An Online Newsletter of
“The Andy Griffith Show” Rerun Watchers Club (TAGSRWC)
Welcome to our second issue in this 60th anniversary year for TAGS!
The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has made recent weeks–and likely upcoming weeks and perhaps months–confusing, trying and at times even scary. There will continued to be tremendous upheaval in the daily rhythms of all our lives. Following the lead of Ernest T. Bass, our mantra has become “Hermitize and Sanitize.”
All the concern and disruption has included the postponement and cancellation of most upcoming Mayberry-related events. See the Event Calendar immediately below for the latest updates as of the time we published this edition. And we’ll also continually update the freestanding version of the Event Calendar at www.tagsrwc.com.
With folks staying at home more than usual, an interesting trend has emerged around the country: TAGS is reportedly seeing one of the largest upticks in attention on video streaming services. More people are discovering (or rediscovering) the joys of Mayberry.
As it was during the turbulent times of the 1960s when TAGS first aired, viewers are turning to the comforts of Mayberry to escape, at least for 24 to 26 minutes at at time, some of the worries of the current day. And latter-day watchers are finding what longtime Mayberry fans have always known–that TAGS is more than just an escape. It’s compelling, uplifting storytelling. It’s good for the soul. To all of the new TAGS rerun watchers, we say, “Welcome to the club!”
Even with all the preoccupation with the difficulties and unknowns of the pandemic, there is a lot of Mayberry news to report this month. What better time to grab a cup of Mayberry’s Finest coffee or other favorite beverage and just sit back and catch up on all the recent and upcoming happenings.
We’ll begin with the Event Calendar.
The Andy Griffith Museum, features the late Emmett Forrest’s outstanding collection of Andy Griffith artifacts. The museum is temporarily closed for protection against the coronavirus outbreak. We’ll place a notice here when the museum reopens. For info (and any updates about revised hours during the coronavirus measures), visit their website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
The following happenings have been posted on Floyd’s bulletin board. Keep an eye on the online version for any updates as coronavirus policies continue to shift plans for various events.
Mar. 20: Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. For more info (or to order autographed photos from Betty to be sent to you by mail), visit www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
Mar. 20: RESCHEDULED for Apr. 17: Karen Knotts brings her Tied Up in Knotts stage show to the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, Calif. (See details in the new listing below.)
* Mar. 27 (currently planned as a live streaming broadcast of a closed show, if not canceled): Roland White and his band perform at 9 p.m. at the Station Inn in Nashville, Tenn. Check www.stationinn.com for updates on evolving plans for the venue’s shows.
Mar. 28: RESCHEDULED DATE TBA: LeRoy “Mack” McNees and Roland White will be on hand for a star-studded Induction Celebration at the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro, Ky., to toast them (as members of The Kentucky Colonels) and their fellow honorees who last September were inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. For more info, visit www.bluegrasshall.org.
Apr. 17: Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. She will have 8 x 10 photos available for autographing ($10). For info, visit the website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* POSTPONED…AGAIN; NEW DATE TBA:
Apr. 17: Karen Knotts brings her Tied Up in Knotts stage show to the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, Calif. (This is a show that was postponed from Mar. 20 because of the coronavirus.) The new showtime is 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $21.99 (including all fees). For more info, visit Brown Paper Tickets.
Apr. 18: RESCHEDULED for June 13: Rodney Dillard and Keith Thibodeaux are special guests for the grand opening of the Mayberry-“I Love Lucy” Museum in historic Granville, Tenn. See new listing below.
Apr. 23-25: Maggie Peterson Mancuso (Charlene Darling) and newlywed Margaret Kerry (Bess Muggins and Helen Scobey) are among the guest stars for the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Mo. Dreama Denver (wife of the late Bob “Dud Wash #2” Denver) is also a scheduled guest this year. For info, visit www.missouricherryblossomfest.com/WordPress.
May 2: 33rd Annual Uncle Jesse’s Big Bass Classic in Paris, Tex. This annual fishing tournament benefits Denver Pyle‘s Children Charities.
May 2: Memories of Mayberry Festival in Valley Head, Ala., featuring Allan “Floyd” Newsome and other Mayberry tribute artists, along with lots of music, food vendors, assorted contests, a cruise-in, and more. From 9.am. till mid-afternoon.
* May 9: Roland White and his band perform at 9 p.m. at the Station Inn in Nashville, Tenn. Cover charge of $15.
* May 15: Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. She will have 8 x 10 photos available for autographing ($10). For info, visit the website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
May 15-17: Seventh Annual Mayberry in the Midwest festival in Danville, Ind. Special guests confirmed so far include Maggie Peterson Mancuso (Charlene Darling), Ronnie Schell (two TAGS roles and Duke Slater on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”) “LeRoy Mack” McNees (one of the Country Boys in two TAGS episodes), Dixie Griffith (daughter of Andy), and George Lindsey Jr. A full slate of Mayberry tribute artists (at least a dozen) will also be on hand.
