Friday, July 20, 2018

Aunt Bee: Six Feet Under

Full disclosure.  I've never been a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show.  But I get it.  It has its own place in the pop culture Hall of Fame, and a large part of that is due to the show's matriarch, Aunt Bee, played by actress Frances Bavier.

She was born on December 14, 1902 in New York City, a far cry from Mayberry indeed.  After graduating from Columbia University, she began her career in vaudeville, before eventually moving to the Broadway stage.  Film roles would follow, including the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, along with roles on such popular TV series as Perry Mason and The Lone Ranger.

People often forget that Andy Griffith was a spin-off of another popular series, Make Room for Daddy.  The original pilot featured two familiar faces - Andy, playing his soon-to-be iconic character of Andy Taylor, and a then-unknown Ron Howard in his first appearance as Opie.  Bavier also appeared in the pilot, playing an unrelated character named Henrietta Perkins.  When the concept went to series however, she was recast in the more familiar role of Aunt Bee.  Watch the entire Daddy episode here.

Bavier resented the character, and by her own admission, cared little for Griffith either.  Despite all this, she logged more time in Mayberry than any other actor, appearing in both the original series and it's follow-up, Mayberry R.F.D.  I still don't know what that stands for.

In 1972, she retired from acting, and retreated to a simpler life in Siler City, North Carolina.  Given her New York background, it seemed an odd choice.  "I fell in love with North Carolina," she explained, "all the pretty roads and trees."  A local author chronicled this transition in her memoirs.

Bavier enjoyed her final years, doing charity work with the Easter Seals Society and by writing encouraging letters to her fans all over the world.  She was also quite the cat lover, and according to at least one report, would today be a prime candidate for the TV series Hoarders.  Read about her reclusive lifestyle here.

Then in late 1989, she was admitted to Chatham Hospital's coronary unit, where she spent two weeks undergoing observation.  She was released on December 4, but passed away just two days later.  The official cause of death was congestive heart failure, with supporting factors being breast cancer, arthritis, and COPD.  She was just eight days shy of her 87th birthday.

She was interred at Oakwood Cemetery, a simple country graveyard in Siler City.  As you travel down the country road leading to the park, be sure to look for a local business called, what else, Aunt Bee's.  Though it's not in any way related to Bavier. 

Normally I like to offer readers directions for finding burial locations, but you won't have any trouble finding this one.  In fact, you can spot it from the road.  At seven feet tall, it towers over every other headstone at Oakwood.  It even bears her character's name, and given her disdain for Aunt Bee, you really have to wonder who made that call.

Rest in peace, Aunt Bee.

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