This Mayberry charity drive organizer was composer John Williams' mother-in-law
Lurene Tuttle was "The First Lady of Radio" before her son-in-law composer wrote the Star Wars soundtrack.
In one of the best-loved episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Opie learns to be more generous when Andy sets him straight after only donating three cents to his school charity.
Watch closely in "Opie’s Charity," and you’ll recognize the charity organizer Annabelle Silby is played by Lurene Tuttle, who could be seen the same year playing the sheriff’s wife in Psycho.
While Tuttle may not be a name that many remember today as well as icons like Lucille Ball, from the 1920s to the 1940s, she was dubbed "The First Lady of Radio" because she was by far the most popular woman on the airwaves.
It’s said that no one in the history of radio achieved the same level of fame.
During the height of her radio career, Tuttle averaged 15 shows weekly, with critics declaring by the end of the 1940s that she was "the finest radio dramatic actress."
"I can think of nothing more enjoyable than a continuing series of half hour dramas with Lurene Tuttle as the star," one critic wrote in the Valley Times in 1948.
Then, when TV dramas started looking for talent, naturally Tuttle was a popular choice among casting directors due to her reputation from radio.
By the time she appeared on The Andy Griffith Show, she had moved on from radio to become one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood.
"At times, I’ve felt like I was caught in a squirrel cage," Tuttle said.
She didn’t exactly know what she was getting into when she started radio acting, but once people became aware of her immense talent, there was no stopping the constant demand and ongoing roles from being offered.
It was a tough adjustment from radio, but Tuttle was game.
"Radio was much easier than any other media," Tuttle told the Hartford Courant in 1961. "We didn’t have to go home to memorize lines for the next day."
Luckily for Tuttle, who started acting when she was 6 years old, she did get a short break when she married actor Mel Ruick and had her daughter Barbara in 1920, temporarily retiring.
Demand would bring her out of retirement almost immediately, though, and Tuttle had to juggle being a mom with being a top character actor.
Once Barbara grew up, she got bit by the acting bug, too, even appearing with her mom in the 1953 movie The Affairs of Dobie Gillis.
The pretty younger starlet eventually got married, started a family, and became an actor in her own right, and her mom Lurene couldn’t have been prouder.
"Barbara is doing something I always wished I could do," Tuttle said, admiring how her daughter balanced work with family. "She sings and dances and is making a name of her own. And my granddaughter and two grandsons are adorable and fun."
Tuttle’s daughter must have been so used to being part of a very busy family that she chose for her husband one of the busiest composers in Hollywood: John Williams.
In the 1950s, Williams got his start composing for TV and movies, leading him to score hit shows like Wagon Train and Lost in Space in the Sixties before his best-known movie soundtrack work in the Seventies on movies like Jaws and Star Wars.
Once Williams married Tuttle’s daughter Barbara, their home was just as busy as both the radio star and the composer’s schedules stayed.
In 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported Williams’ home was a constant jam session, and that the only thing more important to him than music at that time was his love of Barbara.
It was tragic for both Tuttle and Williams when Barbara suddenly died from a brain aneurysm at the age of 41, discovered in her hotel while filming a new movie. Williams said the prior night she had complained of headaches.
Williams eventually remarried, and Tuttle outlived her daughter by more than a decade, passing away in 1986 after performing hundreds and hundreds of roles right up to 1985.
One of her radio costars Howard Duff summed up what made Lurene Tuttle such a go-to character actor through different media, through the ages:
"I think she never met a part she didn't like. She just loved to work; she loved to act. She's a woman who was born to do what she was doing and loved every minute of it."