Other highlights include the Meet & Greet Dinner (Friday), a parade (Saturday), and the Mayberry Squad Car Nationals at the Robert Shelby Memorial Obstacle Course. Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, the reigning IBMA Entertainers of the Year, will perform a free concert on Sat. night.
And there’s always plenty of musical entertainment, assorted contests, and great eats, including at the landmark Mayberry Cafe. For more info, visit www.mayberryinthemidwest.com.
* May 27-30: Rodney Dillard and the Dillard Band perform at the 10th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival in Bean Blossom, Ind. The schedule is TBA. For info, visit www.hartfordfest.com.
* June 5 and 6: Dixie Griffith (Andy’s daughter) and a large contingent of Mayberry tribute artists (as well as tributeers for Doc and Festus of “Gunsmoke”) are among the attractions for the Annual Mule Day and Chickenfest in Gordo, Ala.
Also performing will be bluegrass-comedy favorites the VW Boys and raucous country band Confederate Railroad, whose hits include 1994’s “Elvis and Andy,” (which was also the basis for a hugely popular music video featuring David “Mayberry Deputy” Browning). The festival also includes three parades (antique tractors, classic cars, and wagons & mules), arts and crafts, and lots of food vendors. For more info, visit www.gordoareachamber.com.
* June 13: Rodney Dillard and Keith Thibodeaux are special guests for the grand opening of the Mayberry-“I Love Lucy” Museum in historic Granville, Tenn. (This event was rescheduled from its original date of Apr. 18.)
In presentations throughout the day, Rodney and Keith will separately share stories, greet fans, and perform music. Festivities begin at 9:00 a.m. and include a ribbon-cutting at 9:30 a.m., guided tours of historic Sutton Home, a genealogy festival, cornbread & moonshine festival, vintage car cruise-in, tribute artists, Pioneer Village with “craftsmen of yesteryear,” Mayberry-style music (in addition to featured star performances by Rodney Dillard at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. and by Keith Thibodeaux at Noon and 2 p.m.), and assorted down-home eating options, including the Sutton Ole Time Music Hour, which includes two options for a dinner seating (5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.) and a show (the Rodney and Beverly Dillard concert at 6:00 p.m. or a bluegrass band TBA at 7:00.) Call 1-931-653-4151 for dinner/show reservations.
Check the Historic Granville website at www.granvilletn.com for additional info and updates.
* June 19: Roland White and his band perform at 9 p.m. at the Station Inn in Nashville, Tenn. Cover charge of $15.
* June 19: Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. She will have 8 x 10 photos available for autographing ($10). For info, visit the website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* June 19: Roland White and his band perform at 9 p.m. at the Station Inn in Nashville, Tenn. Cover charge of $15.
* June 20: Karen Knotts brings her “Tied Up in Knotts” stage show to the Blue Gate Music Hall in Shipshewana, Ind., at 8 p.m. Tickets are $37.95 for dinner and show and $19.95 for show only. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., dinner service is at 7:00 p.m., and the show is at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and info, visit www.thebluegate.com.
* July 11 and 12: Rodney Dillard and the Dillard Band headline the the IBMA -award-winning Frankfort Bluegrass Festival in Frankfort, Ill. The official schedule for the weekend is TBA. For info, visit www.frankfortbluegrassfest.com.
* July 17: Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. She will have 8 x 10 photos available for autographing ($10). For info, visit the website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* July 17-19: 8th Annual Mayberry Meet-Up in Mount Airy, N.C. This gathering is a great chance to visit with fellow Mayberry fans and enjoy Mount Airy during a less hectic time than September’s Mayberry Days® festival. You’ll have plenty of time to tour the Andy Griffith Museum at your leisure, have a shorter wait in line at the Snappy Lunch, and browse the shops on Main Street without the big crowds.
The event is timed to coincide with Betty Lynn’s July meet-and-greet at the Andy Griffith Museum on Friday and Neal Brower’s lecture at the museum on Saturday. As always, the grounds at Mayberry Motor Inn serve as the gathering place in the evening, but folks are encouraged to tour the town on their own during the day.
There’s an online registration form, which helps organizers plan for how many folks to expect, but registered or not, everyone is welcome, even to drop by just on a whim. Y’all come!
* July 18: Mayberry 101 author Neal Brower presents the first of two summertime Professor Brower’s Lectures about “The Andy Griffith Show” with a discussion of the “Hot Rod Otis” episode, starting at 2 p.m., in the Andy Griffith Museum Theatre in Mount Airy, N.C. Admission is included with Andy Griffith Museum admission ($8 for adults, $6 for ages 12 and under). Visit www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* Aug. 15: Mayberry 101 author Neal Brower presents this summer’s final Professor Brower’s Lecture about “The Andy Griffith Show” with a discussion of the “The Bookie Barber” episode, starting at 2 p.m., in the Andy Griffith Museum Theatre in Mount Airy, N.C. Admission is included with Andy Griffith Museum admission ($8 for adults, $6 for ages 12 and under). Visit www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* Aug. 21: Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. She will have 8 x 10 photos available for autographing ($10). For info, visit the website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* Sept. 18: Beat the Mayberry Days® rush and see Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) as she greets fans at the Andy Griffith Museum 1:00-3:00 p.m. She will have 8 x 10 photos available for autographing ($10). For info, visit the website at www.andygriffithmuseum.org or call (336) 786-1604.
