Just once Denver Pyle wanted to play the guy who gets the girl
Aunt Bee was just another in a long line of ladies who rejected the veteran character actor onscreen.
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Is there anything purer than Briscoe Darling's face as he serenades Aunt Bee in the unexpectedly sweet Andy Griffith Show episode "Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee"?
The episode finds Briscoe suddenly smitten with Aunt Bee after confusing her kindness for affection.
On The Andy Griffith Show, Denver Pyle played Briscoe Darling, ordinarily wearing a hat and blowing over the top of a jug. In this scene, though, his hat's off and his heart's out. We've never seen Pyle so earnest about anything in Mayberry before — not even Charlene's wedding!
As a character actor, Pyle told The Miami Herald in 1967 that it was basically written in stone that he’d never be the sort of guy who ended up with the girl on his arm.
"They talk about 'overexposure' among actors," Pyle said. "Me, if I don't work, in a few weeks I get restless. I'm very good for half-hour TV films. Minute they see my face, people know my character — a slick heavy, a nasty heavy, a heavy heavy. One thing they know, I won't get the girl. Just once I'd like to get the girl. But it's been so long I've forgotten what I'd do anyway."
True to this pattern, in the end of The Andy Griffith Show episode, Aunt Bee does not take Briscoe's hand.
Poor Denver! Another onscreen chance at love spurned!
If it's any consolation, you should know that by this point in his life, Denver Pyle in his real life had found love.
He married his first wife Marilee in 1956 and they stayed together until 1975, trading time with their two sons between two California homes — one in Balboa Island and the other in Toluca Lake.
Pyle was doing just fine despite never being a leading man, and he had a theory as to why, and funny enough, it has to do somewhat with Briscoe Darling's fashion trademark — his signature hat.
"Secret of my overnight success, after about 10 years, is the fact that I was born with a good western face and I wear a hat well," Pyle told the Herald.
"Lots of people can't, you know," Pyle continued.
He certainly had some opinions.
"[John] Wayne has the best Western hat face in the business," he speculated. However: "Tony Curtis? Ha! Terrible!" and "Jack Lemmon? No Way."
He then went on to praise one of the biggest TV stars to ever tip his hat, saying, "Add Jim Arness to the list of good western hat faces. Maybe Jim's the best of 'em all on TV."
We're sure you'll agree Denver Pyle had a "good Western hat face," but a recurring joke throughout "Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee" finds his hat off, trying to prove to Aunt Bee that he has manners (even after he's kidnapped her, Ernest T. Bass style).
In his real life, Denver met his wife Marilee when she was working as a production assistant at Twentieth Century Fox Studios. She believed in his acting and helped him throughout their marriage and even after their divorce to manage his career, remaining friends until he passed away in 1997.
While together, the couple liked to entertain friends at fancy dinners, hosting parties in hip settings like the actor Phil Ahn's famous Moongate Restaurant. They could also be found flying off to Las Vegas to catch Sammy Davis Jr.'s act.
Pyle was happy with taking on as many TV gigs as he could get, more desiring this peculiar, fast-paced quality of life he found jumping between sets than sitting too long in the spotlight, and he became well-respected as an actor that way. Everybody recognized how much he brought to every scene, no matter what was asked. Pyle said he couldn’t remember ever getting a single bad review.
"Not once in my life have I ever been rapped by a critic," he told the Herald. "If the thing bombs, it's the hero's fault. If it's good, then they say, boy, he sure had good support from people like Denver Pyle."