A determined fan used his wedding to break through Frances Bavier's wall of silence
You could say he was the last fan to get advice from Aunt Bee.
Take a minute and think about Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show. What comes to mind?
Is it her excellent cooking? Her maternal instinct to care for everyone? Maybe her colorful housedresses and aprons? Or, if you're feeling a little nitpicky, is it her yucky pickles?
Now, let's put Aunt Bee aside. Take this next minute to think about the actor Frances Bavier. What do you know of her?
Don't feel bad if you can't distinguish between the two. Bavier has said that she got lost in the character of Aunt Bee, not just in wrapping her head around how other people thought of her, but in how she thought of herself.
"You can't be an actress for 40 years, living in a world of make-believe, and not be affected," Bavier said in one of her rare interviews when The Andy Griffith Show was still on air.
Other actors who played famous housekeepers in the Sixties like Ann B. Davis (The Brady Bunch) have said that they experienced the opposite. The longer that Davis played Alice, the more the producers started injecting her real personality into the character. For Bavier, it happened the other way around.
"Sooner or later, your mind begins to click, and in my case, you are wise to seek professional help, to help stop being Aunt Bee after work," she told the Star-Gazette in 1966.
To save her sanity and separate herself from her iconic TV character, most fans know that Bavier went into hiding later in her life, retiring to Siler City, North Carolina, where she mostly kept to herself (ironically the only people she kept close were her own house staff) and stopped answering fan letters.
Many fans tried to reach Bavier over the years, writing letters and hoping for a note back, but Bavier had disconnected from Aunt Bee. She had to because being Aunt Bee just wasn't as easy as it looks.
"It's terribly difficult because Aunt Bee is so much nicer than the real me," Bavier said, echoing a similar sentiment Griffith has expressed about his iconic character.
But then along came a big fan who broke through this wall of silence.
Scott Reboul was a radiochemist living in North Carolina, about to marry Debbi, the love of his life. The year was 1988, and the couple planned their wedding in Charlotte.
About 100 miles away, Bavier lived in Siler City. Like many adoring fans, Scott thought he'd send her a letter. He'd heard from others that Bavier was a famous recluse, but he figured he'd give it a shot anyway. In an interview with fellow retro pop culture fan Jeremy Roberts, Scott said, "Not surprisingly, she didn't respond to my note."
Scott and Debbi had no hard feelings. They stopped by the local florist and left flowers for the TV matriarch on her front porch (a very Mayberry image), then resumed their wedding planning. It wasn't until they were putting together the wedding invitations when Scott got an idea.
"Anyway, in April 1988, Debbi and I were preparing for our wedding on May 7 by sending out early RSVPs so we could figure out who was the best caterer for our number of guests," Scott said. "I figured this was my last chance to get a potential response from Bavier, so I sent her an invitation. Everything I had heard about her was that she was a very formal person, so maybe she'd feel a desire to send back the wedding invitation card."
This was a clever scheme indeed, and perhaps Bavier was still a little more like her character than she thought, because Scott's trick worked. He became one of the last fans to break through Bavier’s wall of silence when she actually sent her RSVP back, and wouldn't you know, scrawled on the RSVP card was the perfect polite advice to decline a wedding invitation:
“Miss Bavier regrets she will be unable to attend, but wishes you and yours happiness in your coming years.”
Scott's pretty sure it's her handwriting on the RSVP card.
"From what I can tell, Bavier wrote the note herself about a year and a half before her death at age 86, as the handwriting appears the same as that found on her checks and letters," he explained. He also said he sometimes started borrowing this exact wording when he had to decline to attend weddings, so in a way, he became the last fan to take some good polite advice from Aunt Bee.
A year later, Bavier passed away on a December day in 1989. Before she did, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard visited her Siler City home, and with the two boys she raised on TV by her side, she made peace with her difficult feelings regarding Aunt Bee, a character for which her most loyal fans maintain eternal fondness.
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Like the time I got Buddy Ebsen to laugh.
I was running Security at an early "Con" type deal in Tuscaloosa Alabama in the 80s. Not a Sci-Fi Con, possibly a Comic Con, something like that. First time I'd ever heard con used as a suffix for convention like that. Buddy came in to do a Q&A session. I had a Q that only Buddy could A.
There was a room full of people waiting to ask him a question. I was on duty and couldn't just blow 45 minutes standing in line, so I Head of Securitied my way up to the front. "Mr Ebsen," I say, "we got a generation full of yuppies runnin' loose out there wearing sport coats over t-shirts. It's practically their uniform, and they call it the "Sonny Crockett look", from Don Johnson's character on Miami Vice. But c'mon. Everyone knows it was Jed Clampett who pioneered that look. Does it bug you at all you've been written out of history like that?" Buddy chuckled, gave me the Jed grin, and said "well, Don Johnson is a fine actor and I'll not say a word against him".
You were a class act all the way, Buddy.
Cranky, ungrateful, and defiant old biddy right up until to the end. Bet she gave Leona Helmsley a run for her money.
Rest in peace Frances, most of us loved you!
Also her later persona may have matched her character in a Lone Ranger episode as the leader of a group of outlaws.
I made Buddy Ebsen laugh once, y'know. A personal highlight.
I once got Buddy Ebsen to laugh. I was running Security at an early "Con" type deal in the Tuscaloosa Alabama in the 80s. Not a Sci-Fi Con, possibly a Comic Con, something like that. First time I'd ever heard con used as a suffix for convention like that. Buddy came in to do a Q&A session. I had a question that had already been troubling me for months, and Buddy was the only one who COULD answer it.
There was a very long line of people waiting to ask him a question. I was on duty and couldn't just blow 45 minutes standing in it, so I Head of Securitied my way up to the front. "Mr Ebsen," I say "we got yuppies runnin' loose all around the country wearing sport coats over t-shirts. It's practically their uniform, and they call it the "Sonny Crockett look", from Don Johnson's character on Miami Vice. But c'mon. Everyone knows it was Jed Clampett who pioneered that look. Does it bug you at all you've been written out of history like that?"
Buddy chuckled, gave me the Jed grin, and said "well, Don Johnson is a fine actor and I'll not say a word against him". You were a class act all the way, Buddy.
Flash forward fifty years, and Mom's in the hospital again, recuperating from a stroke, when I manage to dig up a copy of the very episode she missed that weekend, which guest-starred Frances Bavier as a kooky small-town eccentric who likes to shoplift (from her own family's department store) to make her life more exciting, and gets mixed up with a gang of serious crooks who want her to join them for a big bank heist.
I took my laptop and the show to Mom and we watched it together in her hospital room. (Sorry to say, Mom later decided it wasn't one of the better episodes.)
When Griffith was interviewed on Larry King Live in 1998, he admitted that Bavier phoned him four months before her death, and apologized for being difficult on the set.