* Sept. 21-27: 31st Annual Mayberry Days® in Mount Airy, N.C. Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Special guests already confirmed include Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou), Darling boy Rodney Dillard & the Dillard Band, Ronnie Schell (two Mayberry roles and Duke Slater on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”), and Karen Knotts (daughter of Don Knotts).
There’s also the Mayberry Days Golf Tournament (aka The Emmett), the popular Professor Brower’s Lecture (and TAGSRWC Annual Meeting), Michael Hoover’s “Memories of Elvis” and performances by T. Graham Brown, Collin Raye, James Gregory (“the funniest man in America”), The Embers, Motown Revue, Band of Oz, and John Floyd (“the Mouth of Mayberry.”) More stars and concerts and presentations TBA. Get your tickets early for the best seats to what promises to be a banner year for Mayberry Days! (And much of the festival is free and doesn’t require a ticket.)
Also, don’t delay in reserving your hotel rooms either. Most area hotels are now taking reservations for Mayberry Days®.
Tickets for Mayberry Days® for several of the festival’s events are available online at www.mayberrydays.org. More than ever, this is one Mayberry celebration no Mayberry fan wants to miss!
* Oct. 3: 60th Anniversary of the airing of the first episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
* Nov. 1-7: Clint Howard is the Special Guest for Cruise to Mayberry 15 to the Eastern Caribbean aboard Carnival’s Breeze. Also including a boatload of popular Mayberry tribute artists and even an Elvis.
The cruise departs from of Ft. Lauderdale and makes stops in Nassau, Amber Cove, and Grand Turk and has two fun days at sea. For info, contact Sharon Euliss of All About Cruises at PWESJE@aol.com or call her at (336) 538-4926.
**** News of Cast & Crew ****
By now, most of our readers likely have read on our Facebook page or elsewhere that Maggie Peterson Mancuso (Mayberry’s beloved Charlene Darling) has had a really tough past year or so with medical issues–from shoulder surgeries to several falls and most recently a broken ankle. She was in a physical rehab facility for most of December and all of January and February.
Fortunately, Maggie was allowed to shift to home care before the coronavirus wave hit the U.S. She has made great progress and is mending well. But all of Maggie’s health issues have resulted in large medical bills that have greatly exceeded her insurance coverage and have put a strain on her family’s capacity to provide direct help.
So, Maggie’s niece and nephew started a GoFundMe Page for Maggie. There has already been a tremendous outpouring of support from Mayberry fans. But Maggie still needs more help from us. Not only does she have a backlog of bills, but she and husband Gus are needing to have ongoing healthcare assistance at home.
These are trying times all the way around for just about everybody. The impacts on the financial markets and people’s jobs are affecting all of our bottom lines and therefore also our abilities to provide financial help to others. But if you find yourself in a position to donate to Maggie’s fund, you’ll be helping a truly “Darling person” in her time of need. We’re hoping Mayberry comes through with even more hatfuls of help for Maggie than Briscoe needed for the thirsty radiator on the Darlings’ truck!
Ron Howard Rebuilding Paradise,his documentary about the aftermath of the devastating Paradise-Camp fire of 2018, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 23.
Ron is also executive producer of Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, which was produced by his Imagine Documentaries and others and released in theaters in February.
Ron’s is working with George Lucas to develop a “Willow” TV series based on the 1988 film, which Ron also directed for Lucas. The series, being developed for the Disney Plus channel, doesn’t yet have the official green light to start production, but there’s a lot of creative momentum behind the project–including Ron’s excitement about it.
And Ron has signed to direct The Fixer, a movie based on a true story about a CIA-related/Chicago mob-linked plot to kill Fidel Castro during the Cold War. Ron’s Imagine Entertainment is also a producer for the film for Paramount Pictures.
Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) continues to greet fans and sign autographs at the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy on the third Friday afternoon of every month that the coronavirus doesn’t preempt. (The Museum wisely canceled the March and April sessions even before it was an official government advisory to do so.)
If you happen to be the Governor of North Carolina, you might even run into Betty at the Museum on a third Tuesday of the month:
Gov. Cooper wanted to visit Mount Airy, tour the Andy Griffith Museum and, most of all, meet Betty Lynn–all of which he did on Jan. 21. Other stops for the governor included the TV Land Landmark Statue of Andy and Opie (also on the Playhouse/Museum grounds), the Snappy Lunch and Floyd’s Barbershop. He’s truly a big fan of Mayberry.
