Saturday, August 1, 2020

Whatever happened to Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou on 'The Andy Griffith Show')?


If you are a fan of The Andy Griffith Show, then you'll remember Betty Lynn.  Betty played Thelma Lou, the song-suffering girlfriend of Andy's bumbling sidekick, Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts).  Betty Lynn is one of the few surviving members of the show's cast.  At 93 years of age, she is still with us.   Although Betty is best known for her role as Thelma Lou, she has enjoyed a noteworthy career on stage and on screen.

Betty was born Elizabeth Ann Theresa Lynn on August 29, 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri.  She was an only child.  Her mother, also named Elizabeth Ann Lynn, was an accomplished singer, a mezzo-soprano.  She taught Betty how to sing and enrolled her in the Kansas City Conservatory of Music when she was five.years old.

Betty had little contact with her wayward father, whom she characterizes as a violent and abusive man.  In a 2016 interview with the Charlotte Observer, she stated that her mother "made a terrible mistake in marrying him." According to Betty, he threatened to shoot his wife, who was pregnant with her at the time, in the abdomen with a rifle.  Her mother also once locked herself and Betty in a closet to escape his bullying.  She left him when Betty was only ten months old.

When Betty was five, her parents' divorce was finalized.  For many years, she lived in fear that her father would harm her mother or herself. "I was scared,"she told the Observer,"that one day he's walk up to me on the street," despite the fact that she had no memory of him and did really know what he looked liked.  Fortunately, her fears never materialized and  Betty's  grandfather, George Andrew Lynn, a engineer on the Missouri Pacific Railroad, stepped up and became a father figure to her.

At the age of 17, Betty was singing at a Kansas City club called the Town Royal, when she noticed an ad calling for auditions for the United Services Overseas (USO).  She went for a tryout and was accepted.  After graduating from high school, she visited military bases all over the United States and entertained soldiers.  At the age of 18, Betty went overseas.  While World War II was raging, she was sent to Burma (now Myanmar), China and India, where she entertained burn victims and others with injuries and afflictions.  Near the end of the war, she was "the girl next door," who sang for the troops at USO tent shows.

After the war, Betty Lynn went on tour with a production of the musical Park Avenue.  It arrived on Broadway in 1946 and Betty was discovered by Twentieth Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck.  In 1947, Betty signed a seven-year contract with Fox.  She made her film debut in 1948's classic comedy, Sitting Pretty, starring Roobert Young, Maureen O'Hara and Clifton Webb.  For her performance in the film, Betty received a gold medal from Photoplay, one of the first American film magazines.


In  June Bride, another 1948 comedy, Betty played a jilted younger sister, opposite Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery.  June Bride is Betty''s favourite of all the movies she appeared in.  Her other film roles include Mother is a Freshman (1949), Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) and Payment on Demand (1951).

In 1950, Betty purchased a home in west Los Angeles.  The house was built in 1928 and Betty's mother and her grandparents moved in there with her.  For many years, she was a devoted caregiver to them and the household's primary breadwinner.

In 1952, Betty Lynn appeared in her first television acting performance in The Egg and I, a CBS comedy about newlyweds who decide to raise chickens on a farm.  She replaced Patricia Kirkland in the lead female role.  Throughout the 1950s, Betty appeared in anthology programs such as The Revlon Mirror Theatre, Schlitz Playhouse, Fireside Theatre and Matinee Theatre.

In the 1953-54 television season, Betty portrayed June Wallace, the sister-in-law of Ray Bolger's character on the sitcom Where's Raymond?.  She and her TV husband, Allyn Joslyn, left the show in its second season when it was renamed The Ray Bolger Show..  Betty also had guest spots on episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1955), M Squad (1958), Lawman (1958), Wagon Train (1958), Tales of Wells Fargo (1959) and Mike Hammer (1959)

From 1958 to 1962, Betty played Viola Slaughter/Howell on the TV Western Texas John Slaughter, a a segment on ABC's The Magical World of Disney.  While she was on hiatus from Texas John Slaughter, Betty successfully auditioned for the part of Barney Fife's girlfriend on The Andy Griffith Show.  She had only watched the show twice but thought it was hilarious.

Betty Lynn 1960 publicity photo

Betty portrayed Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show for five years, from 1961 to 1966.  She appeared in only 26 episodes, for which she earned $500 per episode.  She was never signed on to the show, in part because she was still under contract for Texas John Slaughter.

Betty's character was introduced during the first  season of the series in an episode entitled ""Cyrano Andy" (Season 1, Episode 22, Air Date: March 6, 1961).  It's interesting to note that Thelma Lou's last name was never revealed.  As for her occupation, she was some kind of office worker (In one episode, she mentions getting back to the office).

