The unfortunate circumstances that led to the mysterious, abrupt departure of Julie March from Matlock

Home was where the heart was for both Andy Griffith and Julie Sommars.

Everett Collection

A pretty redhead catches Ben Matlock's eye in an elevator during the first season of Matlock. Later she rushes into the hearing late and it's a hint she's about to play a much bigger role in Ben's world.

This is how audiences were introduced to assistant district attorney Julie March on Matlock. Played by Julie Sommars, who rose up in the 1970s after winning a Golden Globe win for Best TV Actress – Musical or Comedy for her role on The Governor & J.J.

The character of Julie March becomes Ben's greatest love interest over the show's first six seasons.

And then she simply disappears from the funny little mystery series entirely. And Matlock doesn't even blink an eye! What gives?

Behind the scenes, the commitment to Matlock was becoming a little much for the show's star Andy Griffith. The show was switching networks from NBC to ABC, and they wanted him to do these two-hour movies that would require even more of his time. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Griffith said his agent had told him to simply refuse to do any of it.

The only thing ABC could think to do was move the filming of the show closer to Andy so he wouldn't walk away. He said they came back with an offer: "Let's move the whole show to Wilmington. We'll rent you a house."

That's what it took to get the star to stay on. Moving the show to North Carolina only made things easier on Griffith. And even though a review in Variety the year before Matlock swapped networks said the supporting cast like Sommars did "stellar work" on the show, Griffith was the only actor they really needed to proceed.

Now by this time, Sommars had just about had enough of bending her life to being an actor. She had a family in California that she didn't want to leave, and Griffith confirmed in an interview that there were no hard feelings when she decided not to continue on the show or make the move to Wilmington to do so. This decision ended up ending her entire acting career.

At her core, from the beginning, Sommars was always extremely sensitive to how her decision to act affected her. In an interview with Life magazine in the early 1970s, she explained that she always wanted to be able to say, "It's fun being a television star."

However, when it came to acting, she said, "I can't fake it. I have to make things real to me. Ever since I was little, it's been programmed into me to do the best job I can."

This determination and focus explain how she managed right from the start to be in lockstep with sensational stars like Carol Burnett.

Sommars got her TV debut as Loretta Young's daughter on The Loretta Young Show when she was just 18. From 1960 through 1992, she was a pretty redhead on TV shows like Bonanza, Perry Mason, Ben Casey, Gunsmoke, Get Smart, The Rockford Files, Magnum, P.I., Diagnosis Murder, and many more. She also shared the big screen with Don Knotts in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and starred in the series The Governor & J.J.

In her interview for Life, Sommars said she took 12 acting classes and quit because the teachers just made all the actors terrible. She knew then that the big money was to be made in movies but she found movie people to be snobby. At a young age, she expressed a fondness not for celebrity, but for the simple things in life:

"I mean, my house, to me, represents the beauty of life. I have a little tree in my front yard in bloom. It's pink. And when I come home, it always makes me smile because I have a pink tree in my front yard. Then the other day, I made a chocolate cake and it turned out moist instead of dry. I haven't stopped talking about it since."

So if you ever worried about how Julie Sommars got dropped from Matlock and you never saw her on TV again, you should probably relax in the comfort that she was just fine. "I still think the good and beauty of life outweigh the sorrows and the clutchings and the setbacks," she said.

We just hope that 20 years after her Life profile, it was easy to leave Matlock for her family home, which we hope had a pink tree in the front yard. And hey, Julie March comes back for an episode in the ninth season, and we finally get a little closure when Julie and Ben hint about their long unspoken break-up.

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Nala92129 28 months ago
Her last name AIN'T "Sommars!" She was on an obscure soap before Matlock & the name change.
LouR Nala92129 20 months ago
She was born Julie Sergie Sommars.
Pacificsun 28 months ago
Now THIS is a well written article and puts the situation in the right light. I applaud Julie Sommers for knowing where her values and her heart belongs. If it was her intention to do so, she succeeded in making her characters as authentic as they were perceived to be. She crafted with a touch of gentleness, innocence, being a romantic, vulnerable, and yet adventurous. If anyone has the chance to see two episodes of the MFU, she appears quite effectively in her roles in both the "When In Roma Affair," and the Foxes and Hounds Affair."

