Mayberry town drunk Otis Campbell was also Santa Claus for a generation of kids
Watch Smith play Santa on The Brady Bunch this Sunday, July 21, as part of MeTV's Christmas in July celebration.
Image: The Everett Collection
Otis Campbell eventually found his redemption. Throughout The Andy Griffith Show, the hiccuping sot repeatedly found himself behind bars in the Mayberry jail. Heck, he often let himself into the cell. In "The Case of the Punch in the Nose," we learn that ol' Otis was first arrested for drunkenness on way back in 1941 (at the Mayberry Garden Club, at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday). But in Return to Mayberry, the 1986 reunion movie, Otis is working as an ice-cream man, having been sober for years. (Though, five years later, Otis turned up in an Alan Jackson music video, drunk as ever.)
The irony is that Hal Smith, the actor who portrayed Otis Campbell, never had a drink in his life, at least according to Andy Griffith himself in a 2003 interview with Larry King. Smith has quite the range, especially behind the microphone. The character actor voiced dozens of cartoon characters, from Owl in Winnie the Pooh to Flintheart Glomgold in DuckTales. But his most recurring role might be that Jolly Old Elf from the North Pole.
Funny enough, one of Smith's earliest appearances as Saint Nick also had him inebriated. He was a hybrid of Santa Claus and Otis Campbell in the classic Billy Wilder film The Apartment (1960) — in an uncredited role. Jack Lemmon's character is pounding vodka martinis at a bar when a sloshed man in a Santa suit leans against the bar, orders a whiskey, cracks a joke about his sleigh being double-parked, and rings a bell.
From then on, Smith played a more traditional Santa, and got credited for it.
His most widely seen moment in a Santa costume, as well as his most overlooked, perhaps, came on The Brady Bunch in "The Voice of Christmas." Little Cindy sits on his lap in a department store and asks him to restore her mom's voice, as Carol is suffering from laryngitis.
Elsewhere, Smith worked as Hanna-Barbera's go-to man to play Santa. He voiced the magical character in Bedrock (in both the episode "Christmas Flintstone" and the special A Flintstone Christmas) and Yogi's First Christmas (1980). He was also Santa in Casper's First Christmas (1979).
One of his final roles would even be Santa, in the 1993 animated special The Town Santa Forgot, which teamed him with Dick Van Dyke.