Remembering Maggie Peterson Mancuso
By Jim Clark
Mayberry has lost one of its most cherished friends. Surrounded by members of her family, Maggie Peterson Mancuso, beloved in Mayberry as Charlene Darling Wash, died in Greeley, Colo., on May 15. This one truly does make us cry.
Maggie’s niece Amy Royer and nephew Ben Eaton posted the following announcement on the website for the GoFundMe account that the two had set up to help out with the significant medical bills that Maggie and husband Gus Mancuso had incurred in recent years, when Maggie had several major surgeries and other care needs and Gus was in the throes of Alzheimer’s and also needing special care:
“It is with great sorrow that we report that our dear Aunt Maggie died yesterday afternoon (Sunday, May 15). She passed peacefully in her sleep with her family present.
“Maggie’s health took a turn for the worse after the death of her husband Gus and we are relieved that we were able to move her home to be close to family for her last days. We will be planning a private service for Maggie in the next few weeks.”
The statement continued: “Maggie wanted this community to know how much you meant to her over the past three years. Despite being in Las Vegas and away from her family, your love and devotion helped her to not feel alone. She made many mentions to us about how she couldn’t believe how generous you all were. You truly made a positive impact on her life and helped her during some very difficult times.
“Finally, Maggie’s family would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your caring and generosity were inspiring and we could not have done any of this without you. We hope that during this difficult time you can find solace in knowing how important you were for making the end of Maggie’s life much better.”
Beyond her portrayal of Charlene, Maggie was simply a “darling person” to be around. Legions of fans knew her as a true friend, and she felt the same about us.
Between Maggie’s performances with The Dillards in numerous concerts and her participation in Mayberry events with other members 0f the TAGS cast and crew (which sometimes didn’t include some or all of The Dillards), Maggie likely was involved in more Mayberry reunion events since 1990 than any other actor from the series. She loved not only entertaining audiences, but also visiting with old friends and making new ones.
The lyrics of “There Is a Time,” which Maggie sang so beautifully on TAGS and in countless later performances, usually with members of The Dillards, feel especially poignant and healing at this time. It helps to remember all the “love and laughter” that Maggie shared with the world. Those memories and our being able to continue enjoying her recorded performances will forever be a “fire against the cold.”
Editor’s note: Much of the tribute below is drawn from an interview and profile published in the July 1997 issue of The Bullet, TAGSRWC’s original printed newsletter.
On January 10, 1940, as the world was being torn apart by war, something nice happened: Margaret Ann (Maggie) Peterson was born in the serene town of Greeley, Colorado. Maggie was the fourth child of Polk, Nebr., natives Arthur E. (a general practice doctor) and Tressa Hill Peterson. (Young Maggie’s older siblings were Arthur Jr., Phyllis and Jim.)
“Music was always a part of our home,” Maggie recalled. “When my brother Jim found an old broken banjo under Daddy’s bed in Polk, he started playing and fell in love with it.” The kids then found their mother’s old ukulele, and soon the seeds of their first band were planted.
Two of Jim’s pals, Gordon Ellinger and Don Royer, began to play music with him on a regular basis. They settled into a Dixieland style, harking back to a Roaring Twenties sound, with Jim on the tenor banjo, Gordon on drums, Don on piano and Maggie on the stairway. The boys thought Maggie was still too young to perform with them, so she was left to sing to herself on the stairs as the boys practiced in a nearby room.
That all changed when Maggie turned 12 and was allowed to sing with the group. Things really took off as the group began playing banquets (with meals as their fee) or school functions where they might earn a whopping $12, which, early on, translated into one dollar for Maggie as her share of the four-way split.
The group, which by now billed itself as the Ja-Da Quartet, built a strong local following as it traveled around in Gordon’s red Model A pickup truck–not unlike the Darlings, except that Maggie had the “honor” of being the one to ride in the back of the truck with the instruments. Describing their sound, Maggie said, “We played fast and happy. We were very ‘alive.'”
By 1954, the group had won the regionals of the Kiwanis Stars of Tomorrow contest, and got to go to the convention in Miami for the national competition. The group also landed regular summer gigs in the Estes Park resort area near Greeley. (They performed often at the stately Stanley Hotel, which later would be inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining and was used as the key location for filming the 1997 TV adaptation of the novel. It also provided the hotel set for Dumb and Dumber.)
“One summer, Capitol Records had their convention in Colorado,” Maggie recalled. “That’s where I met Dick Linke–about the same time he found Andy Griffith, around 1954.” Dick was impressed with Maggie’s performance, and told her that, though he felt she was too young at that time to begin a full-time singing career, if she ever came to New York, she should be sure to look him up. “Well, of course, that stuck in my mind,” Maggie said. (When Maggie was still just 14, she and her father took a trip to New York to meet with Dick Linke and test the waters with an audition for bandleader Tommy Dorsey’s TV show.)