As of Valentine’s Day, Margaret Kerry (Mayberry’s Bess Muggins and Helen Scobey) is now Margaret Kerry-Boeke! Margaret and Bob Boeke, a beau from her teen years, reconnected in 2019 and then reunited at Mayberry Days last September, seven decades after careers and geography took them on separate paths. (She’s now 90, and he’s 94.) Ever romantic, the sweethearts chose Valentine’s Day to be married.
The happy newlyweds have recently moved to Sarasota, Fla.–Margaret from California and Bob from South Carolina. And so it is that Margaret’s pixie-dusted fairy tale has a wonderful new chapter! Best wishes to the happy couple, young-at-heart couple!
Maggie Peterson Mancuso, Ronnie Schell, Jackie Joseph-Lawrence, Keith Thibodeaux and Clint Howard are TAGS cast members who are slated to join Karen Knotts, George Lindsey Jr. and others (including popular Mayberry tribute artists) in Mayberry Man, an independent film written by and to be directed by Stark Howell, son of the late Hoke Howell (Mayberry’s Dud Wash).
Cort Howell (another son of Hoke Howell) and Greg Schell (son of Ronnie) are helping produce and promote the film. A successful six-week, fan-based fundraising campaign officially wrapped up with parties on Feb. 29 in Burbank, Mount Airy and Danville, Ind.
Depending on the vagaries of the coronavirus and any related restrictions on travel and gatherings, filming is scheduled to begin at the Mayberry in the Midwest festival in May. The other key location for filming will be in and around Mount Airy during Mayberry Days.
That’s a wrap on our News of Cast & Crew for this issue. Stay tuned for lots more happening this year!
We are sad to have news of the deaths of two legends who worked on TAGS. And we also note the passing of someone not directly affiliated with Mayberry but who nevertheless had a profound impact on Mayberry and later “Matlock.”
Remembering Jack Burns
Jack Burns, who played eager, endearingly annoying Deputy Warren Ferguson in 11 episodes of TAGS, died of respiratory failure resulting from complications of pancreatic cancer in Toluca Lake, Calif., on January 27. He was 86.
Jack was hired for TAGS after Andy Griffith saw him perform at San Francisco’s famed hungry i nightclub. Jack gamely took on the assignment of trying to replace Don Knotts’ Barney Fife as Mayberry Deputy. In retrospect, it was an impossible task. No one could replace Barney Fife.
Jack was unfortunately notified of his termination from TAGS right before Christmas in 1965. Andy Griffith was quoted in the press at the time saying, “We tried to force Jack to do those wild, peculiar things that Knotts did–and he was willing to try–but we made a mistake.”
The abruptness and timing of Jack’s departure from Mayberry understandably left Jack uninterested in having any further associations with Mayberry, including various fan-oriented events, through the years that followed.
That said, Jack’s career before and after Mayberry was legendary. He enjoyed an enormously productive and happy life with iconic successes. He was revered by his peers and fans of comedy, both for his performances and for his writing. He has been called “the comic’s comic.”
John Francis Burns was born of Irish lineage in Boston, Mass., on November 15, 1933, to father Garrette, a U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force officer, and mother Mary Hogan. The family frequently moved to follow Garrette’s new military postings. Jack joined the Marines in 1952 and served in Korea during the Korean War. He achieved the rank of sergeant before deciding to leave the military when his hitch was up.
Taking advantage of funding available through the GI Bill, Jack moved back to Boston to study broadcasting at the Leland Powers School of Radio, Television and Theater in Brookline with the goal of becoming a radio newsman. In 1959, he became news director at WEZE-AM. While working for the station, he interviewed John F. Kennedy.
Jack met George Carlin at WEZE, where Carlin worked as a deejay. The two discovered that they shared not only an Irish-Catholic heritage but also a love of language and a keen sense of humor.
Following separate career paths, Jack as a newsman and Carlin as a deejay, both men soon ended up at KXOL Radio in Fort Worth–Carlin in 1959 and Jack in 1960. They performed together in local clubs, and Jack decided he liked doing comedy even more than being a straight newsman. Later in 1960, he and Carlin decided that California was the place they ought to be–this time traveling as a team.
The pair landed at KDAY Radio in Los Angeles, and, more important, they landed comedy gigs at the Cosmo Alley coffeehouse, a hep club of which cutting-edge comic Lenny Bruce was part owner. Bruce loved their act and provided the young comedic duo with key connections for the comedy club circuit.
Billed as Burns and Carlin, they became one of the hot comedy teams touring top clubs across the country. By October 1960, they had landed a spot on “The Jack Paar Tonight Show.” They were also favorite entertainers at the first Playboy Club in Chicago.
