Here's a toast to Barney Fife's forgotten love Hilda Mae

The delightful Florence MacMichael had a "wonderful humility," just like her Mayberry character.

"How's about you and me take a walk down to the lake, Hilda Mae?" Barney Fife asks his date during a picnic with Andy, Ellie, Aunt Bee and Opie in the opening scene of The Andy Griffith Show first season episode "Ellie for Council."

"Oh, I don't know," Hilda Mae says, "I should help clean up here."

Ellie urges her to go along with Barney, and the deputy clumsily helps Hilda Mae to her feet.

"I hope there aren't any wild animals," Hilda Mae says to Barney.

"If I were you," Barney says, eyes jiggling with flirtatious machismo, "I wouldn't worry too much about the wild animals."

On The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife's most frequently seen girlfriend is Thelma Lou, but 12 episodes before we meet his sitcom soulmate, we saw him cuddling up with a gal you may have forgotten named Hilda Mae.

Hilda Mae is played by Florence MacMichael, a gifted comedian who rose up on The Martin and Lewis Show alongside Lucille Ball in the 1940s and is probably best known for joining the cast of Mister Ed in 1963 as Alan Young's new neighbor. In between, she appeared on TV on My Three Sons, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, and many other shows.

"She was delightful," Mister Ed costar Young told the Television Academy. "She played a Gracie Allen sort of air-headed little gal, and she was such a dear."

Florence got started acting on stages in her hometown Hagerstown, Maryland. From there, she leapt from Broadway to radio to TV and movies very quickly. It helped when LIFE Magazine ran a photo of her performing on Broadway in 1941, remarking that she "expertly acted" her comedic role.

The play was called Out of the Frying Pan, and it soon became the impetus for MacMichael's debut movie role, when they decided to do a 1943 film adaptation starring Susan Hayward called Young and Willing. Florence's unforgettable Broadway performance secured her a spot in the movie. A Susan Hayward biography noted that again, even though MacMichael was not the star, on the big screen she shone brighter than the rest of the cast. The author said the show "was stolen by Florence MacMichael of the New York cast as an ookum-voiced, nitwit, midwestern interloper scandalized to think there might be hanky-panky going on."

Oozing with talent and a comedic knack for playing it properly with the fellas, MacMichael fit right in on The Andy Griffith Show as Fife's girlfriend Hilda Mae.

Hilda Mae's last appearance on the show came just two episodes before Thelma Lou arrives.

In "Andy Saves Barney's Morale," an episode in which Barney's the butt of the town's jokes, Hilda Mae stands up for her man.

"He can't stand to be laughed at," she tells Andy knowingly, and what follows in their exchange gives Andy the idea that ends up "saving Barney's morale." What a gal!

The next thing we know, though, Hilda Mae's out and Thelma Lou is in.

For the episode "Cyrano Andy," there's no mention of Barney’s previous girlfriend or allusion to any heartbreak he's recently experienced. Instead, the only possible rationale that can be read into Barney blowing it with Hilda Mae comes from clues dropped during his attempts to court Thelma Lou.

"You better tell that girl how you feel about her," Andy scolds Barney after learning he failed to kiss Thelma Lou goodnight after their first date. "If you don't, you're gonna lose her."

Barney explains how tongue-tied he gets in the moment, and that's where the episode's plot is hatched to feed Barney the words to win Thelma Lou's heart.

Perhaps Hilda Mae quit coming around because Barney didn't speak up to give her a reason to stick around!

We can only speculate since the writers dropped the ball and never mentioned Hilda Mae again, but two years after appearing on The Andy Griffith Show, MacMichael joined Mister Ed and continued acting in TV and movies through 1971. After that, she retired to a life with her family in California until she passed away in 1999.

Although she stuck to the West Coast to settle down for retirement, like Griffith, she maintained a fondness for and deep connection with her hometown.

