Gomer Pyle's grandma was the first actress to play Tarzan's Jane on-screen
Enid Markey was also Barney Fife's landlady!
Image: The Everett Collection
In early 1914, the Sakurajima volcano violently erupted on the southern tip of Japan. Just 15 days later, the New York Motion Picture Company began production on a film about the natural disaster, The Wrath of the Gods. A tragic incident occurred on-set, as well. Even as lava flows were still pouring forth from Sakurajima, director Reginald Barker staged his own lava scenes in California. Filming a scene in which lava destroys a village, the pyrotechnic effects "badly injured" actress Enid Markey. She nearly suffocated from smoke and fumes, according to a short blurb in The Motion Picture News at the time.
The 20-ish-year-old (more on that later) Markey had several motion pictures on her resume, mostly shorts, unlike the 5-reel epic The Wrath of the Gods. She made her screen debut in 1911, before the industry was even a decade old. With dozens of titles to her credit, Markey became a true star in 1918 with Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan film ever made. It was followed months later by a sequel, The Romance of Tarzan. They worked fast back then.
Filmed in the swamps of Louisiana, Tarzan of the Apes was considered a faithful adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel — which was still only a few years old. Markey played the Ape-man's love interest, the well-known Jane. The two-part tale ends with Tarzan and his love together in the African jungle, after a bumpy road to romance across the continents.
Following that big breakthrough, Markey disappeared from screens for decades.
''I left pictures just after making the first two Tarzan films," she later said. "I was tired of making faces. I really wanted to learn how to act.'' Instead, she transitioned to stage and radio.
In her middle age, Markey's screen career found new life on television. Throughout the 1950s, she popped up in roles here and there on anthology series with titles like Armstrong Circle Theatre and Kraft Theatre. The Sixties saw her shifting gears to sitcoms. She landed a lead role in Bringing Up Buddy, a sitcom about a bachelor stockbroker being cared for by his aunts. In some ways, that set-up was like an urban spin on The Andy Griffith Show, which premiered the same season, albeit with far more success.
No worries — Markey found her way into Mayberry. The season-four episode "Up in Barney's Room" cast her as Barney's landlady, Mrs. Mendelbright.
The producers must have enjoyed her, as Markey returned to the Andy Griffith Show universe a few years later as Gomer Pyle's grandmother.
In the Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. episode "Grandma Pyle, Fortune Teller," the elder Pyle matriarch shows up at Camp Henderson to visit her Gomer. She proceeds to read his future.
"Something bad is going to happen to somebody close to you," Grandma tells Gomer over a meal. "Someone near and dear to your heart."
"Oh no!" Gomer replies. "Hope nothing's gonna happen to you, Grandma!" She reassures him that she is well protected by her charms. Turns out, it is Sgt. Carter with the dark shadow over his head.
Markey would appear in just a few more projects in the late-'60s before retiring for good.
She once said, ''I fibbed about my age so often that I don't know how old I am.'' Markey passed away in 1981. She was perhaps 91.