I've always liked her after watching her play those memorable roles fitting right into the series' premise.

Thank you for the article here.
Susan00100 28 months ago
Julie March was my favorite character on the show.
Without her, the program went downhill VERY fast.
Gonzoman 28 months ago
Hey guys can we keep the comments non political on this page…That’s now what it’s for….meanwhile, can anyone tell me why Linda Purl also left
LawrenceEdwardQueen 34 months ago
I agree with Andy! Matlock is a far better show! Thks!
Pacificsun 34 months ago
In 1967, Ms. Sommers was delightful in MFU"s "When In Roma Affair." (season 3). You could see by her acting how deeply she felt about the role. I thought she was a unique talent.

Nice story, and interesting perspective!
MaraReninger 41 months ago
Matlock had more turnover in the cast than members of the Trump Administration.
You would too to get rid of the filthy anti-American swamp creatures !
Tim michaelangelo19 32 months ago
Trump is the king of filthy anti-American swamp creatures.
edbreyer Tim 28 months ago
Funny, have you not looked at Biden's wealth that he and his family accumulated with just a politician's salary? It is the same for many politicians of both parties and shows us that they get rich using their power at our expense. At least T rump was not a life-long politician.
Atomik Tim 28 months ago
I think your projecting. 🤷‍♂️
MadMadMadWorld 41 months ago
This last April 15, Julie celebrated her 80th birthday. Born in Fremont, Nebraska.
Wiseguy 41 months ago
Matlock did more 2-hour stories than Perry Mason (32 vs 30), which was on the exact same years (1985-95).
ELEANOR 41 months ago
So what was unfortunate? They moved the show to North Carolina and she wanted to stay in California. Of course, she could have gotten a bedsitter in NC and flown back and forth, but evidently that was not possible.
Pacificsun ELEANOR 34 months ago
Not necessarily just a course of options. Stars got that perk. Shooting schedules adapted to their own in many cases, in order to keep them satisfied. But a lesser billed actor (no matter how popular with the viewer) was subordinate to the shooting schedule. Imagine flying coast to coast weekly or even monthly. Trying to live your weekends in just 2 days. And then being back on set Monday mornings, ready for makeup. The article made it clear her home was important, and time with family. She sounds like a very nice person!
MarkSpeck ELEANOR 28 months ago
By this time, it was nothing new for an actor to leave a show because of family commitments. Patrick O'Neal left the short-lived series Emerald Point N.A.S. because his family was in New York and the show filmed in L.A. They brought in Robert Vaughn to take over the character. And there were similar situations closer to the time Julie left Matlock...George Dzundza left Law & Order because he couldn't handle traveling back and forth between L.A. (where his family was) and NYC (where the show was filmed), so he and his character of Detective Greeley were out, and Paul Sorvino came in as Detective Ceretta). E.G. Marshall couldn't handle traveling to L.A. to film Chicago Hope when his family was in NYC, so the producers wrote him out by having his character have a fatal heart attack.
Hogansucks1 41 months ago
“One hotdog- All the Way”. 😊
Wufferduck 41 months ago
She had a great role in the miniseries Centennial. She was frightening!!!!
CarolKelley Wufferduck 41 months ago
You are not kidding! For those who haven't seen Centennial, she plays a houswife on the Colorado high plains that goes crazy during the Dust Bowl and goes after her family with an axe. IIRC, her son discovered what she'd done when he got from school. I think he was the bus driver, but I could be wrong about that point.
alicefay 41 months ago
love MeTv, my favorites are Perry Mason, MatlockCarol Burnett i would love for Perry Mason show later and earlier i get it at 8am and 10:30 pm what about around 11 or 2 just askinh
Corey 41 months ago
Andy Griffith was having serious health issues toward the end of Matlock. He had the crippling disease Guillain Barre.
DethBiz Corey 41 months ago
I had always heard that he had problems with Guillain Barre in the early 80s before he took the Matlock role. I know it was really bad then. Thanks for the info. I know he had heart problems in the mid to late 90s.
Pacificsun 41 months ago
Julie Sommers had many memorable roles, including one on MFU titled "When In Roma Affair." She was a unique character actress, and it could be well said she put her heart & soul into various roles!
Mike 41 months ago
