Parley Baer fondly remembered being with his ''dearest friends'' on The Andy Griffith Show
Find out how Otis and Mayor Stoner passed time as friends in the real world.
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"You're just wasting your time, Sheriff," Mayor Stoner tells Andy Taylor in the opening scene of The Andy Griffith Show episode "The Bed Jacket." They're both in fishing gear, making small-talk on the dock of the lake. Nearby, Opie's got his pole in the water, idly.
Andy casts his line and immediately catches a fish. "Whoa," Andy says, tossing the fish in a basket already full of fish.
Mayor Stoner loses his mind, asking, "You got all those today!?"
The tension builds as Opie insists to the mayor that their success is all due to his paw’s fishing pole "Eagle-Eye Annie." When Andy lets the mayor use the pole, of course, he immediately hooks a bite, too, and this leads to him haggling with Andy, trying to get him to sell the mayor the pole.
None of this had anything to do with the set-up for the episode, which was about finding a birthday gift for Aunt Bea, but it's a perfect example of the kind of slow comedy The Andy Griffith Show was so good at, precisely because the show cast veteran character actors like Parley Baer, even for bit parts. Baer appeared as Mayor Stoner seven times from 1962–63. On the Andy Griffith Show fan podcast Two Chairs, No Waiting, Baer said he had a "wonderful, very nice" time working on the show, likening the cast to a "happy family." Thinking back on what it was like, he remembered little Ron Howard "skimming around" on a bicycle or scooter any chance he got between scenes and school.
When a fan asked what it was like to work with Andy in scenes like this one from "The Bed Jacket," Baer said, "It was great. You looked forward to going to work."
Baer's truest friends on the show were the other veteran character actors, he said, naming some of his castmates in "The Bed Jacket," Frances Bavier and Mary Lansing, who plays Mrs. Lukens, the shop owner selling the episode's titular bed jacket. All of them had come up acting in the movies and radio together, and he said Hal Smith and Howard McNear were "two of my dearest, dearest friends."
He and Hal Smith even had what Baer called a "running thing" — a tradition they'd developed over the years, going to all the same interviews as popular voice actors. He said after each audition, Smith would ask, "You busy?"
Baer would say the same thing, "No."
"Whatcha doing after?" Smith would ask.
"Nothing," Baer would confirm.
"Well, let's go get a cup of coffee and sit and lie to each other for a while," Smith suggested.
"And I'd say OK, and that’s what we did," Baer said in the interview, painting a Rockwell-esque picture of a lifetime of sitting across from his friend at a coffee shop, making each other feel good about themselves.
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show were all struck by the tragic loss of Howard McNear in 1969, and it's well-known that as one of his best friends, Baer gave the eulogy at McNear's funeral. Later, Hal Smith passed away suddenly from a heart attack in 1994. In his interview, Baer said, "There isn't a day that I don't think about those guys, that I don't mourn their passing. They were great friends and two of the finest actors who ever came down the path."
On The Andy Griffith Show, Baer appeared in just two episodes with Smith ("The Loaded Goat" and "Barney and the Governor") and only once with McNear ("The Mayberry Band"). The three veterans unfortunately never appeared together.
Assistant director Bruce Bilson, who worked on more than 50 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, told EmmyTVLegends that to him, it felt like for each of these veteran players, their Andy Griffith Show character was "a gift of a lifetime, those parts."
"The guy who played the mayor," Bilson said, getting excited talking about working with Parley Baer, so many years later, "He wasn't there much, but there were old MGM movies where he was in every one, you know?"