R.I.P. Jack Burns, the man who replaced Barney on The Andy Griffith Show
The comedian began as George Carlin's partner and later voiced a famous crash test dummy.
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Barney Fife may have weighed, oh, about 120 pounds soaking wet, but the Mayberry deputy left behind a massive uniform to fill. After five hit seasons on The Andy Griffith Show, and a few Emmy awards, Don Knotts decided to nip it in the bud and leave the sitcom. The comedic actor pursued a career on the big screen.
His Barney Fife character would return to Mayberry here and there in later seasons, earning him a couple of fresh Emmy trophies, but the series was never really the same without him. That was not all due to his departure. Jim Nabors was gone by that point, too, heading his own spin-off, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. But the biggest change to The Andy Griffith Show beginning in season six was color. Mayberry went from a quaint black-and-white hamlet to a vibrant, rainbow-colored town.
Often overlooked in all this change — intentionally, in some cases — is Deputy Warren Ferguson.
Introduced at the start of season six, Ferguson came to Mayberry as Andy's new deputy. He was the nephew of Floyd the barber, though he stuck out in rural North Carolina like a sore thumb. You see, Warren was a city slicker from Boston.
Playing the role — complete with a haaahd Boston accent — was Jack Burns. A true Boston native, Burns got his start in Chicago, as part of the esteemed Second City comedy troupe. Andy was his first big role, but audiences might have already been familiar with Burns through his stage work. He'd cut a popular comedy record (more on that later) and popped up on talk shows.
Despite his pedigree, Burns lasted a mere 11 episodes on The Andy Griffith Show.
Burns started out in a duo with George Carlin. They first met working at a radio station in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1959. A year later, the twosome recorded an album, Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight, which was not released until 1963. Oh, and it was not recorded at the Playboy Club, rather in a joint called Cosmo Alley. But that's just a small taste of the sly humor Burns would ply throughout his career.
By the time …at the Playboy Club Tonight was released, Burns and Carlin had amicably split to pursue separate careers. Carlin began his climb as a solo act, while Burns paired with another comedic mind, Avery Schreiber, a shaggy physical force most Boomers might remember from Doritos commercials. The two sharpened their routines on the stage at Second City in Chicago. A decade later, after numerous guest spots on variety shows, the two earned their own series, The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour, which aired in the summer of 1973.
By 1977, Burns had transitioned to more of a behind-the-camera career. Notably, he landed a gig as the head writer and producer on the first season of The Muppets. He then co-wrote The Muppet Movie with Jerry Juhl, who would take over the reins as head writer on The Muppet Show.
Burns contributed his pen to the corn-pone humor of Hee Haw, as well. This just goes to show that he could have done the rural comedy of Andy Griffith, given the chance.
Years later, Burns voiced Vince, a crash test dummy in public service announcements for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The TV ads reminded audiences, "You could learn a lot from a dummy."
Burns passed away on January 27, 2020, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The actor, writer and comedian was 86.