Three Stooges specialist Scott Reboul brazenly mailed Andy Griffith Show cast member Frances Bavier a 1988 wedding invitation. Believe it or not, the notoriously prickly and reclusive actress, who pocketed an Emmy for her heartwarming decade-long portrayal of housekeeper Aunt Bee Taylor on TAGS and its popular spin-off Mayberry R.F.D., personally replied to the former Savannah River Site radiochemist. Reboul fills in the blanks starting now.
The Scott Reboul Interview
How in the world did you know Frances Bavier?
To be honest, I really didn’t know her. At the time I was attending graduate school at Clemson University. My future wife Debbi and I would frequently visit Charlotte. When I came upon Bavier’s street address in Siler City, North Carolina, and realized the house was only about an additional 100 miles from Charlotte, I sent her a note in the hopes that she would write back [serendipitously, Bavier settled only 93 miles east of the real Mt. Airy where Griffith based much of his namesake series upon].
Debbi and I learned that she had become a recluse and was no longer responding to outsiders nor receiving visitors. In fact, she only left her house twice in her last few years, and that was when she was transported to the hospital in need of medical care.
Not surprisingly, she didn’t respond to my note. Debbi and I figured it would be fun to see her house, so we drove to Siler City and took a gander at it. The neighbors told us that she didn’t leave her house anymore and wouldn’t answer the door unless she was expecting a delivery from her hired help. Although her house was sizable, she apparently spent 99% of her time in the bedroom in the company of her numerous cats.
Debbi and I visited the local florist and then left her a bouquet on her front porch. There’s a high chance that the bouquet stayed on the porch unseen for an extended period, maybe until the contents of her house were cleared out following her death in December 1989. Apparently, her belongings were auctioned off with the proceeds contributed to PBS.
Anyway, in April 1988 Debbi and I were preparing for our wedding on May 7 by sending out early RSVP’s so we could figure out who was the best caterer for our number of guests. I figured this was my last chance to get a potential response from Bavier, so I sent her an invitation. Everything I had heard about her was that she was a very formal person, so maybe she’d feel a desire to send back the wedding invitation card.
And apparently that’s what she did. It is signed in the third person objective format and reads, “Miss Bavier regrets she will be unable to attend but wishes you and yours happiness in your coming years” — a nice sentiment that I’ve reused from time to time. From what I can tell, Bavier wrote the note herself about a year and a half before her death at age 86, as the handwriting appears the same as that found on her checks and letters.
What a priceless memento. Was declining health the sole reason why Bavier did not participate in the 1986 NBC ratings juggernaut Return to Mayberry? And did her former Griffith costars attempt to see her?
I tend to believe, although it isn’t typically quoted in mainstream articles, that Bavier was scheduled to provide a voice-over for the TV reunion movie — the narration runs while an image of Aunt Bee’s gravestone appears at the beginning of the film — but chose not to after learning that her lines included the word “underwear.” Bavier thought it was offensive to use that word, so opted out of the production [Janet “Judy Jetson” Waldo replaced her].
Most of the newspaper articles attribute Bavier’s absence from the reunion as being due to her poor health, but the plan was to record the voice-over at her home, negating the need for travel which would put a strain on her health. That’s a detail that would be worthwhile to nail down.
Various sources over the years have reported that Andy Griffith and Ron Howard made a trip together to visit Bavier at her Siler City home [some sources identify 1972 as the year while others insist 1986 or omit the date entirely] and were refused entry into her home by Bavier herself [Author’s Note: In 1996, a year after Matlock ended its nine-season run, Griffith sat down for two hours on country deejay Ralph Emery’s Nashville Network series On the Record and was prompted about his final recollection of Bavier. “I went to see her one time in Siler City, and she flew all over me because I had come unannounced,” conceded Griffith].
Another tabloid article indicates that Howard visited Bavier in North Carolina near the end of her life when she was being treated at the local hospital. However, at least one interview with Howard suggests that he never attempted to see Bavier in the Tar Heel State, which makes me feel that interviewing Howard — i.e. did he ever visit Bavier in North Carolina, and if so, what were the circumstances — would be key to resolving this issue that has been reported so many different ways over the years. Howard’s reply would provide the greatest perspective of Bavier’s personality.
[Author’s Note: George Lindsey’s 1995 memoir, Goober in a Nutshell, finds the Alabama funnyman admitting that he never saw Bavier again after she completed her final Mayberry R.F.D. episode in 1970. It’s not surprising when you learn that while shooting “The Race Horse,” the third episode of R.F.D.’s debut 1968 season, Bavier grew agitated at Lindsey’s swearing between takes and clobbered him twice on the head with her umbrella. Daniel de Visé discloses in his 2015 tome Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show that Howard “had once gone so far as to leave a note on the door of Bavier’s Siler City home, never hearing a reply”].
[Bavier did draw a cease fire with Griffith shortly before her death. She asked their mutual friend Lee Greenway, TAGS’s longtime make-up man, to engineer a telephone chat. During Griffith’s aforementioned summit with Emery, he divulged, “Lee was able to get Frances on the stage to shoot the Griffith Show because she wasn’t always in real great shape — emotionally. I called her up and said, ‘Hi Frances.’ ‘Oh Andy, I must be made of cast iron. I’ve had a heart attack. Now I have cancer. I’m only now just startin’ to die.’ I said, ‘Well Frances…’ She said, ‘No, you can’t do anything for me. I’m sorry we didn’t get along better. It was my fault. I wish we had. You ran the show, and you made the show a success. I’m sorry we didn’t get along better.’ We got along fine, but she didn’t feel like it a lot of times. She wanted to talk to me to say goodbye. That’s some experience”].
“Return to Mayberry” via the Internet Archive [tap to watch the entire 1986 NBC movie of the week reuniting Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Jim Nabors, George Lindsey, Aneta Corsaut, Betty Lynn, Howard Morris, Hal Smith, Jack Dodson, Denver Pyle, the Dillards, and Maggie Peterson Mancuso]
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