Frank Sutton was ''the perfect sergeant for Gomer''

A secret intellectual, the Sergeant Carter actor ''had a built-in sense of comedy and timing.''

Read to Me

"My name is Gunnery Sergeant Carter."

Those are the first words that actor Frank Sutton utters in the pilot episode "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," which aired as an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

"You will do well to remember that," Sutton continues, speaking to rows of intimidated recruits. "Because it's the only name that's going to matter to you from now on."

This moment didn't just kick off the hugely successful Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., it introduced the world to Frank Sutton, who had been acting for 15 years, hoping for this big break. With this spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show, his moment had finally arrived. Playing straight man to Gomer Pyle, Sutton became one of TV's favorite faces in the 1960s.

"Frank Sutton was the perfect sergeant for Gomer," said series creator Aaron Ruben in the book Mayberry Memories. "The long-suffering sergeant had to endure the love and devotion and dedication that Gomer relentlessly plied him with."

"Frank was one of the most professional actors I ever worked with," Ruben said. "He would not leave the conference table until he was sure and satisfied with his lines and his participation. He had a built-in sense of comedy and timing. He was the consummate actor and a joy to work with."

Up to that point, though, Sutton's talents had been overlooked for a long time. By the end of the 1950s, he'd spent many years flying back and forth between acting gigs in Hollywood and his family in New York, and time was beginning to take its toll on everyone in the Sutton family.

"It was rough on my marriage," Sutton told the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Intelligencer Journal in 1970. "Then the year came – 1959, I think it was – when I missed Christmas with the family because of a work assignment, and I promised my wife I'd stay away from Hollywood for at least the next three months."

Unfortunately for Sutton's wife, he landed a guest role on The Untouchables the very next day and the next thing Sutton knew, he was moving his whole family to Los Angeles so they could be with him as he hunted jobs. At the time, the Sutton family was living out of a hotel and still paying rent in New York. Sutton started dreaming of transitioning from TV to a different acting stage.

"I kept telling my agent, 'Get me a Broadway show!'" Sutton said.

He wanted out of L.A. and back to New York, but when no Broadway roles emerged, he had to make a call, and he decided to ditch the New York apartment and get a house in Hollywood.

Then wouldn't you know it, just two weeks after the house was bought and paid for, Sutton got offered a part on Broadway. He said he probably would’ve taken if he hadn't just bought the house in California. At the time, he was more interested in Broadway than TV.

He was kicking himself for missing his chance on Broadway, though, when a few days later, he got asked to do the Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. pilot.

Sutton said if the timing had been any different, he would've taken the Broadway role over the sitcom gig. But, because of how everything worked out, he ended up in Mayberry for this special episode of The Andy Griffith Show that launched his celebrity.

The Andy Griffith Show music composer Earle Hagen told the Television Academy that he never forgot the day they filmed the Gomer Pyle pilot, because they invited the crew to be the audience for it.

"The pilot was hysterical," Hagen said. "We went down to see the shooting."

Hagen said it took an hour to set up because Ruben insisted on using an authentic barber from the Marines, and he wanted everything perfect for when the haircut happened. It was worth waiting around for an hour to be in the room when Jim Nabors got his famous buzzcut. "It was really funny," Hagen said.

Sutton's castmates Ronnie Schell and Jim Nabors both remembered the sergeant fondly as being easy to work with on the set.

"Working on the Gomer Pyle show was sensational," Schell said in Mayberry Memories. "I got along very well with Jim. Working with such great talents as Frank Sutton, the late Ted Bessell, and Elizabeth MacRae was a real pleasure."

"My main memory of Frank is his incredible professionalism and his great talent as an actor," Nabors said.

Although Sutton played a hothead, he actually was known as an intellectual who humbly hid his braininess from others.

"As far back as I can remember I've felt starved for knowledge," Sutton told the Charlotte Observer in 1970, revealing that his personal library holds more than 3,000 books because he is such a voracious reader.