Meanwhile, as Maggie and her Ja-Da bandmates continued their schooling, they performed when they could. They earned first place when Arthur Godfrey brought his “Talent Scouts” TV show to Cheyenne, Wyo. Along the way, Maggie even found time to do some acting when local Thespian Troupe 657 did productions, such as Stage Door. In that play, Maggie was the female lead as Terry Randall. One critic described Maggie as “an actress with understanding, warmth, sincerity and, above all, innate talent.”
In June 1958, the boys decided to take a year off from college, and together with Maggie, who had just recently graduated (with honors) from Greeley High School, they loaded up their Chevy sedan (with Maggie’s clothes stored in one of Gordon’s drums on the roof) and headed to New York City to see what would happen. “My mother and father were amazing to let us go,” said Maggie, fondly remembering the courage and faith her parents displayed.
When the Ja-Das got to New York, they again connected with Dick Linke, who arranged for an audition for the hugely popular “Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall.” The audition went so well that the Ja-Das were booked for that week’s show, which aired on February 21, 1959. “It was Gary Cooper and Lena Horne and the Ja-Da Quartet,” Maggie laughed at herself, as she remembered thinking at the time, “You mean this doesn’t happen to everybody?”
She added, “They got so much fan mail that we came back” three weeks later for the episode airing on March 14, 1959. (They returned again in March 1960 in an episode that included Bob Denver, still in his Maynard G. Krebs days on “The Many of Dobie Gillis” and a full four years before becoming Mayberry’s second Dud Wash, husband of Maggie’s Charlene Darling.)
In May of 1959, Warner Bros. released a Ja-Da album called It’s the Most Happy Sound. The single “Good Time Charlie,” released in February, was big on the West Coast. The group also worked a lot of nightclubs, and Dick Linke even got them a gig playing between movies at New York’s prestigious and gigantic Roxy Theatre.
The boys in the band then decided that they wanted to go back to school. (Jim went on to become a physician like his father before him, Gordon became an engineer and Don joined his family’s insurance business.) Maggie went back to Greeley and also performed with legendary St. Louis piano player Russ David and others, but she eventually decided to move back to New York.
“Actually, I went to New York intending to enroll at Duchesne College, but, because Mr. Linke had asked me to call, it seemed the friendly thing to do,” Maggie said. “I called Dick Linke, and he hooked me up with Ernie Mariani.”
The group became known as Margaret Ann & the Ernie Mariani Trio, whose players included Woody Woodruff, James Kervin and Norman Diamond). “We did some Ja-Da songs, some of Ernie’s arrangements and some of our own,” said Maggie.
For several years, the group played most of the big clubs in Las Vegas, Tahoe, Reno and other resort areas. (An entertainment critic at the time described Maggie as “precisely wonderful.”) When Maggie performed at places such as the Sands Hotel, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of the “Rat Pack” would sometimes drop in to catch her act. (Ol’ Blue Eyes even called Maggie, “Bright Eyes.”) “They were all very nice to me, and very appreciative of our music,” she recalled.
One club that turned out to be particularly significant was the Executive House in Arizona. At Dick Linke’s suggestion, Maggie recalled, “[TAGS director] Bob Sweeney and [producer] Aaron Ruben came to Scottsdale where I was singing and they said, ‘Ah, she’s going to be Charlene.'”
And so it was in early 1963 that Maggie was once again “back on the truck” with another group of musicians–this time for a ride to Mayberry. “The cast and the crew and the whole situation [were] really quite special,” Maggie said. “Subsequently, when I was on other shows and did other things, you look back and you see it really was special. I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.”
“Charlene was such a wonderful part,” Maggie continued. “We walked right in and did the reading with The Dillards. It was really magic. Everybody was just in hysterics and laughing. I just loved The Dillards. They were just like my real brothers–and still are. Denver was so funny. And, of course, Andy is a very special person. He’s such a good person to work with. We just had a great time and a lot of fun. I just feel fortunate to have been a part of it.”
For the record, Maggie’s episodes as Charlene from 1963 to 1966 are “The Darlings Are Coming,” “Mountain Wedding,””Divorce, Mountain Style,” “The Darling Baby” and “The Darling Fortune.” She also played Sam Jones’ girlfriend, Doris, in the final TAGS episode filmed, “A Girl for Goober,” in 1968.
Maggie said her favorite Darlings scene is the one where the Darling menfolk are all snoring in “Mountain Wedding.” “They had to shut down production because we were all laughing so hard–the whole crew and everybody.”
