This is supposedly a picture of young Aunt Bee on Andy's wall — but is it?
Could this Mayberry artwork be a piece of Frances Bavier's past?
One of the benefits of HD television is seeing familiar favorites in a new level of detail. It's like how you might have played Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band dozens of times, but then you listen to it with quality headphones and notice the champagne cork popping after Paul McCartney sings "over dinner" in the second verse of "Lovely Rita." Huh, you realize. Never heard that before!
Considering the many quirky characters in Mayberry and rubbery facial expressions of Don Knotts, you are forgiven if you have not paid close attention to the walls in The Andy Griffith Show. The plot and humor distract you from simply staring at the background.
But there are some fascinating pieces of art hanging on the walls of Sheriff Taylor's home and office. Jean-François Millet's The Angelus perches above the fireplace. Woodrow Wilson portraits and upside-down maps of Idaho and Nevada decorate the walls of the jailhouse.
And then there is the curious case of the young girl in the Taylor living room. It appears to be a portrait of a child dating back to the turn of the century. The young blonde rests her elbows, clutching her hands as she stares off to the right.
This portrait makes its first appearance in the very first episode, "The New Housekeeper." It hangs between the front door and the entrance to the kitchen. You can spot it as Andy ushers the newly arrives Aunt Bee into the kitchen.
Here is where it gets interesting. According to The Definitive Andy Griffith Show Reference: Episode-by-Episode, with Cast and Production Biographies and a Guide to Collectibles, a researched book written by Dale Robinson and David Fernandes, this figure in this picture is none other than Frances Bavier, the actress who played Aunt Bee.
"A publicity picture of Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) in her younger days can be seen hanging on the wall in the Taylors' home," Robinson and Fernandes declare in their notes for "The New Housekeeper."
The picture pops up in four subsequent episodes, all of them early in the series, including "A Feud Is a Feud," "Andy the Marriage Counselor," "Andy and Opie, Housekeepers," and "Aunt Bee's Brief Encounter."
That final appearance gives us the best look at the art, as it peers over the shoulder of Henry Wheeler (Edgar Buchanan of Petticoat Junction fame). Take a look.
Now, considering Robinson and Fernandes' claim that this image is a "publicity picture of Frances Bavier in her younger days," it is important to give a little back story on her career.
Bavier began her acting career on the stage in the 1930s, appearing on Broadway in shows such as Black Pit and Mother. The Manhattan native also made her screen debut with a tiny uncredited role in the New York City filmed comedy Girls About Town (1931). She is one of the many women in the auction scene.
And here, already, Bavier's early career is shrouded in mystery and myth. Even the people on YouTube trying to point her out in Girls About Town can not settle on which character is actually the future Aunt Bee.
There is also an urban legend circulating on the internet that falsely identifies Gloria DeHaven as Bavier in her "pinup" days.
With such misinformation floating about, could it be possible that this factoid about the framed picture, too, is incorrect?
The Definitely Andy Griffith Show Reference was published in the mid-1990s, before the advent of HDTV. Now that the art can be seen in crisp digital clarity, do you believe this is a young Bavier?
The girl in the photo appears to be just that — a young girl. Perhaps not even a teenager. Considering Bavier, born in 1902, did not graduate the American Academy of Dramatic Arts until 1925, how likely is it that this is a "publicity photo"?
One thing is for certain when it comes to pictures of Aunt Bee in the Taylor home. Both Opie and Andy rather oddly keep the same photo of Aunt Bee on their dressers in their bedrooms. Did you ever notice that?
We'd love to believe the portrait in the living room is Bavier. What a wonderful easter egg that would be. But we're swallowing this easter egg with a dash of salt.
What do you think? Is this a young Frances Bavier?