Today is the 83rd birthday of Jim Nabors. Many people are surprised to learn that he’s still alive. Not only is he alive but he just got married this year, to his longtime (38 year) companion Stan Cadwallader — they got hitched as soon as it was legal in Washington state.
Nabors is a difficult phenomenon to describe to people too young to have experienced him back in the day. He has two polar modes:
In one, he is the semi-retarded, good-hearted but naive hick Gomer Pyle, whom he played on The Andy Griffith Show and on his own Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. (1964-1969), and then in endless forced exhumations as all tv stars are forced to do (Bob Denver, Don Adams, etc etc), in tv appearances and in films like The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Stroker Ace (1983), and Cannonball Run II (1984).
Gomer Pyle was in syndication throughout the 70s, and let me tell you I watched it to death. Like The Andy Griffith Show, which was set in a small Southern town in which there were no blacks and thus no civil rights movement, Gomer Pyle was set in a Marine barracks in the late 1960s in which there was mysteriously no Vietnam War. It essentially chronicled the conflicts between urban, smart, no-nonsense Sgt. Carter (Frank Sutton) and rural, accident-prone Pyle. Ronnie Schell played Pyle’s friend Duke. And as Pyle, Nabors provided the nation with the catchphrases “Shazam”, and “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
Mode #2 for Nabors was that he was a singer — a very white, operatic, Broadway type singer, without an ounce of rock or swing or jazz in him. Sometimes he would stretch narrative credibility by doing it in the context of Gomer as in the clip below, but he also appeared on variety shows and also had several variety shows of his own over the years. Because he only sang the unhippest music, this other persona was considered (unintentionally) as funny as Gomer Pyle.
At any rate I think one could do a hilarious Jekyll and Hyde story using Jim Nabors’ two personae.
To find out more about the variety arts and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc