grew up in a very funny household,” Lindsey Jr. recalled. At the dinner table, he added, “if you could make someone laugh so hard that milk came out of their nose, you scored big points.”
Yet the senior Lindsey, a native of Jasper, Ala., managed to be a normal family man even though others have found it hard to separate the man from his character. While he could be “a goofy guy,” his son said, “he kind of left Goober on the set when he came home.”
“I just had a normal life — I just figured everybody else’s dad was on TV, too,” he added of the Lindseys’ existence in Tarzana, Calif. “When he came home…my dad was always wearing makeup.”
Andy Griffith and his wife would come to visit, and the younger Lindsey, who was born in 1962, also remembered that frequent guests were Jack Dodson (Howard Sprague on the show), along with his wife and daughter.
In between takes during filming, George Lindsey spent much time talking to Howard McNear (Floyd the barber), with whom he had a close relationship along with Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea). However, Bavier always took a professional approach to acting, and frowned on the antics sometimes perpetrated by Lindsey.
“I think she hit him in the head with an umbrella one time,” his son said Saturday.
Lindsey also had his troubles with the shaggy dog that appeared in the half-hour episode screened at the Earle, it was mentioned during the tribute. While the two seemed to get along well on film, this was not the case off-screen, with the canine biting the actor on the face at one point.
The showing of that episode produced some laughs, not only with its plot, but from actions of Lindsey Jr., who watched from a chair onstage along with Brower. This included using a hand to poke the giant image on the screen of the kid who played the trick on Goober.
“George, how does it make you feel to see your father up there like that?” Lindsey Jr. was asked later by Brower, a scholar of the TV series who authored a book called “Mayberry 101” and has lectured on the subject over the years.
“Proud,” the son replied. “It’s cool…it’s just cool.”
In response to an audience member during a subsequent question-and-answer session, Lindsey Jr. said his father accepted the fact he would be forever typecast as Goober. That’s despite having roles that allowed him to display other dimensions of acting, including appearing as “heavies” on such TV shows as “Gunsmoke,” his son added.
When later working on “Hee Haw,” a comedy-variety show with a rural theme, Lindsey tried to distance himself from his most-famous role. “He liked to be called George,” Lindsey Jr. said. “He didn’t like to be called Goober.”
However, in his twilight years, with “The Andy Griffith Show” achieving unprecedented popularity, Lindsey embraced the typecasting, which included attending Mayberry Days in 1999 and spending much of his time in character as Goober.
“That was OK with him after a while,” his son said. “If you’re really, really good at your role, that’s what people see you as.”
At the end of the day, Lindsey Jr. summed-up, “a paycheck is a paycheck.”
He also used Saturday’s occasion to express gratitude for the outpouring of fan appreciation exhibited toward his father during Mayberry Days.
“It’s extremely touching.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.