Hope Summers: Late Bloomer

Some attention paid today to character actress Hope Summers (1902-1979), whose most prominent credits include the role of Clara on The Andy Griffith Show (1961-68) and Mayberry RFD (1968-1970), and the voice of Mrs. Butterworth in tv commercials from 1961 to her death in 1979.

The daughter of Illinois Congressman John W. Summers, she attended Northwestern, teaching speech and dictions there and at other institutions afterwards. Married in 1927, she began to act in regional stock theatre, even managing her own companies, and to tour with one woman shows throughout the midwest in the 1930s. In 1939 she broke into radio, an outlet for her throughout the 1940s, acting on numerous national programs originating our of Chicago.

It wasn’t until 1950, when she was in her late ’40s that Summers began acting regularly on screen, playing the character of Belinda Catherwood on the tv soap opera Hawkins Falls. She was frequently typecast as rural or small town spinsters and busybodies, and westerns made up a significant percentage of her credits. A recurring part on The Rifleman (1958-1960) was one of her first prominent TV roles, and she also guested on Wagon Train and Maverick early in her career. Summers’ movies included Zero Hour (1957), I Want to Live (1958), Hound Dog Man (1959) with Fabian, Inherit the Wind (1960), William Castle’s Homicidal (1961), The Children’s Hour (1961), Spencer’s Mountain (1963), The Halleluiah Trail (1965), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966). Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), 5 Card Stud (1968), The Learning Tree (1969), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972) and Foul Play (1978). TV work beyond the Mayberry-verse included guest appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hazel, Bewitched, Hawaii Five-O, M*A*S*H, Chico and the Man, Welcome Back Kotter, and Little House on the Prairie. Her final role, such as it was, was in the movie Smoky and the Good Time Outlaws (1978).