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JHP 3 months ago
boy if andy G's character had more frank Sutton in him

he could keep up with barneys yelling
Newyorkcitygal 8 months ago
I watch this show daily on metv. All the actors were great! Thanks for the great article on Sergeant Carter! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!!
MikefromJersey 9 months ago
How could they not mention Sutton's pitch perfect performance in one of the greatest movies
of all time, "Marty"? Frank and the other supporting actors made the flick a classic as much as
Ernest Borgnine's Oscar winning performance did.
robert52 9 months ago
I remember reading about his passing in Stars and Stripes newspaper in 1974. I was stationed overseas in Korea. When MeTV aired The Naked City series a few years ago, I saw him in an episode.
DavidfromGa 9 months ago
I personally think that Frank Sutton was a wonderful actor and person. He fit the character perfect and did a awesome job. He did pass from a heart attack at a young age while backstage getting ready to perform in a play in Louisiana. He is buried in Clarksville TN behind the jail there in the cemetery. If I get the chance ever, I would like to visit his grave and say a prayer and thank you for him. What a great actor and person. And yes, he was a real Sgt in the army in WWII and was a decorated veteran.
DavidfromGa 8 months ago
This comment has been removed.
ASperos 9 months ago
I wish I could live in Mayberry!!! It seems like a vacation from stress whenever I tune in!!!
Mark091 9 months ago
I hope that METV will decide to write
ARTICLES about the acting careers
Of ELIZABETH MacRae Lou Ann Poovie ROY STUART CPL Boyle and
TOMMY LEONETTI CPL NICK CUCCINELLI on GOMER PYLE USMC
Mark091 Mark091 8 months ago
ROY STUART CPL Boyle on Gomer Pyle USMC played Freddie Froug on one episode of BEWITCHED and an eye doctor on MR ED and appeared on Sanford and Son a few times
ELIZABETH MacRae Lou Ann Poovie appeared on I Dream of Jeannie and GUNSMOKE
Mark091 9 months ago
I Read an article that SGT CARTER
FRANK SUTTON and ROY STUART
Who played CPL Boyle enjoyed
Working together on the show
When viewers watch season one of
Gomer Pyle USMC it looks like
TOMMY LEONETTI who played
CPL Nick Cuccinell also worked
Very well with FRANK SUTTON
I remember seeing Frank Sutton and
Roy Stuart appear together on LOVE AMERICAN STYLE and Ronnie Schell
And Roy Stuart appeared together on the ABC show HELLZAPOPPIN
Roy Stuart and Jim Nabors were
Both on The Lost Saucer
Mark091 9 months ago
WISEGUY is right
LARRY HOVIS played SGT CARTER
On HOGAN'S HEROES
Mark091 9 months ago
FRANK SUTTON was a wonderful actor and person who went to
HEAVEN back in either 1974 or
1975 HE WAS either 50 or 51 years
Old when he passed away
I wish that FRANK SUTTON had
Lived longer and that he hadn't
Left EARTH FOR THE AFTERLIFE
When all of The fans of FRANK SUTTON arrive in Heaven (including
Me) they could say I Can't HEAR YOU
FRANK SUTTON would enjoy His
Fans saying that to him in HEAVEN
crazyrobert 9 months ago
I think Frank was on two Gunsmoke’s too.
HansShultz1 9 months ago
I hated him, when I was a kid. He was just plain mean. When it would get him points with the Colonel, he was nice to Gomer. Otherwise, he was a jerk.
b 9 months ago
Sutton played a role in the film Marty as Ernest Bourgnine's friend who always wanted to go out & pick up girls.
Hank 9 months ago
Sgt. Carter......The BEST!!!!
Wiseguy Hank 9 months ago
From 1965-69 there were two Sgt. Carters on CBS...Larry Hovis played Sgt. Carter on Hogan's Heroes.
Corey 9 months ago
Frank Sutton played an agent on The Twilight Zone where a ventriloquist and dummy swapped places.
njeri95 Corey 9 months ago
Yep! That dummy was creepy. Good episode!
frances3agape njeri95 9 months ago
It STILL creeps me out - I can't watch reruns or on my CD
Larrey25 9 months ago
You need to check him out in the Movie named after the Gene Pitney Song A Town Without Pity.
justjeff 9 months ago
Sutton played a "heavy" on Naked City in 1961.

He and Robert Blake co-starred in the episode "New York to L.A.". According to the brief sypnosis on imdb: "Det. Flint and Lt. Busti head to Los Angeles to extradite two sociopath brothers to face robbery and murder charges back in New York." [They escape, and the story gets interesting from there...]
Mike justjeff 9 months ago
And as Lt. Busti: Edward Asner.

We were younger then ...
frances3agape justjeff 9 months ago
Oh, what a great series !
I never saw it until it was rerun on MeTV a few years ago.
WISH it would be rerun
justjeff frances3agape 9 months ago
Lucky for me I purchased the entire series on DVD!
Do you get RETROTV? I think NC is still being shown on there.
No, not on local Comcast/Xfinity.
But I googled and checked it out - it looks TERRIFIC!
(It is on channels in only 3 cities in my state)
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