The unfortunate circumstances that led to the mysterious, abrupt departure of Julie March from Matlock
Home was where the heart was for both Andy Griffith and Julie Sommars.
A pretty redhead catches Ben Matlock's eye in an elevator during the first season of Matlock. Later she rushes into the hearing late and it's a hint she's about to play a much bigger role in Ben's world.
This is how audiences were introduced to assistant district attorney Julie March on Matlock. Played by Julie Sommars, who rose up in the 1970s after winning a Golden Globe win for Best TV Actress – Musical or Comedy for her role on The Governor & J.J.
The character of Julie March becomes Ben's greatest love interest over the show's first six seasons.
And then she simply disappears from the funny little mystery series entirely. And Matlock doesn't even blink an eye! What gives?
Behind the scenes, the commitment to Matlock was becoming a little much for the show's star Andy Griffith. The show was switching networks from NBC to ABC, and they wanted him to do these two-hour movies that would require even more of his time. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Griffith said his agent had told him to simply refuse to do any of it.
The only thing ABC could think to do was move the filming of the show closer to Andy so he wouldn't walk away. He said they came back with an offer: "Let's move the whole show to Wilmington. We'll rent you a house."
That's what it took to get the star to stay on. Moving the show to North Carolina only made things easier on Griffith. And even though a review in Variety the year before Matlock swapped networks said the supporting cast like Sommars did "stellar work" on the show, Griffith was the only actor they really needed to proceed.
Now by this time, Sommars had just about had enough of bending her life to being an actor. She had a family in California that she didn't want to leave, and Griffith confirmed in an interview that there were no hard feelings when she decided not to continue on the show or make the move to Wilmington to do so. This decision ended up ending her entire acting career.
At her core, from the beginning, Sommars was always extremely sensitive to how her decision to act affected her. In an interview with Life magazine in the early 1970s, she explained that she always wanted to be able to say, "It's fun being a television star."
However, when it came to acting, she said, "I can't fake it. I have to make things real to me. Ever since I was little, it's been programmed into me to do the best job I can."
This determination and focus explain how she managed right from the start to be in lockstep with sensational stars like Carol Burnett.
Sommars got her TV debut as Loretta Young's daughter on The Loretta Young Show when she was just 18. From 1960 through 1992, she was a pretty redhead on TV shows like Bonanza, Perry Mason, Ben Casey, Gunsmoke, Get Smart, The Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I., Diagnosis Murder, and many more. She also shared the big screen with Don Knotts in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and starred in the series The Governor & J.J.
In her interview for Life, Sommars said she took 12 acting classes and quit because the teachers just made all the actors terrible. She knew then that the big money was to be made in movies but she found movie people to be snobby. At a young age, she expressed a fondness not for celebrity, but for the simple things in life:
"I mean, my house, to me, represents the beauty of life. I have a little tree in my front yard in bloom. It's pink. And when I come home, it always makes me smile because I have a pink tree in my front yard. Then the other day, I made a chocolate cake and it turned out moist instead of dry. I haven't stopped talking about it since."
So if you ever worried about how Julie Sommars got dropped from Matlock and you never saw her on TV again, you should probably relax in the comfort that she was just fine. "I still think the good and beauty of life outweigh the sorrows and the clutchings and the setbacks," she said.
We just hope that 20 years after her Life profile, it was easy to leave Matlock for her family home, which we hope had a pink tree in the front yard. And hey, Julie March comes back for an episode in the ninth season, and we finally get a little closure when Julie and Ben hint about their long unspoken break-up.