With her natural talent and a top manager in Dick Linke, Maggie was poised for stardom beyond Mayberry. “I never really thought about being a star,” she said. “I must say I’ve never really been very ambitious, and I’m the kind of person that lives for the moment. I enjoy what I’m doing when I’m doing it. … I never really had career plans, which I feel bad for, for Mr. Linke, because he had big plans.”
She continued, “And I also had wonderful opportunities … that I just was not serious about. I had three series written for me [with backing from TAGS sponsor General Foods], which I just was not interested in.” She added, “I apologized to Dick Linke. He really opened a lot of doors for me.”
Among the open stage doors that Maggie did enter were ones for TV specials with Andy Griffith (notably “Andy Griffith’s Uptown-Downtown Show” in 1967) and the Emmy-winning “Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special” (also in 1967).
During the time that she was playing Charlene on TAGS, Maggie also played Susie the waitress on “The Bill Dana Show” and she again played a waitress, named Edna Pritchard, in one episode of “Mayberry R.F.D.” in 1970.
Maggie also appeared in two episodes of “Green Acres” (including one episode as Eb’s girlfriend), an episode of “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” (as Eileen Carson in “The Blind Date” in 1965), a couple of episodes of “The Odd Couple,” an episode of “Love, American Style” and a pilot for a sitcom called “Doc” in 1969 (six years before a sitcom by the same name became a series).
On the big screen, Maggie got to work with Andy Griffith and other TAGS alums in Angel in My Pocket (1969) and with Don Knotts (and several TAGS alums) in The Love God? (1969). She also played Walter Brennan’s daughter in the made-for-TV movie The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again (1970).
Maggie established another major acting niche for herself with television commercials. She always said she was surprised by how well that part of her career worked out. “I tried out for seven commercials, and I got seven commercials. Eventually, I did over 100 commercials,” she recalled. She was amazed that she never made a commercial that didn’t air–and that they all ran in prime time, which paid even better. Among the commercials she did were Whitman’s chocolates, Accent seasoning, Morton Salt, Head & Shoulders shampoo and Secret antiperspirant. “I was a Proctor & Gamble housewife,” she recalled with a laugh.
After Maggies’ death, Jackie Joseph (Mayberry’s Ramona Ankrum, aka Sweet Romeena), a close friend of Maggie’s for five decades, posted a message on social media about doing a commercial for Bold detergent.
“That’s how I met the precious Maggie Peterson, and we’ve never stopped laughing together–even when life stopped being funny.”
Jackie added, “She went to Las Vegas and met and married a great musician named Gus Mancuso. They grew tomatoes, and he made pasta every night.”
Jackie’s post continued, “As time passed, Mayberry Days became a big deal in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Every year, a long weekend of fun, fans and former cast and creators gathered. Still do! They had a big show at the end, and every one entertained. Maggie and I did duets; my favorite was ‘I Can’t Say No.’ We both were Ado Annies [in Oklahoma!].
In conclusion, Jackie wrote, “She really will be with us in perpetuity… Mayberry does that. I miss my darling girl friend, but she is embedded in my heart and memories.”
Even as Maggie stayed busy with acting work, she didn’t neglect her music. She continued to perform in top clubs and did a lot of what she called “Dick Linke benefits,” which involved many of the stars he managed (including Andy Griffith, Jim Nabors, Tommy Leonetti, Ronnie Schell, Larry Hovis, Jerry Van Dyke and Ken Berry) putting on shows for various charities and other important occasions. Maggie even found time to tour in a revival of Oklahoma! with John Raitt. She played Ado Annie in the production that traveled to Phoenix, Anaheim and San Carlos, Calif.
Music became an even bigger part of Maggie’s life when, on January 28, 1978, she married acclaimed jazz virtuoso Gus Mancuso, whose mastery included the string bass, piano and baritone horn, an instrument that Gus is often credited with introducing to the jazz genre. Gus worked with the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Bobby Darin, Billy Eckstine, Quincy Jones and Roy Clark, and he also toured with the respected Les Brown Orchestra (Years earlier, Gus had even worked with Jack Prince, Mayberry’s Rafe Hollister, at the Silver Slipper and other Vegas hot spots of the 1950s and ’60s.) Like Maggie, Gus could have work anywhere he wanted, but he chose Las Vegas as his home base. The two helped found the Las Vegas Jazz Society.
Though Maggie did reprise her role of Charlene Darling in 1986’s Return to Mayberry movie, during the 1980s, she started working more behind the scenes, mostly for films being shot around Nevada, where she and Gus made their home for more than four decades. Maggie said that she sort of eased into this different aspect of film work after Nevada’s film commission approached her.
While she did some work with casting of actors and extras, Maggie found that she particularly liked helping TV and movie productions scout locations for their films. She worked for the Nevada Motion Picture Division for about 20 years.
