It’s well-documented by now that The Andy Griffith Show‘s Aunt Bee actor Frances Bavier was, by one account, “touchy and moody.” Her relationship with Griffith himself was prickly, cool, and all business.
One crew member on the series recalled that it became commonly known on the set when the actor was “angry or disturbed,” because a certain behavior of the star’s became a tell to the rest of the cast.
Frances Bavier was a New York-trained actor
Hillbilly Elegy director Ron Howard, who portrayed Opie on the classic series, remembered his former on-screen aunt as a wonderful actor with a bit of a prickly personality.
“She kept to herself,” Howard told the Television Academy Foundation in 2006. “Frances very much kept to herself. She was a New York stage actress, and I think she always loved the job and appreciated it was a big success, and was extremely professional.
“But I don’t think she ever felt a part of what these boys were up to and their shenanigans.”
The actor’s infamous relationship with Griffith
In The Andy Griffith Show Book, author Richard Kelly’s interviews with various cast and crew members revealed that of all the show’s cast members, “Aunt Bee” actor Frances Bavier was the most difficult to work with.
The show’s creator Sheldon Leonard plainly described the Emmy-Award winning Bavier as “a rather remote lady. Highly professional and a fine comedienne, fine actress with very individual character. She was rather self-contained and was not part of the general hijinks that centered upon Andy on the set.”
She and Andy Griffith barely tolerated one another. While Griffith liked the set of the show to be festive with joke-telling and banjo-playing, Bavier did not care for these antics. The merriment and music simply weren’t her style and she would retreat to her dressing room.
Here’s how Frances Bavier’s cast mates knew when she was upset
One of the show’s crew members was makeup man Lee Greenway who, according to Kelly, “knew the most about the goings and comings of everybody on the show.”
Greenway reported to the author that Bavier had a particular habit she would employ when she was upset with something that happened on the set, or when she felt slighted by another cast member.
“Occasionally, when Frances Bavier, who was a very sensitive woman, would get her feelings hurt, she would call in to say she was not feeling well and would arrive late,” Kelly wrote.
When Bavier wasn’t at the set on time, Greenway said, the cast and crew knew it meant the actor was “angry or disturbed about something.”
Greenway’s reputation on the set was both as makeup man and as peacemaker. When he saw these kind of skirmishes erupt on the set, he was known as the one who would “soon have things patched up,” and eventually became known as the makeup man and the “make up” man.
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