Arlene Golonka of The Andy Griffith Show had a celebrity roommate — and helped make her famous
Hint: It was like a real-life Mary and Rhoda situation.
The 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie told the tale of a small-town girl living in New York City and hoping to marry for money. That same year, another Millie was working in a Mayberry bakery, and she was content to stay in her small town and settle for the humble Howard Sprague, thank you very much.
Arlene Golonka played Millie Hutchins in two episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Her role evolved into Millie Swanson on Mayberry R.F.D., which was essentially the same character. Remember, Mayberry names, from "Goober Beasley" to Barney's middle initial, were known to be rather, well, malleable. In the spin-off, the bubbly blonde was still working the counter in the bakery, only she was now dating Sam Jones. Alas, poor Howard.
Golonka began her career in serious stage dramas. She studied under titans of theater such as Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner, some of the pioneers of "method acting." A member of The Actors Studio, Golonka acted in productions alongside Kirk Douglas (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Jackie Gleason (Take Me Along). She starred in Neil Simon's first play, Come Blow Your Horn.
The Chicago native also excelled at comedy. In 1965, Golonka appeared as an ensemble performer on the hit comedy album You Don't Have to Be Jewish. The title was a nod to a marketing slogan for Levy's Rye Bread — "You Don't Have to be Jewish to love Levy's!" The record was a follow-up for some of the comedians behind The First Family, the smash 1962 spoof of the Kennedys that at one point was "largest and fastest-selling record in the history of the record industry."
You Don't Have to Be Jewish climbed the Billboard charts all the way to No. 9, thanks to skits like "A Call From Long Island" and "The Luncheon." Both prominently featured Golonka.
The record performed so well — Walter Winchell joked it was "the No. 1 seller in Suburbia" — that a sequel was scheduled. However, Golonka was unavailable.
Fortunately, Golonka happened to be living with a talented aspiring actress. She suggested her roommate take her place on When You're in Love the Whole World is Jewish, the 1966 sequel LP.
Her roomie got the job. Her roomie was none other than Valerie Harper.
That was not the only favor Golonka graciously gave her roommate. Golonka also introduced Harper to the Second City improvisation theater. Harper toured with Second City. Her troupe included improv actor Dick Schaal. Harper and Schaal married in 1964.
Gee, in some ways, Golonka and Harper were like a real-life Mary and Rhoda.