Some of the films Maggie worked on behind the scenes include Lookin’ to Get Out (starring Jon Voight and Ann-Margret; 1982), Megaforce (1982), Cannonball Run II (with Burt Reynolds, Jim Nabors, Don Knotts, George Lindsey; 1984), Oh God, You Devil (starring George Burns; 1984), Lost in America (starring Albert Brooks; 1985, on video), Starman (starring Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen; 1984), Revenge of the Nerds (with Anthony Edwards; 1984), Oxford Blues (starring Rob Lowe; 1984), Fever Pitch (starring Ryan O’Neal; 1985), Road Trip (aka Jocks; 1987), Midnight Run (starring Robert De Niro; 1988) and Rain Man (starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise; 1988).
Maggie’s location work kept her busy during the next decade as well, including these highlights: Honeymoon in Vegas (starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker and “The Flying Elvises-Utah chapter”; 1992), Honey, I Blew Up the Kids (starring Rick Moranis; 1993), the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s The Stand (1994), Casino (starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone; 1995), Sgt. Bilko (starring Dan Aykroyd; 1996), Mars Attacks! (starring Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close; 1996), Money Play$ (starring Roy Scheider; 1998), Pay It Forward (starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey; 2000) and Bubble Boy (starring Jake Gyllenhaal; 2001).
TV shows for which Maggie did casting or location work include episodes of “Vega$,” “Knight Rider,” “Simon & Simon,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Hardcastle and McCormick,” “Growing Pains,” “Nasty Boys” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She also did similar work for several TV movies, including Honeyboy, Pleasure Palace, Elvis and the Beauty Queen, Red Flag, Cowboy and the Ballerina and Stark.
“Location work is hard work,” Maggie recalled in 1997, “but it’s really interesting. You read the script, you visualize what’s needed and then you do research and find possibilities. I get to be one on one with directors and production managers. They tell you, ‘We like this. We don’t like this’ [about locations] and you work in the process together to find just the right location that’s needed. To be a part of a production crew like that–with the creative and interesting people–is a real perk.”
Maggie also assisted shoots for magazine ads and TV commercials for 7-Eleven, Ford Motor Company, Goodyear Tires, General Motors, Sonic Drive-In, Mountain Dew, Bloomingdale’s, Nike and others, plus she worked with a variety of magazines (including ones from Japan and Germany) that needed location help for photo shoots.
In addition, to her location work, Maggie continued to do Mayberry-related performances and personal appearances throughout the country. Sometimes she got to perform with her TV brothers, The Dillards. On other occasions, Maggie’s sister, Phyllis Eaton, accompanied her on piano at Mayberry gatherings.
At other times, Gus would accompany Maggie on piano. For many years, until just the last three years, Maggie and Gus also regularly performed together at The Bootlegger Bistro in Las Vegas, where Gus also performed with other musicians or solo.
As it turns out, Maggie Peterson had her life’s philosophy pretty well pegged even as a teenager in 1959, when she was quoted in a national magazine with this “philosophical meandering”: “People make so much about everything. If you just relax and have a good time, everything works out just fine!”
That’s an outlook that not only suited Maggie Peterson, but also is a good fit for anyone seeking a Mayberry way of life!
Maggie is survived by her sister, Phyllis (Larry) Eaton; brother Jim (Sylvia) Peterson; nieces Amy (Fritz) Eaton Royer and Anne Marie Peterson Buckland; nephews Bob (Tonya) Eaton, Ben (Missy) Eaton and Jim (Stephanie) Peterson; 10 grandnieces and grandnephews; stepson, Ronnie (Georgia) Mancuso; and two grandchildren.
Maggie was preceded in death by her parents; husband Gus Mancuso; brother Arthur Peterson Jr. and his wife, Suzanne Peterson; and nieces Amanda Peterson, Jamie Peterson Tuttle and Jill Peterson Newell.
A celebration of life for Maggie was held in Greeley, Colo., on June 18. Memorial gifts may be made to the Andy Griffith Museum in care of and payable to the Surry Arts Council, P. O. Box 141, Mount Airy, NC 27030, or to the Nevada SPCA in care of Allnutt Funeral Services, 6521 W. 20th Street, Greeley CO 80634. (Maggie was always a great friend to animals. She and Gus shared their home with many cats and dogs through the years.)
Note: For further information about Maggie–in her own words, no less–we recommend Episode 686 of TAGSRWC’s “Two Chairs, No Waiting” podcast, which was released on May 24, 2022. “Two Chairs” host Allan Newsome compiled this hour-long tribute from Episodes 573 and 572, which were released in 2020. Those earlier episodes were, in turn, taken from a presentation by Maggie at the Touch of Mayberry show in Calhoun, Ga., in 2018.