Elizabeth MacRae played the love interest to three different Mayberry actors
Remember her as Betty, Lou-Ann… and Ladyfish?
Far right: Warner Bros.
Goober, Bunny and Bee. Asa, Opie and Whipple. You have to hand it to the writers of The Andy Griffith Show and its spin-off Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. They sure knew how to come up with some colorful names.
But was there truly a cuter character name than Lou-Ann Poovie?
Nightclub singer Lou-Ann Poovie made her debut in the season-three episode "Love's Old Sweet Song." She would quickly become Gomer's girlfriend. She made the ideal sweetheart for the gas-pumper-turned-grunt. Her Southern charm and accent kept Gomer from feeling too homesick while stationed way out in California.
Elizabeth MacRae was perfectly suited for the part. Not only did she grow up in North Carolina, but she was also raised in Fort Bragg. MacRae had experience playing a main squeeze with a twang. Over the span of a few seasons, in a handful of episodes, she had portrayed April, the girlfriend of Festus on Gunsmoke. It's hard to picture a better Lou-Ann.
Yet, at her audition for Gomer Pyle, MacRae not only tried out for a different role — she hid her Carolina accent. And Lou-Ann Poovie would not have hardly existed if not for a chance encounter at the studio.
"I went to read for another part and I was trying not to have a Southern accent," MacRae confessed to her hometown newspaper, The Fayetteville Observer, in 2017.
MacRae was reading lines with series creator and producer Aaron Ruben when Lee Phillips happened to pass by. Phillips, a Peyton Place actor who directed 60 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, also had North Carolina roots, according to MacRae.
Phillips popped his head in the office and declared, "My Lord, that’s my favorite Southern belle!" The remark took Ruben by surprise, as she had been disguising her natural voice.
Ruben asked, "Can you speak with a Southern accent?" Indeed!
"He hired me on the spot," MacRae recalled. "And that was the birth of Lou-Ann Poovie. It was supposed to be a one-shot deal. I did 15 episodes."
During her time on Gomer Pyle, she also popped up as Lila Holden, the fiancé of Candy on Bonanza in the great later episode "Trouble Town."
More surprising, however, was her appearance in Mayberry. In 1967, MacRae turned up as a guest-star in the color Andy Griffith Show episode "Big Brother." As Betty Parker, MacRae turns the head of Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson). To confuse matters, this story aired just four weeks after the Gomer episode "Lou-Ann Poovie Sings Again."
Yep, MacRae was two different love-interests in the Mayberry universe in the span of a month.
Her connection to the men of Mayberry does not end there — or should we say begin there.
Rewind the clock to 1964. You might not realize that MacRae voiced the character Ladyfish, the eyelash-batting cartoon darling in The Incredible Mr. Limpet. For Don Knotts, Mr. Limpet — and his animated fish alter-ego — was a breakthrough role on the big screen. The special-effects marvel made Knotts a movie star. It even boasted that it held the "world's first underwater movie premiere," as it debuted at the Weeki Wachee Springs Underwater Theater.
No wonder MacRae considered the Mayberry world to be her second family.
"When I first came on the set of Gomer Pyle, the very first [episode] I did, Andy came over and was very much a part of the filming," MacRae recalled in the 2005 book Mayberry Memories: The Andy Griffith Show Photo Album. "He wasn't in it but he was there helping Jim Nabors coach me to sing… so Andy and Jim were standing behind the camera mouthing the words trying to help me. Andy himself is lovely and Don Knotts is wonderful."
"When the show ended, it was like losing my family," MacRae said.