Stars of Vaudeville #847: Frances Bavier
Today is the birthday of Frances Bavier (1902-1989) best known to audiences today as Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show.
Originally from North Carolina, Bavier attended Columbia University with the original intention of being a schoolteacher. She attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then broke into vaudeville in the 1920s. Her first (of a dozen) Broadway shows was The Black Pit in 1935. Other notable stage productions included On Borrowed Time (1938), and Orson Welles’ production of Richard Wright’s Native Son (1941-1943).
By the time of her film debut in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, her physique and personality had changed into something more resembling the one we associate with Aunt Bee. Bavier played numerous roles on screens big and small over the years. The Aunt Bee gig began in 1960 with The Andy Griffith Show, which ran through 1968, then continued with the ever increasingly anachronistic Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-1970), after which she retired.
She returned to her native North Carolina in retirement, and gave this interview at the time. You’ll be interested to discover that the creator of this iconic, idyllic role rankled at the part. An educated and sophisticated woman with many past roles to her credit, she didn’t like being exclusively identified with a fussy but loving elder, given to putting up jars of jam and dispensing folksy wisdom. The structure of this interview — especially the closing slug which seems to disregard everything the woman just said — gives a pretty good picture of her situation. But she seemed to bear it with a good grace. And I’m sure the role didn’t make her any poorer.
To find out more about 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 don’t miss 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