As Burns and Carlin, they recorded one album together, At the Playboy Club Tonight, which was actually recorded at Cosmo Alley, for the ERA label in May 1960. The album was not released until 1963, after Jack and Carlin had amicably split in 1962. The album included a routine about newsmen and even one about fellow comedians Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl. (Carlin was given the rights to the album, which was re-released with a few formatting tweaks as The Original George Carlin in 1972 and as Killer Carlin in 1981.)
In part because Jack and Carlin were too much alike for maximum comedic contrast, they split. Carlin became a legendary solo comedian. Jack went to Chicago, where he joined The Second City, which in turn is where he met his comedic opposable thumb, Avery Schreiber with whom he teamed off and on from 1962 to 1973.
Their trademark routine was one in which Jack played a chatty, bigoted conventioneer to Schreiber’s grumpy cab driver. Jack’s signature “Know what I mean? Huh? Huh? Huh?” bit was born from the conventioneer/cab driver sketches.
As a duo they made numerous television appearances and recorded two albums, In One Head and Out the Other [The New Emerging Bigot] for Columbia Records in 1965 and Burns & Schreiber’s Pure B.S!, which was recorded for Flip Wilson’s Little David Records in 1972 and released in 1973. (With other top comics, Burns and Schreiber also participated in The Watergate Comedy Hour album which was released by Hidden Records in 1973 and then was re-released by Little David in 1975, anticlimactically after Richard Nixon had already resigned in 1974.)
For most of the 1960s, Jack and Schreiber worked together whenever their schedules allowed, but they also pursued separate work. While Jack was doing his 11 episodes of TAGS, Schreiber was playing Captain Manzini in the Jerry Van Dyke wreck, “My Mother the Car.” The truth was that both comics were better suited for stand-up and improv than the constraints of a sitcom.
And so it was that they became sought-after guests or guest hosts for most of the top talk shows, variety shows and specials of the era–from the various iterations of “The Kraft Music Hall” and “The Hollywood Palace” to “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Our Place,” a summer replacement for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” that they hosted in 1967 with Muppet Rowlf the Hound.
It was during this time, including work on “Zero Hour” with Zero Mostel, that Jack realized just how much he enjoyed writing. By 1969 he was head writer for “Hee Haw” and in high demand as a writer for specials by Flip Wilson and others.
In 1973, “The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour” (another summer placement series, this time for ABC-TV) was a hit. The following year, the show received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Variety Series or Special: Musical or Comedy.
Jack also wrote for and produced all 24 episodes of “The Muppet Show” in its first season (1976-77) and was co-writer with Jerry Juhl of The Muppet Movie in 1979. For his Muppet work, Jack was nominated for two Emmys in 1977 (for Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series and for Outstanding Writing in the same category), and he also was nominated for Saturn and Hugo awards in 1980 for his work on The Muppet Movie.
Amid writing and producing Jack still made time for performing. Notable appearances included as Officer Rudy Colcheck in all 14 episodes of “Getting Together,” a 1971 spin-off from “The Partridge Family,” and segments in five episodes of “Love, American Style” between 1971 and 1973.
Jack also provided the voice of Ralph Kane, foil to Tom Bosley’s Harry Boyle in 46 episodes of Hanna-Barbera’s “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home,” which was produced by top TAGS writers Harvey Bullock and Ray Allen and which featured a slew of other TAGS writer, as well as numerous TAGS actors as guest stars, including Don Knotts and Hal Smith.
For a new generation of viewers, Jack’s voice would be even more familiar than his face. He provided the voice for many animated programs, including “Mother Goose and Grimm” and “Animaniacs” (as Sid the Squid). Mr. Burns was also a voice in an episode of “The Simpsons” in 1999.
But Jack’s most familiar voice work is likely his performances as Vince the crash-test dummy (working with pal Lorenzo Music, aka the voice of Carlton the Doorman and lasagna-loving Garfield, as fellow dummy Larry) in the wildly popular (and effective) safety-belt commercials for the Department of Transportation that ran from 1985 to 1998. Jack is also believed to have contributed to punching up the humor of the writing for some of the spots.
Work behind-the-scenes truly became Jack’s forte. He co-produced nine episodes of “Fridays” (ABC’s answer to “Saturday Night Live”), including the famous 1981 episode with the segment in which Andy Kaufman and Michael Richards pretend to get into a real fight, and Jack has to intervene. (The audience and most of the cast and crew weren’t in on the planned gag.) Jack was the announcer for all but one of the 48 episodes during the show’s run from 1980 to 1982.)
Jack also has the distinction of being the host, on March 26, 1977, of the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” to have had the “Live” added to its title. (The show was previously billed as “NBC’s Saturday Night.”)
Jack officially retired in 2000, but did perform one more time in the 2003’s “The Pitts,” a failed sitcom, despite the efforts of Seth MacFarlane and alums of “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” at the helm.