Thelma Lou was sweet-natured but somewhat naive. She apparently had no idea that boyfriend, Barney Fife, was carrying on with a diner waitress named Juanita, who was never seen on screen.  Barney and Thelma Lou certainly had their tiffs and their ups and downs, but Barney once told her  that she was "the only girl I ever gave a hoot for."

Below is a photo of Bettty and Don Knotts as Thelma Lou and Barney.


Don Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show in 1965, near the end of the series' fifth season, to pursue a full-time film career.  He was written out of the show when his character, Barney Fife, left Mayberry to join the  Raleigh police force.  Producers considered keeping Betty on the show; however, she did not think her role as Thelma Lou was worthwhile without a connection to Barney Fife.

In Betty Lynn's final episode on the series, entitled "The Return of Barney Fife" (Sea 6, Episode 17. Air Date: January 10, 1966), Barney comes back to Mayberry for a high school reunion.  He discovers that Thelma Lou has married Gerald Whitfield, a man she met in Florida, although Betty Lynn strenuously objected to her character being married to anyone but Barney.  In 2018,  she told writer Michael Eury that "I didn't want to leave Thelma Lou.  She was so sweet and kind, she was so fun to play, and I loved working with Don Knotts - he was so wonderful."

At the same time as Betty had her recurring role as Thelma Lou, she appeared in a 1963 episode of The Farmer's Daughter, starring Inger Stevens and William Windom.  She played Slyvia in an episode of the series entitled The Speechmaker: Part 2 (Season 1, Episode 2, Air Date: September 27, 1963).

After her stint on The Andy Griffith Show, Betty had difficulty finding major work.  Despite her previous film and television roles, she became typecast.   In her interview with the Charlotte Observer, Betty claimed that "All I got was calls for backwoods women."

From 1966 to 1968, Betty portrayed Miss Lee, Uncle Bill's (Brian Keith) secretary, in four episodes of the popular sitcom Family Affair.  From 1967 until 1971, Betty appeared in seven episodes of My Three Sons.  She played Lois Bradley in a 1967 episode of the show and then from 1968 until 1971, she had a recurring role as Janet Dawson.

In 1969 and 1972,  Betty guest-starred in episodes of Mod Squad.  During the 1970s, she made appearances in episodes of The Smith Family (1971), Little House on the Prairie (1974), Police Story (1975) and Barnaby Jones (1978).  During her appearance on The Smith Family, Betty worked with her Andy Griffith Show castmate Ron Howard.  Ron was a regular on The Smith Family, which starred Henry Fonda as a police detective named Chad Smith.  The show focused on Chad's family and Ron played Bob Smith, one of his three children.

During the 1980s, Betty again worked with her old friend Ron Howard, when she reprised her Thelma Lou role in an Andy Griffith Show reunion special called Return to Mayberrry.  The special, which premiered on NBC on April 13, 1986 and was the highest-rated television movie of that year.

In Return to Mayberry, Thelma Lou has divorced and is living in town with her sister.  She and Barney Fife get together again and they wed at the conclusion of the movie.  The whole town of Mayberry celebrates with them when they finally tied the knot.

In 1986, Betty reunited with Andy Griffith a second time when she appeared as Sarah, a secretary, in four episodes of his legal series, Matlock.  Unfortunately, Betty's stint on Matlock created a rift between her and Andy.  Betty was not satisfied with the size of her role and requested more lines when she was shown the script.  She complained to Andy, but he refused to change the script for her.  Betty stated that she was "upset with him because he wouldn't listen."  Their falling our lasted until Andy phoned her in 2006, asking for advice about whether he should accept a role in Play the Game, which turned out to be his last film.  The two reconciled and remained friends until Andy's death in 2012.

Betty Lynn on Matlock

In 1990, Betty portrayed Sister Clara in an episode of Shades of L.A, her last television acting role.  In 1991, she appeared as herself and Thelma Lou in a "Mayberry Reunion" episode of the music/talk show TV series Nashville Now.  In 2002, she made a stage appearance in Love Letters, with Howard Morris, who played Earnest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show.  Ernest T. was a rowdy mountain man who occasionally appeared in town to upset the peaceful citizens of Mayberry.  Morris died on May 21, 2005 of congestive heart failure.  He was 85.


After her mother's death in 1984, Betty continued living in her Los Angeles home.  She found that unscrupulous repairmen and others took advantage of her good nature.  Her home had been  burglarized twice and she was afraid to live there.

In 2006, Betty Lynn was invited, as usual, to the annual "Mayberry Days" in Andy Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina,, which is widely believed the model for the fictional town of Mayberry on Andy's show.  By that time, Betty was living in an L.A. hotel.  However, after the festival, she was invited her to spend some time in a Mount Airy retirement home.