"She came back to Hagerstown periodically to visit family and old friends, so she never forgot her roots," her nephew Keith MacMichael told Hagerstown Magazine.

One of the funniest character actors, who is often unfortunately forgotten in TV history, MacMichael, according to her nephew, drew her strength as a comedian from her sparkling personality. Remember that next time you're chuckling while watching her squeeze Barney's biceps to build up his self-esteem.

"She was warm, witty, soulful, and loving," her nephew said. "Did I say she was funny? She had the greatest sense of humor, confidence in her abilities, and a wonderful humility."

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obectionoverruled 40 months ago
Poor Thelma Lou, I hope she never learned that Barney was two timing her. If ever there were a loyal puppy dog of a girlfriend, she had to be it. How is it that two thirty-something old high school classmates like Barney and Andy could perpetually date those small town girls Thelma Lou and Helen Crump (what a name!) and not get married? Were these poor girls just born doormats, or did they have a serious self respect and assertiveness deficiency? I read somewhere that poor Thelma Lou was paid $500 an episode to endure Barney’s weekly idiocy, and that when the show ended her ‘career’ came to a thud. And that old rascal Andy was sleeping in real life with Helen in the old studio trailer on the back lot despite being married to another woman! Gads if we’d only known then what was going on ‘under the covers’ in innocent old Mayberry. Has there ever been a show with more loveable characters the Andy Griffith? Floyd the bumbling barber; frumpy Aunt Bee serving up all those fried chickens, mashed potatoes and apple pies - did this show ever run its scripts by a cardiologist?; Goober and Gomer the toothless idiots in charge of the town garage; and the perpetually drunken Otis, who enjoyed his time more in the local jail cell than at home with his beastly nagging wife? The writers, performers and producers of this timeless serial had America pegged like no other novelist, poet or filmmaker ever could. Such a happy funny show! I still watch it and smile.
Mark091 40 months ago
I noticed that Florence macmichael had blonde hair when she played Hilda Mae all the Andy Griffith Show and when she was on Mister Ed playing Winnie she had dark hair I think she was on Mister Ed a lot longer than she was on The Andy Griffith Show Hilda Mae what's a great girlfriend for Barney Fife it looks like Thelma Lou w o n after all
Mark091 Mark091 40 months ago
Barney Fife girlfriend Hilda Mae lasted for two episodes but miss Rosemary only lasts for one episode on The Andy Griffith Show they don't return to Mayberry Barney Fife and Thelma Lou finally got married
DethBiz 40 months ago
She was great in her appearance on Gunsmoke. She sure didn't like Dolliver.
Mark091 40 months ago
H i l d a m a g e should have been on Andy Griffith Show more than two episodes It's a shame that Hilda Mae disappeared after when two episodes with no explanation but that's no surprise Emily Walker played by Elinor Donahue disappeared after 1 year with no explanation who ran the pharmacy after Ellie Walker disappear for Uncle Fred also Peggy McMillan play by Joanna Moore was only in 4 episode before she disappeared then Helen Crump came on the scene Mary Simpson was played by Julia Adams and Sue Ane Langdon before she disappeared also Barney went on a date with Miss Rosemary played by MC Strickland for one episode only in 1964 Miss Rosemary disappeared never to be seen again SAS amzie Strickland Hilda Mae was a lot more friendlier than Thelma Lou and I never heard tell Hilda may get to any arguments with Barney Fife the Thelma Lou was always getting mad at Barney Fife just like Helen Crump got mad at Andy and Ellie Walker got mad at Andy even Peggy McMillan got mad at Andy sometimes Mary Simpson never got mad at Andy I don't know why Helen Crump and Peggy McMillan and Ellie Walker have such bad tempers I like to talk to Hilda m a e what's a lot more friendly then Thelma Lou by the way what was Hilda Mae's last name and what was Thelma Lou's last name nobody ever said also whatever happened to mr. S c h u m p he never even talk on the show
Mark091 Mark091 40 months ago
Mr. S c h u m p will also appear on Gomer Pyle for 1 episode when Gomer Pyle a t e Welsh rarebit heck mr. S c h u m p even appeared on Mayberry RFD a few times
Mark091 Mark091 40 months ago
I believe the first appearance of mr. S c h u m p on The Andy Griffith Show was in the episode where Ernest T bass play by Howard Morris crash misses w i l e y s party and Mister s c h u m p picked up the Rock that Ernest T bass dropped does anybody know who played Mister s c h u m p he was a great guy but he never got on screen credits
Mark091 Mark091 40 months ago
There was another character all the Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD whose name was Elmo what was Elmo's last name Emma brand Watson also vanished from The Andy Griffith Show with no explanation just like Hilda m a e and mayor Pike and mayor stoner also Warren Ferguson who replaced Barney Fife also disappear with no explanation Irene Fairchild who was the county nurse after Peggy McMillan went on a date with Howard Sprague and then she disappeared I guess Miss Fairchild left Mayberry too Ed Sawyer move to Mayberry and 1960 because he said Mayberry what's his hometown and if Ed Sawyer really did move t o Mayberry he must have been hiding pretty good because nobody ever saw Ed Sawyer again after that episode Lucy Matthews disappeared after 1 episode too on the movie Return to Mayberry Andy and Helen did not mention where Andy Taylor Jr was some characters on The Andy Griffith Show even change their last name Clara Edwards was first known as Clara Johnson Millie Hutchins BK Millie Swanson Floyd the Barber whose last name was Colby in the beginning became Floyd Lawson goobers last name what's changed from Beasley to Pyle people don't change the last names of real life unless I go to court to change their last names changing somebody's last name does not make any sense on the show Gomer Pyle USMC Sergeant Carter's girlfriend bunny had three different last names Harper Olsen and Wilson on the adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Wally's last name was changed from d i p p l e t o plumstead on the show Bachelor Father Kelly's best friend Ginger have three or four last names one time Clara Edwards Johnson was told by Aunt Bee the name Bertha another fact from Return to Mayberry Charlene darling Charlene darling did not say what happened to her husband d u d Walsh
Mark091 40 months ago
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Pacificsun 40 months ago
I'm surprised there aren't more really earnest TAGS fans who can trace down what happened to Hilda Mae. Either in real life or as a series backstory. That's a very long time appearance, with such a neat character, to be suddenly cut-short without any explanation at all. I wonder if Thelma-Lou got onto the show through some kind of connections, and that's why there's little being said about it.

