Ken Curtis' childhood was more ''Opie'' than ''Festus''

"The prisoners ate the same as mother cooked for us, so it was mighty good,"

CBS Television Distribution

You'd be forgiven for spending time daydreaming about Mayberry. No matter what your lot is in life, you can do with a little idyllic Southern hospitality. Mayberry is one of the great TV settings because of how it draws you in. To live in Mayberry is to be known; the whole town is like a drier version of the bar from Cheers. These folks have known you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. It's all very cute.

Ken Curtis, though, wasn't on The Andy Griffith Show. He was in Gunsmoke and stayed there for over 12 years. As Festus, Curtis filled the shoes of previous Dodge City deputy Chester Goode. And although he was a deputy, he was no Barney Fife. Instead, Festus Haggen was scruffy, grumpy, and downright illiterate. But in real life, Ken Curtis the actor had more in common with his Mayberry counterpart than one might imagine.

Ken Curtis' father was the sheriff of Las Animas, Colorado. In a 1973 interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Curtis revealed some fun details that could be straight out of an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

"People used to get arrested just so they could stay in my Dad's jail and eat my mother's cooking," he said. It's almost like Otis and Aunt Bee have their roots in Las Animas, not Mt. Pilot.

"The prisoners ate the same as mother cooked for us, so it was mighty good," said Curtis. 

"It was depression time and people weren't eatin' too good. My mother was a very plain cook, but a very good cook. I can never remember a morning we didn't have hot biscuits for breakfast. She got up around 5 AM and cooked on an old wood stove. She served the biscuits with plenty of good fresh butter she churned. We owned four cows and had a little place over at the old livery stable to keep the cows. Breakfast was a really good meal — homemade jam or jelly, fried eggs, bacon, or ham. We always had our big meal at noon and supper at night. I remember my mother was allowed a dollar a day to feed each prisoner. She was a real good manager."

Although we can't picture Aunt Bee out milking cows, the rest of the details sound right at home in Mayberry. 

So, what do you think the characters in The Andy Griffith Show would've made of ol' Festus, anyhow? Let us know in the comments section below!

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21 Comments

LynCarrigan 1 month ago
Chester for me but Festus was brave and loyal and good firepower for Matt.
Sooner 1 month ago
Now that's downright interestin.
sueeastlake 1 month ago
Ken Curtis added a lot to Gunsmoke, and the love/hate relationship between Festus and Doc was wonderful.
thediamond 1 month ago
I liked Ken Curtis, he was a talented fellow. Cheers though, is still too different to be akin to Mayberry.
Marcellia 1 month ago
Sorry, but I like Chester better. Festus just had an attitude all the time and was trying to hard to be liked. Chester had the pulse of Didge City.
tootsieg 1 month ago
Ken Curtis did have an Opie childhood. Like Otis, sure sounds like the prisoners ate well and had a nice stay.
cperrynaples 1 month ago
Aunt Bee actually did milk a cow...on Mayberry RFD!
RoyBoy48 1 month ago
Talented Ol cuss Ken Curtis was,made appearances for handicap kids Hospitals, and was a good quarterback
McGillahooala 1 month ago
I visited Los Animas last year to see the courthouse. His boyhood home. I was passing through and had to make the detour.

Runeshaper 1 month ago
First off, I really enjoyed the Mayberry/Cheers analogy. That was cool.

Second, it sure sounds like those people ate REAL good! lol

Third, I think Festus would have gotten along pretty well with most of the folks in Mayberry.
raddad Runeshaper 1 month ago
Maybe not so much with Floyd. I don’t think he ever stepped foot in a barber shop.
Runeshaper raddad 1 month ago
HAHAHAHA fair point!
murgatroid45 raddad 1 month ago
Howard Mcnear "Floyd" played Doc on the radio version of Gunsmoke.
Yes, and the "New" Mayor of Mayberry played "Chester" on the radio version of Gunsmoke
WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
It's hard for this city slicker to believe there were actually small towns in which the sheriff's wife cooked for the prisoners.
In a most positive light, I would call it a yarn, but truthfully, it smells of BS.
LoveMETV22 harlow1313 1 month ago
According to bios on Mr Curtis:

"Born the youngest of three boys in Lamar in Prowers County in southeastern Colorado, Curtis lived his first ten years on a ranch on Muddy Creek in eastern Bent County. In 1926, the family moved to Las Animas, the county seat of Bent County, so that his father, Dan Sullivan Gates, could run for sheriff. The campaign was successful, and Gates served from 1926 to 1931 as Bent County sheriff."

" In a most positive light, I would call it a yarn, but truthfully."

Guess it's possible either way? Truthful or not.
You need to remember that she would probably only have to cook for one or two prisoners at a time.
Biggierat harlow1313 1 month ago
We’re talking a small town in Depression era Colorado. It’s completely plausible that could’ve happened.
Sooner WordsmithWorks 1 month ago
Being an old Southern boy, I can tell you it's the way many towns did. They had to hire someone to provide meals.
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