Another character who left MATLOCK was David Froman, who played the friendly cop, Lt. Bob Brooks.
I'd been a fan of Froman's from EDGE OF NIGHT, where he played the shaven-headed chauffeur Gunther, who changed from a menace to a comic figure, because he was so popular with viewers.
After the Wilmington move, Froman came back for one episode - in which Bob Brooks was killed off (I didn't care for that at all ...).
DethBiz Mike 41 months ago
I agree. I thought that was a dumb episode and a waste of Terry O'Quinn. The majority of the Season 9 episodes were poor at best.
15inchBlackandWhite Mike 41 months ago
I always like to say that David Froman was the poor man's Fred Dalton Thompson. They were very much alike in looks, voice, and the types of characters they played. Sadly Mr. Froman passed away in 2010.
Ironically Fred Thompson appeared in an episode of Matlock.
MarkSpeck DethBiz 37 months ago
And if you chance to watch that episode again, Terry O'Quinn doesn't even receive screen credit!
MarkSpeck DethBiz 28 months ago
Maybe O'Quinn felt the same way. He's not even credited in the episode!
DethBiz 41 months ago
Often wondered about her departure. Everyone else that left always got at least a mention that they had left or where they were now. She did return though for that wrap up episode of her character in the final season. Nice to hear that there were no hard feelings.
MrsPhilHarris 41 months ago
Me should air The Governor & JJ. I think Dan Dailey played the governor and she was the daughter.
CarolKelley MrsPhilHarris 41 months ago
You are correct about that. That was not only my intro to Julie, but also to the great Dan Dailey.
MarkSpeck MrsPhilHarris 28 months ago
Not enough episodes. Then again, it never stopped Me-TV from running Powers of Matthew Star, or Antenna TV from airing It's About Time and Good Morning, World. And GetTV has ran quite a few short-lived series.
MrsPhilHarris MarkSpeck 28 months ago
I’d never heard of Matthew Star until METV aired it. They only made 22 episodes.
texasluva 41 months ago
I did like the role Julie played in Matlock. Though I must admit that I have never heard of or watched The Governor & J.J.
I vaguely remember The Governor and J.J. It was a very hot show for like ten seconds back in the early 70's. CBS had another one, Bridget Loves Bernie, that did a meteoric rise and flame-out.
The Governor & JJ was on CBS from 1969-71, Dan Dailey starred as the Governor, Sommars was an curator of an children's zoo, played first daughter of an fictitious state plot similar to Benson, to keep her father out of trouble. Series was cancelled in January, 1971, & replacing it was All In The Family. Bridget Loves Bernie did not crash & burn, overall Nielsen ratings for the 1972-73 season, placed the series in the top 5, & was highest rated new Television series for the year. CBS was forced to cancel the series due to protests by religious groups that oppose marriage between Catholic & Jewish persons.
Jon ltgillis65 41 months ago
THE GOVERNOR & JJ was the show whose Dec. 1970 cancellation, indirectly, lead to the premiere of ALL IN THE FAMILY in Jan. 1971. CBS moved TO ROME WITH LOVE to her show's vacated Wed. time slot and replaced that show with...ALL IN THE FAMILY.

BTW, I recognize Ms. Sommars face & voice in the MeTV promo for its late night police shows, where she states "I'm quite capable of staying up past 9 o'clock".
Frylock62 Jon 36 months ago
I remember they ended the series by, through a series of mishaps, managing to miss the deadline for filing the governor’s reelection campaign paperwork!
15inchBlackandWhite 41 months ago
Nancy Stafford and Clarence Gilyard left the show for the same reason. Pretty much the whole cast turned over when they moved production to North Carolina.
Gilyard didn't do too bad joining Walker, Texas Ranger for around 8 years (196 episodes).
Hogansucks1 texasluva 41 months ago
Gilyard always seemed to get caught tailing someone / or got his a*s best all the time 😂
Clarence Gilyard appeared in a few episodes that first ABC season and I believe was credited in every episode. Two of the episodes he was credited in (including one in which he actually appeared, "The View") were held over to the eighth season as well.
Maybe Andy Griffith was not such a nice guy in real life. 1. He insisted on the move to North Carolina, even though several key cast members had to quit. 2. According to the book, “Andy and Don”, one cast member had an affair with Andy while he was married, which ended. Perhaps the move to North Carolina was part of his concession to his wife?
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