Jack married Violet Torre, a hostess at The Second City, on June 4, 1965, shortly before he began work on TAGS. They were later divorced. They had no children, and Jack, admittedly comfortable in his solitude, never remarried. He remained a steadfast friend to countless people, including, until their deaths, former comedy partners Carlin and Schreiber.
Jack leaves no immediate survivors, but has bequeathed wonderful memories for legions of friends and fans. Manager Peter Santana said following Jack’s passing, “He was as sharp as a tack mentally but had not walked for two years. He achieved many great achievements but his most recent was hitting the 31-year-sober mark in December. Truly a sweet and talented man.”
Though his Warren Ferguson character turned out to be not the most natural fit for Mayberry, Jack deserves praise for having had the gumption to step into the role. Mayberry is a more memorable and interesting place because of the sensitivity Jack brought to his portrayal of Warren. And the world was absolutely made a better and much funnier place because of Jack Burns. “Right? Huh? Huh? Huh?”
Remembering Gene Reynolds
Gene Reynolds, who directed three episodes of TAGS, died of heart failure in Burbank, Calif., on February 3. He was 96.
Gene directed the iconic first-season TAGS episodes “Alcohol and Old Lace,” “Andy the Marriage Counselor” and “Mayberry on Record,” which were the three episodes immediately following director Bob Sweeney’s tryout with his first six TAGS episodes. Gene was likely an interim choice, hired to fill the gap as the beloved Sween cleared his calendar and negotiated to direct more TAGS episodes. (Sween would direct 74 of the next 76 episodes through the third season.)
Gene Reynolds was often noted primarily for his key role as producer/executive producer of the “M*A*S*H” TV series, for which he also directed 24 episodes and for which he was officially involved in the writing of more than a dozen episodes. But Gene’s legendary career extends back to his childhood as an actor.
Eugene Reynolds Blumenthal was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 4, 1923. He was the son of serial businessman and real estate entrepreneur Frank Eugene Blumenthal and Maude Evelyn (Schwab), a former model. After living for a while in Highland Park, outside of Detroit, the family moved to California in search of greater opportunities for work during the Great Depression.
While still just a kid, Gene studied acting at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. His first film role was as an extra in the 1934 Our Gang short Washee Ironee, followed later that year with a small role in the classic Laurel and Hardy musical, Babes in Toyland (aka March of the Wooden Soldiers). Other early films included small roles in two Shirley Temple films, Heidi in 1937 and The Bluebird in 1940.
Gene’s acting was impressive enough to catch the eye of MGM Studios which signed him to a contract when he was 14. Two of his films with the studio were the classics Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938), both starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. He also played Jimmy MacMahon in 1938’s Love Finds Andy Hardy with Rooney, Judy Garland and Lana Turner.
He would go on to make several features with the Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys in what were essentially Our Gang films with older kids. In at least eight of his movies as a teenager, Gene played younger versions of the the films’ adult stars, including Jimmy Stewart, Tyrone Power, Don Ameche and Robert Taylor.
Other Hollywood royalty that Gene worked with as a child included John Huston, Maureen O’Sullivan (“she shore can swim”), Olivia de Havilland and Lionel Barrymore.
Though Gene was working on movies with big stars and he was also getting some bigger roles with better billing, his acting career still wasn’t on a trajectory for the kind of success he hoped. As World War II was under way, but before the United States entered the war, Gene enlisted in the Naval ROTC, where he served for four years, including a stint on the USS Zane, a Pearl Harbor-based destroyer-minesweeper that saw legendary wartime service throughout the South Pacific. (Writer Herman Wouk was an officer on the vessel during Gene’s time aboard ship. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Caine Mutiny, was inspired by Wouk’s experiences aboard the Zane.)
After his discharge from military service, Gene attended UCLA, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in History in 1947. He then went to New York in hopes of finding acting work in the booming new medium of television. He also landed a few parts in Hollywood movies, but ones without as many of the top stars of his earlier years. He stayed respectably busy with his acting in television, but was somewhat frustrated that he wasn’t breaking through with bigger parts.
Using his years of connections, Gene segued into work behind the scenes and eventually behind the camera. He landed a job as casting director for the “Steve Canyon” television series in 1958-59. That experience and a recommendation from Jackie Cooper, his fellow child actor (and co-star in 1939’s The Spirit of Culver and 1940’s Gallant Sons) led to Gene’s first directing jobs–three episodes of “Hennesey,” for which Cooper was the title character.
In the meantime, Gene had also tried his hand at writing, beginning with the third season of “Tales of Wells Fargo” in 1958. Throughout his career. Gene would continue to contribute stories and write scripts for various TV series he produced and directed.
But it was as a television director that Gene really built his reputation during the 1960s, a period in which he directed episodes for some three dozen series, including TAGS. He directed 10 or more episodes of “Father of the Bride” (10), “My Three Sons” (74), “Wendy and Me” (33) and “Hogan’s Heroes” (34).