Okay real fans, come'on share the scoop!
JHP 40 months ago
wonderful humility - I guess opposites do attract

WordsmithWorks 40 months ago
Definitely Barney's forgotten girlfriend. Casual fans remember Thelma Lou (obviously) and, to an extend, Juanita (even though she was never seen). But rarely Hilda Mae. Even MacMichael's IMDb mini bio doesn't mention her TAGS role. Of course, she was on for just two episodes. Still...
Kenner 40 months ago
“Winnie” passed away about a month after her 80th b-day. R.I.P. “Hilda Mae.”
RedSamRackham Kenner 40 months ago
* Aah yes, Winnie the Colonel's wife on Mr. Ed! ☺BTW Thelma Lou moved to NYC where she was Miss Lee, Uncle Bill's secretary on Family Affair! ☺
Kenner RedSamRackham 40 months ago
You have a great memory! On mr Ed, the colonel and Winnie showed up right after the “Addison” actor passed away in real life. I like Addison and his wife better...but I was a mere kid then.
justjeff Kenner 40 months ago
Larry Keating, who played Addison on Mr. Ed was also one of *four* different actors to play Bea Benadaret's husband (Harry Morton) on the George Burns & Gracie Allen TV show. In fact, he was Harry Morton #4 and had the role the longest...
Kenner justjeff 40 months ago
Yes, Larry Keating...he had such a smooth voice.
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