The Andy Griffith Show may have been about its titular star, but once it hit the airwaves, it made stars out of several cast members. From child-actor-turned-director Ron Howard to Don Knotts, many people’s legacies were forever changed by the show. Frances Bavier was one of the breakout stars. As Aunt Bee, Bavier filled the void left by the dearly departed mother. However, to join the sequel series, she needed some flattery to come back.
Who is Frances Bavier?
Bavier was born in New York City in 1902. Coming up as an actress during the same time that the medium was moving from the stage and onto screens, she spent most of her young career acting on stage in productions of works like Native Son; the Richard Wright novel adapted to the stage by a young Orson Welles.
While Bavier made a brief uncredited cameo in Girls About Town and followed that up with an equally minuscule role in O, My Darling Clementine 12 years later, it wasn’t until the fifties that her on-screen work took off. Starting with the hit film The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951, Bavier became a staple of film and television.
Bavier was a hard-working actress on countless television shows with a knack for playing matriarchal roles like aunts and mothers. Her big break finally came in 1960, when she was cast as Aunt Bee in Andy Griffith.
For eight years, she served as the housekeeper for Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son Opie. However, when Griffith left the show and creators wanted to keep the Mayberry story going, it took a little bit of flattery to get Bavier to commit.
Flattery will get you somewhere
Bavier was reportedly cold on the set of The Andy Griffith Show. It got so bad that the show’s namesake often had to be talked down from unleashing his fury at her. However, Aunt Bee was a beloved character in the annals of television history. With Griffith leaving Mayberry, keeping her around gave some sense of continuity to Mayberry RFD.
However, Bavier initially wanted to move on from the role when offered it. She spoke about it, revealing what made her change her mind.
“Bob Ross, the producer, said to me, ‘You’re the backbone of the show.’ It was flattery that convinced me to continue. I get more money, too, but the flattering did it. And I wouldn’t have to touch wardrobe; it would all be picked for me. Then Ken Berry himself came to me and said, ‘Oh, please stay.’ I’ve been acting 45 years and it’s a hard habit to break,” the actress said, reports Closer Weekly.
She did. Mayberry RFD remained on the air for three years. While it was not the same success as the series that spawned it, it allowed the cast of characters beyond Andy and Opie to shine.
Ron Howard weighs in on Aunt Bee
Howard looks back fondly at Bavier and claims that stories of her curmudgeonly behavior did not paint the whole picture. According to him, she was a hard worker who did not have time for male-oriented nonsense.
“She kept to herself,” Howard said in a 2006 interview with Archive of American Television. “Frances very much kept to herself. She was a New York stage actress, and I think she always loved the job and appreciated it was a big success, and was extremely professional. But I don’t think she ever felt a part of what these boys were up to and their shenanigans.”
It was one of her final roles. Save for a part in Benji, Bavier never worked on screen again. She passed away at the age of 86 in 1989, but more than thirty years after her death, Aunt Bee remains in the cultural lexicon. Mayberry RFD may be a small part of this, but it helps show that there was more to Bavier than Aunt Bee, and despite a dotted reputation, she was a human deep down inside, too.