George Lindsey: A Man With Goober-natorial Aspirations

Words cannot describe the impatience with which I have been holding this post back for several months, not on account of its contents, but its headline, for which I believe I deserve some sort of special award.

“Surprise, surprise, surprise!,” as Goober’s cousin Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) used to eloquently, if repetitively, put it. For it turns out that George Lindsey (1928-2012), so indelibly associated with a dim-witted character, not only possessed a college degree, but taught high school (in my grandfather’s hometown!), and studied for three years at the American Theatre Wing in New York. He underwrote academic scholarships at his alma mater (The University of North Alabama) and held an honorary doctorate there. It turns out actors aren’t actually the characters they play! Who knew? Oh, there will be MUCH to surprise and delight you in this post about George “Goober” Lindsay.

Yes, he was an Alabama boy, and a college football player, and he served in the air force. But he managed to squeeze in a lot of stuff that was pre-Goober and non-Goober which the world has forgotten — if it ever knew. For example (and this one nearly made me fall off my chair), he was in Mel Brooks’ first Broadway show, the now completely forgotten musical All American (1962), with Ray Bolger, Anita Gillette, Fritz Weaver, Barney Martin, directed by Joshua Logan, with music by Charles Strouse??? I think I may have to give this one its own special post. My first thought was, “wow, here’s a potential new Mel Brooks movie!” But based on reviews and reports and descriptions it seems that its burial was intentional and probably justified. But still…

Furthermore: both Leonard Nimoy and Ernest Borgnine (Lindsay’s good friend) have been quoted as saying that Lindsay was Gene Roddenberry’s choice to play Spock on Star Trek, but he turned the role down! Great article on that here on MeTV’s website. Talk about a parallel universe. What would life be like in THAT dimension?

Lindsey began getting cast on TV regularly in 1963. Shows he guest starred on early in his career included The Rifleman, Death Valley Days, The Real McCoys, The Magical World of Disney, The Twilight Zone, Daniel Boone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Joey Bishop Show, Gunsmoke, and Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

In 1964, he was cast in the role of Goober Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and thus his fate (or doom) was sealed. Honestly, he seemed more than happy to be consigned to the part for eternity, much as Nabors was perpetually Gomer, and Bob Denver was eternally Gilligan, and the late Larry Storch was faithfully Agarn. Like many or most of these, as Goober Lindsey was required to don a comical chapeau, in his case, one of those weird crowns like Jughead wore in Archie comics, or one of the Bowery Boys might sport at Louie’s Sweet Shop. In the appalling event you aren’t acquainted with Goober, the character worked at the gas station in Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town presided over by Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. The character was a sort of super-dumb, mouth breathing good old boy who always had a rag sticking out of his back pocket. He played the recurring character throughout the life of that show as well as its successor show Mayberry R.F.D., until the latter was cancelled in 1971. He then continued to play it on the country-themed variety show Hee Haw from 1972 through 1992. That’s a lotta Goober.

Outside the Goober-verse Lindsey did a lot of Goober-adjacent projects. He worked a lot for Walt Disney, in such films as The Aristocats (1970), The Snowball Express (1972), Charley and the Angel (1973), Robin Hood (1973), and The Rescuers (1977). He has cameos in Take This Job and Shove It (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984). And he guested on Love American Style, M*A*S*H, and Fantasy Island. He also naturally appeared on variety and talk shows like The Johnny Cash Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, Dinah! and The Tonight Show (with both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson).

We haven’t yet reached the summit of Mount Pilot.

Did you know that in 1978 at the height of the trucker craze I wrote about here, Lindsey starred in his own TV movie Goober and the Truckers’ Paradise, featuring Brion James, Audrey Landers, Billy Medley from the Righteous Brothers, Sixpack Annie star and former Miss Utah Lindsay Bloom, Clint Eastwood regular Bruce “Bear” Fischer, and Leigh French from The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977)? Well, now you do.

Or that in 1995, with the assistance of ghostwriters, he penned his memoir, Goober in a Nutshell? (At this point I’ll go ahead and insult those of you who already know by pointing out that “Goober” is a folk term for “peanut”).

But that is still not the topper. This is:

As celebrities from Angelyne to Slippin’ Jimmy have taught, you’re never a star ’til you get yer billboard. Got his billboard.

Lindsey retired in the mid ’90s, though he returned for a small role in a 2006 family film called When I Find the Ocean. His very last credit, and I thank the Lord in Heaven for this, was on Larry the Cable Guy’s Hula-Palooza Christmas Luau (2009). He passed away in Nashville in 2012.

(As I pen this on Lindsey’s DOB, December 17, I just now learned that George Lindsey Jr, who also went into the family business as an actor, passed away just a few days ago. I’ll add more here as I learn more).

For more on variety history, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.