Gene’s accumulated experience as an actor, casting director, writer, producer and director (including a 1970 Emmy Award for serving as executive producer of “Room 222”) had him perfectly positioned in his late 40s to be the driving force, along with Larry Gelbart, for transferring the success of the hit M*A*S*H movie to television for CBS in 1972.
Gene received 11 Emmy nominations for his work on “M*A*S*H” and won three: Outstanding Comedy Series (1974; shared with Larry Gelbart), Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for “O.R.” (1975) and for “Welcome to Korea” (1976). He also earned top directing honors in the Comedy Series category from the Directors Guild of America in both 1973 and 1974. He likewise was nominated twice for Writers Guild of America Awards for his part in writing “M*A*S*H” episodes, and he won in 1981 for “Heal Thyself” written with Dennis Koenig.
With “M*A*S*H” in the capable hands of show-runner Burt Metcalfe, Gene (along with fellow TV legends Allan Burns and TAGS writing alum James L. Brooks) decided to join the launch team for the new “Lou Grant” series in 1977. Gene directed 11 episodes and, as executive producer, was involved in the scripts and other aspects of production for all five seasons through 1982.
For his “Lou Grant” work, Gene was nominated for 11 more Emmys. He won for Outstanding Drama Series in both 1979 and 1980. He also won the Directors Guild of America Award for “Lou Grant” in 1979 and was nominated again in both 1980 and 1981, the same year he was also nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award. (He lost that year to himself and his script for the “Heal Thyself” episode of “M*A*S*H,” cited above.)
In his late 50s at the time “Lou Grant” ended production, Gene finally allowed himself to slow down–a little. He continued to direct–including for multiple episodes of hits such as “Life Goes On,” “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and “Touched by an Angel.” He also served as executive producer for 13 episodes of “Blossom” in 1991.
In 1993, Gene was honored with the prestigious Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award by the Directors Guild of America, the beloved organization of his peers, for which he also served two terms as president. He commented at the time, “I’d like to think what we tried to accomplish with such shows as ‘M.*A.*S.*H.’ and ‘Lou Grant’ and ‘Room 222’ was to copy real life and not theater.” He added, “We always were looking into these different vocations with a lot of depth, so that we were presenting real drama.”
Gene was married to actress-dancer-director Bonnie Jones from 1967 until their divorce in 1976. He married actress Ann Sweeny in 1979. She and their son, Andrew, survive Gene.
Gene made enormous contributions to the world of movies and television for more than six decades. All along the way, he cross-pollinated with countless people who were associated with TAGS. But it is especially for his directing work on his three episodes of TAGS that Mayberry fans can be most grateful.
Gene Reynolds dropped into Mayberry to work on TAGS for just a short time on his way from Our Gang to “Room 222,” the 4077th and Lou Grant’s Los Angeles Tribune newsroom, but he will always be much appreciated as a truly vital Gene in the early development of Mayberry.
In his filmed interview for posterity with the Television Academy, Gene said, “I’m always looking for the little humane touch. Something that is real. It could be very, very small. It could be a hand on the shoulder. It could be just an extra lingering look on somebody you care about and so forth, for just a fraction. It could be a reaction from somebody. … I’m looking for humanity, really. And that goes with comedy or drama.”
All of which sounds exactly like the Mayberry way.
Noted in Passing…
We also want to remember television executive Fred Silverman, who died of cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on January 30. He was 82.
Silverman was the head of programming at CBS when he orchestrated the Rural Purge at the network in the spring of 1971–canceling “every show with a tree in it,” which included highly rated shows such as “Mayberry R.F.D.,” “The Jim Nabors Hour,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres” and “Hee Haw.” Also canceled was “The New Andy Griffith Show,” which already had its own struggles, regardless of the purge, and whose cancellation was actually an act of mercy for all concerned.
Though the mass cancellations were painful for Mayberry-related interests (especially for Richard O. Linke, who managed stars of and had an ownership interest in three of the shows!), the overalls overhaul worked well for CBS as it cleared the way for the launch of several all-time TV classics including “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Kojak” and “M*A*S*H.”
Silverman left CBS in 1975 to become head of programming for ABC, where he shepherded hits such as “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley” and “Roots,” and led the alphabet network to the top of the ratings. He became the only person in TV history to have served as head of programming at three major broadcast networks when, in 1978, he left ABC for NBC, where he was less successful and was fired in 1981.
Silverman redeemed himself with Andy Griffith, when he became executive producer of “Matlock” in 1986. The two titans of television buried the Rural Purge hatchet to become not only successful business partners, but great friends. Silverman also went on to serve as executive producer of Andy’s 1995 made-for-TV movie, Gramps. So, in the end, maybe fans can forgive Silverman for his programming clear-cutting in 1971.
And besides, Silverman is the man who came up with the idea and name for “Scooby Doo” in 1969. So, “Zoinks!”–Silverman definitely deserves a special Scooby snack for that one!
**** Chapter Update ****
Several new chapters started in 2019, but none have been founded so far this year. We’re holding at 1,466 chapters founded since 1979.