Betty discovered that she enjoyed living in Mount Airy and decided to move there permanently.
 "I'm so welcomed here," she said in a recent interview with AmoMama.  "People of all ages hug me.  I think God put me here somehow.  I really do."  In her earlier interview with Michael Eury, she stated, "The longer I live here, the more I see things (Andy Griffith) took from his hometown."

Betty in Mount Airy in 2011 with fan Chris Martin

Betty Lynn has never been married although she was engaged three times to the same man.  He was a widower, an attorney who had a casual interest in fine art.  It seems he was also indecisive about matters of the heart and couldn't make up his mind between Betty and another woman named Marilyn.  Just four days before the  wedding, he showed up at Betty's house and informed her and her mother that he still had a "deep affection" for Marilyn.

Betty, a devout Catholic, immediately phoned the bishop and cancelled the wedding.  "I'm sorry," she told him.  "I'm not," he responded.  When Betty informed her fianc√© that the wedding was off, he slammed the door hard and walked out.  During their previous breakups, she had returned a gold chain he had given her.  This time, she kept it.

Since July of 2019, Betty has resided in an assisted-living facility in Mount Airy.  She makes appearances at the Andy Griffith Museum and signs autographs for fans. She has had two mini-strokes and suffers from diabetes.  She also has mobility problems.

Betty Lynn never became a major TV star, but she had a role in one of the most popular television shows of the 1960s.  She made her mark and she is well-respected.

END NOTES

* Betty originally billed herself as "Betty Ann Lynn" before dropping her middle name from her credits.

* Other than Betty Lynn, the only memorable survivors from The Andy Griffith show are Ron Howard (born March 1, 1954), who portrayed Andy's son, Opie Taylor, Richard Keith (now known as Keith Thibodeaux), and Elinor Donahue,  Keith, now 69 years old, played Opie's best friend, Johnny Paul Jason.  However, he is more well known for his portrayal of "Little Ricky" on I Love Lucy.  Elinor Donahue (born April 19, 1937), is best known for her role as Betty Anderson, the eldest child on Fathers Knows Best.  She played pharmacist Ellie Walker in 12 episodes of the first season of The Andy Griffith Show.  Her character was intended to be a love interest for Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), but she requested a release from her 3-year contract after one season (1960-1961).

George Lindsey, who played gas station operator Goober Pyle died of heart failure on May 6, 2012.  Singer Jim Nabors, who played Goobers's cousin, Gomer Pyle, died at his Hawaii home on November 30, 2017, aged 87.

Aneta Corset, who played school teacher, Helen Crump, Andy's girlfriend and eventual wife, died of cancer on November 6, 1995, just days after her 62nd birthday.  Jack Dobson, who portrayed county clerk Howard Sprague, died of heart heart failure on September 16, 1994 at the age of 63.

Frances Bavier, Andy's beloved Aunt Bee, died in Silver City, North Carolina on December 6, 1989, eight days before her 87th birthday.  Although a native New Yorker, Francs moved to North Carolina when she retired, just like Betty Lynn.  Hope Summers, who played Bee's best friend, Clara Edwards, died on June 22, 1979, of congestive heart failure, at the age of 83.

Hal Smith, who played Otis Campbell, the town drunk, from 1960 to 1967.died on January 28, 1994 of an apparent heart attack at the age of 77.  Howard McNear played Floyd Lawson, the chatty town barber.  McNear suffered a debilitating stroke during the run of the series.  He returned to his role for a time, but left the show in 1967 due to ill health.  He passed away on January 3, 1969 at the age of 63.

Ken Berry, known for his role in F-Troop, played Sam Jones, a widowed farmer, in the last few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  Ken went on to star in the Griffith show's sequel, Mayberry, R.F.D., from 1968 to 1971.  Mayberry R.F.D. was both a spin-off and a continuation of The Andy Griffith Show and featured many of the familiar Mayberry characters.

* Bette Davis, with whom Betty appeared in June Bride and Payment on Demand, nicknamed her "Boo."  Betty Lynn and the two-time Oscar winner became friends and Davis told her that she was too unselfish to be a big star.  That didn't seem to faze her. 


SOURCES: The Charlotte Observer, "The Secret Life of Mayberry's Thelma Lou," by Mark Washburn, August 26, 2016; MeTV. com, 5 things you never knew about Betty Lynn of The Andy Griffith Show: From her teenage war service to retirement in the real Mayberry," by MeTV Staff, August 21, 2019; AmoMama, "Betty Lynn of "Andy Griffith Show' Fame Has Never Been Married but Was  Engaged Three Times," by Aby Rivas, April 17, 2020;   Wikipedia, Internet Movie Database (IMDb)


- Joanne

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