Frances Bavier wasn't Andy Griffith's choice for Aunt Bee

Griffith was told to be nicer to Bavier.

On The Andy Griffith Show, Andy Griffith and Frances Bavier are like kin. The pair had believable family chemistry, realistically portraying the dynamic between the aging matriarch and protagonist lawman. But when the cameras weren't rolling, the truth wasn't quite as picture-perfect, as Griffith and Bavier struggled to get along.

Don Knotts' brother-in-law, Daniel de Visé, published one of the definitive volumes on the subject with Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show.

The book characterizes Frances Bavier's presence on the set as steady and cool. She didn't partake in any of the practical jokes the cast played and refrained from all the singing and dancing others enjoyed. 

This all reflected Aunt Bee's place on the show. While every other character on the show got to go for a laugh, Aunt Bee was frequently the voice of reason. Andy, who played that role to Barney, got to shrug the responsibility onto Bavier in scenes they shared. Aunt Bee was always being upstaged by Andy, Barney, or Opie.

"I've had to take a backseat and watch others get the laughs," Bavier told TV Guide in January of 1964. The article noted she'd been attending "analysis" due to her relegated role in the show. 

That growing dissatisfaction seemed to be a two-way street, according to sources close to the show. 

Griffith "seemed to bear some kind of resentment toward Frances," said Rance Howard. In addition to being Ron Howard's father, Rance appeared on four episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, playing four different characters over three years.

"I think she was Sheldon Leonard's choice [for the role of Aunt Bee]," said the elder Howard. "And she may not have been Andy's choice."

Jim Nabors, by contrast, got along swimmingly with Bavier. 

"I remember we were walking back from a table reading on our way to the soundstage," said Rance Howard. "And I heard Jim [Nabors] say, not loudly, but he said, 'Andy, she's a good actress. You be nice to her.' And Andy had no reply for that."   


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10 Comments

Inthe25th 19 days ago
Aunt Bea was a universal relative that everyone should want to have. I admire her. She served a perfect purpose just the way she was. She didn't need laughs. She got my respect. I'm glad she stayed on in her role on Mayberry RFD. She also was a great addition on Gomer Pyle USMC in one episode where she visited Gomer. Alas, Hollywood is "fake news" and always has been. It's fun, but can't be taken seriously.
McGillahooala 20 days ago
Maybe what he didn’t like was that she didn’t like him sleeping with all the young actresses that appeared on the show. I often wonder why Eleanor Donahue left. Maybe she wouldn’t play along and he pushed her out. Maybe everyone else kept their mouth shut to keep a job. Who knows.
You're exactly correct. According to all I've seen and read about he was like that in real life as well. The lady pharmacist and then a lady that was a marksman, so to speak, beating Andy for a shooting contest.
decades1913 21 days ago
Andy Griffith was a rather complicated man. He had a degree in music from University of North Carolina--appeared in movies and on Broadway. He played a country bumpkin on the Andy Griffith show--an attorney on Matlock and several other diverse acting roles. Frances Bavier also had a Broadway career--entertained overseas with the USO and appeared in several movies. It's not unusual for two talented people to clash sometimes. Neither of us knew them--so cannot criticize them personally.
MrsPhilHarris 21 days ago
She was attending “analysis” because of her roll? Are you kidding me? She seems to be a woman that took umbrage with just about anything. What an awful way to live one’s life.
The word is 'role'--and neither of us knew her personally--so why the criticism?
Yes role. So sorry. Perhaps I did know her.
Causeway42 21 days ago
"There was something about me she just didn't like", Andy said in a later interview. I felt a little sad to hear that; I always thought the entire cast was close, like the family they played on tv. It's gut-wrenching when there's tension in the workplace between the staff. I'm sure Andy Griffith wished that things could have been different between him a Frances. Must have been frustrating for him.
WordsmithWorks 22 days ago
I have a feeling Bavier was a little to "Aunt Bee-ish" for Griffith.
Runeshaper 22 days ago
That is interesting! Apparently, the drama on set wasn't shown solely during filming.
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