Frances Bavier is in the pilot of The Andy Griffith Show, but she did not play Aunt Bee
Her first Mayberry character was Henrietta Perkins.
Read to Me
We can thank Danny Thomas for Mayberry. Just as the Sixties were kicking off, The Danny Thomas Show (also known as Make Room For Daddy) was in the midst of its seventh season. Thomas and Sheldon Leonard, his show's producer, tasked writer Arthur Stander with coming up with a pilot for rising star Andy Griffith.
Griffith, a North Carolina native, was shooting up the comedy ranks thanks to his hit spoken word record, "What It Was, Was Football," and his role on Broadway and film in No Time for Sergeants.
So, a plot was devised that would have Danny arrested in a small town and thrown in the slammer after a traffic violation. The town was Mayberry. Griffith flew to Hollywood to shoot the episode, "Danny Meets Andy Griffith," which aired on February 15, 1960, just as "Teen Angel" was topping the pop charts.
The episode takes place largely in the jailhouse, which is different from The Andy Griffith Show but familiar. The entrance is on a different wall, but there is a desk, an American flag, and cells. Sheriff Taylor's desk is little more ornate, his chair plusher, as he wields more power in this pilot episode.
What makes it all seem the Mayberry we know and love is the supporting cast. Ron Howard, even younger than you remember him, is there as Opie Taylor. Townsfolk wander in and out, too, played by The Andy Griffith Show supporting cast players like Will Wright and Frank Cady.
Wright you might remember as ol' Ben Weaver. However, in "Danny Meets Andy Griffith," he is playing a fellow named Mr. Johnson. Andy catches him, "doing business with a dead man." But Wright is still an elder businessman.
What is more shocking is the appearance of Frances Bavier, the beloved Aunt Bee. Because, well, she isn't Aunt Bee.
Bavier turns up at the jail halfway through the episode, portraying a "Henrietta Perkins," a widow who has not been paying her taxes. She explains that she buried her poor husband Charlie in a rented suit, to make him look successful, but neglected to tell the undertaker to remove the suit after the funeral. Charlie was buried in his rented suit, and Mrs. Perkins has been shelling out "50¢ a day for two years."
That was a lot of money back then.
Six months later, Bavier would show up on Sheriff Taylor's doorstep in Mayberry as Aunt Bee, in the series premiere "The New Housekeeper." At last, all was right in the television world. Even if her pickles were inedible.