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

Read to Me

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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MaraReninger 8 days ago
Matlock had more turnover in the cast than members of the Trump Administration.
MadMadMadWorld 9 days ago
This last April 15, Julie celebrated her 80th birthday. Born in Fremont, Nebraska.
Wiseguy 11 days ago
Matlock did more 2-hour stories than Perry Mason (32 vs 30), which was on the exact same years (1985-95).
ELEANOR 12 days 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.
Hogansucks1 14 days ago
“One hotdog- All the Way”. 😊
Wufferduck 14 days ago
She had a great role in the miniseries Centennial. She was frightening!!!!
CarolKelley Wufferduck 13 days 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 14 days 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 14 days ago
Andy Griffith was having serious health issues toward the end of Matlock. He had the crippling disease Guillain Barre.
DethBiz Corey 14 days 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 14 days 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 15 days 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 15 days 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.
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.
DethBiz 15 days 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 15 days ago
Me should air The Governor & JJ. I think Dan Dailey played the governor and she was the daughter.
You are correct about that. That was not only my intro to Julie, but also to the great Dan Dailey.
texasluva 15 days 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 13 days 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".
15inchBlackandWhite 15 days 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 14 days 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.
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