Did playing Otis hurt Hal Smith's career?

The veteran character actor opened up about it in 1970.

CBS Television Distribution

Usually, when we see someone become a star, we assume they're set for the rest of their years. After all, there they are on the TV, so they must be doing well, right? The truth is that, regardless of money, people generally want to sustain their careers. The star-making turn is great, but the triumph is usually part of a lifelong passion. Actors like acting, so even the ones who are made materially successful often keep acting. There's also the fact that we mostly overestimate how much a recurring TV role actually changes an actor's life. Sure, they've been paid. But if they play a supporting character, they're usually paid far less than we might expect.

So what happens when a person is famous for playing a town drunk? How might that change the scope of work they're offered? In 1970, Hal Smith, who played Mayberry's resident souse, spoke to the Lexington Herald-Leader about Otis Campbell and whether the role hurt his career.

"In one respect it isn't good," Smith admitted. "I am a dialectician. I do voices and I enjoy doing them.

"Yet, my face is so familiar and I've been able to do a lot of things and I haven't suffered for work. What's surprising, is that it is young kids who recognize me and come up and say 'You're Otis.' They watch the reruns of the Griffith show."

At the time, Smith's career was in an interesting place, wherein he primarily voiced characters for children's movies and cartoon shows. Among his impressive credits were his turn as the Owl character in Winnie the Pooh, and a bunch of Warner Bros. and Hannah-Barbera characters. So, how did Smith deal with children coming up to him and identifying him with his former drunkard character?

"I try to soft-pedal the drunk image," said Smith. "I tell the kids to do as I say, not as Otis does. It's an interesting problem because they see me as a nice person but they also see me as a drunk."

By 1970, he was a few decades into his career. As a veteran character actor, Smith knew his place in Hollywood, which was critical to his success.

"This business has been good to me and I am able to keep going because I love what I am doing. To be a success, a man must love what he does.

"Oh, some become successful despite that. I know some people in the business who are successful but don't like— even hate— what they're doing."

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3 Comments

BradBeall 6 days ago
I Loved seeing "Otis" on an episode of Adam-12! He was standing in the middle of an intersection, directing traffic, completely soused, and being his lovable, silly self that we all knew (and loved!) from TAGS.
WilliamJorns 25 days ago
You left the "H" off the end of Winnie the Pooh's name. The way it's written, it looks rather distasteful, shall we say? Please correct it!
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