If you’re interested in organizing a group, you’ll be glad to know that starting a chapter of TAGSRWC is really simple to do. Just pick a name that hasn’t already been selected by another group and let us know who your founders are and where you’re based. That’s it.
You can check the searchable list of chapter names already taken at www.tagsrwc.com. Then submit your chapter’s name with a list of your founding members by e-mail (to Goober@imayberry.com) or by U.S. Mail to TAGSRWC’s HQ (118 16th Avenue South, Suite 4, PMB 146, Nashville, TN 37203-3100).
**** Merchandise Update ****
Also, remember that your purchases from Weaver’s help support Mayberry events and Mayberry-related charitable causes all year long at locations all around the country. Those sales also help keep our online Mayberry newsletters and communities available to everybody free of charge. As always, thanks for browsing Weaver’s!
**** Chapter News ****
The Mayberry squad car owned by Ken Anderson (aka The Mayberry Guru) of Mayberry Memories chapter (Eau Claire, Wis.) was recently named one of the “Cars of the Decade” by Old Cars Weekly Magazine. Congratulations to Ken and the chapter!
Mayberry chapter (Knoxvlle, Tenn.) recently published the latest issue of its printed Mayberry Minutes newsletter–16 pages jam-packed with news from the chapter and throughout the world of Mayberry. Members of the chapter also traveled to Mayberry-oriented events in Danville, Ind., and Florence, Ala., in recent weeks. (See the photo below and in Mayberry on the Web section.)
Members of Pepperelli Pizza chapter (Raeford N.C.) and Andy chapter (Nashville, Tenn.) rendezvoused earlier this month for meals and marching in Selma, Ala. Later that week the Nashville bunch got together with members of “Get a Bottle of Pop” chapter at Tuscaloosa’s version of Morelli’s.
That’s our Chapter News for this issue. If you have news or photos of your chapter activities that you would like to share with The eBullet, please send your updates to Goober@imayberry.com.
**** Mayberry on the Web ****
This TAGSRWC online group is organized and overseen by webmaster Allan “Floyd” Newsome with help from Keith “Col. Harvey” Brown. You can check out the fun and sign up for free at: http://imayberrycommunity.com.
The iMayberry Community complements our other online activities, including our main www.imayberry.com page, podcasts, Facebook pages, online newsletters (such as The eBullet!), weaversdepartmentstore.com and chat rooms.
“Two Chairs, No Waiting” is our weekly podcast of TAGS news, interviews and pretty much whatever happens to be going on in and around Mayberry. It’s hosted by Allan Newsome. Most weeks also include a Mayberry History Lesson from special correspondent Randy Turner.
There’s a new episode every Tuesday (and you can watch and listen live during tapings on Monday evenings). Past episodes are in an online Archives in case you want to listen to or view classic installments you’ve missed. (As of this week, there have been an astounding 573 episodes since Allan started the podcasts over 11 years ago.).
And you’ll also find links on our Podcasts web page to a couple of other outstanding Mayberry-related podcasts: Burke on Mayberry (also a long-running program, hosted by TAGSRWC’s Kevin Burke) and the Mayberry Bible Study Podcast (another one hosted by Allan Newsome).
TAGSRWC’s official page on Facebook now has over 250,000 Mayberry friends! You can find us at www.facebook.com/tagsrwc. If you haven’t already dropped by the page, we hope you’ll check it out sometime when you have the chance. We invite you to become a TAGSRWC Facebook Friend!
We also have links in our “Liked by this Page” section to the pages of several TAGSRWC chapters on Facebook (including the Gomer and Goober Pyle Comic Book Literary Guild), as well as to Facebook pages of Mayberry Days, the Andy Griffith Museum, TAGS actors and others..
Ben Weaver also has his own Facebook page at www.facebook.com/weaversdepartmentstore. It features all the latest in Mayberry items and merchandise news.
**** Post Note ****
Between issues of The eBullet, keep up with all the happenings in Mayberry with the daily Who’s Been Messin’ Up the Bulletin Board? (aka “WBMUTBB?”) Digest. It’s a free subscriber list that consists entirely of comments, newsflashes, and questions and answers from subscribers. You can sign up for that list by going to the Mailing Lists link at tagsrwc.com. “WBMUTBB?” also has its own Archives where you can follow the ongoing stream of messages.
TAGSRWC publishes Weaver’s Newsletter (our brother-figure publication) in alternate months to The eBullet. Like The eBullet, Weaver’s Newsletter is free. Its focus is tilted slightly more to Mayberry merchandise and collectibles and quick newsflashes. It has some content overlap with The eBullet–sometimes earlier and sometimes later, depending on the timing of the news. To sign up, go to Weaver’s Newsletter Sign-Up.
The next regularly scheduled issue of The eBullet will be published in May. The next Weaver’s Newsletter is on tap for April.