This memorable Mayberry villain was actually a real troublemaker who did time in San Quentin

Meet Leo Gordon, one of Mayberry's most authentic character actors.

Every now and again, The Andy Griffith Show would really dig its boots in and play around with its Western TV roots, and in the third season, "High Noon in Mayberry" tinkered with audience expectations of the classic cowboy shootout at high noon.

Because this was Mayberry, fans probably knew not to get too tense when the episode starts with Andy getting a letter from an ex-con that the Mayberry sheriff once shot in the leg. Since the ex-con took the bullet, he writes to Andy, he's lost almost all feeling in that leg, and he tells Andy that he intends to come to Mayberry to set things straight with the lawman who injured him.

For the most part, Andy's unfazed, but as you'd expect, this news gets quite the rise out of Barney, who spends the rest of the episode sneaking around behind Andy's back to provide protective cover for when the ex-con arrives. When the moment finally arrives, though, the ex-con, whose character name is Luke Comstock, doesn't come at Andy guns blazing, but with a polite knock on the door of the sheriff's home. Soon, they’re about 10 paces each apart, staring each other down across the Taylors' living room.

You’ve likely seen this scene countless times. It's a favorite TAGS episode at the height of the show's run, arriving right after we've met Gomer, who plays a hilarious sidekick role to Barney the entire episode along with the Mayberry jail's most familiar face, Otis.

But you may not have realized that Leo Gordon, the actor playing Luke Comstock, was one of the most authentic character actors to ever stroll into Mayberry.

You see, before Gordon was cast in this episode, he had played many menacing roles in movies. Having studied at the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts, he had the chops to pull of a wider range of roles — which he did, occasionally, get to play friendlier roles — but his piercing eyes and chilling voice made him too good a choice as a villain.

In the 1950s, one director even described him as the scariest man he'd ever met.

This wasn't just an impression, either. Between his acting studies and his acting career, Gordon was arrested for armed robbery. And just like in The Andy Griffith Show episode, he was wounded by police during the course of his crime, shot several times. He survived to see the inside of San Quentin State Prison, where he spent five years and gained a reputation as a troublemaker.

Once he got out, he got back into acting, but when he was cast in a movie that was being filmed at Folsom State Prison, the story goes that his San Quentin reputation followed him, and the prison tried to stop Gordon from being in the film.

The same director who said Gordon was so scary vouched for him until the prison conceded, and filming went off without a hitch. He continued acting in movies and on TV, appearing in shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Get Smart, Adam-12, and many more on through the mid-1990s.

In that way, Gordon's true story paralleled the plot of his guest episode on The Andy Griffith Show. In the episode, Luke Comstock also gets a second chance at going straight after getting shot by a lawman.

We learn this in the episode when a gun finally does get drawn, but it happens when Luke extends a shotgun to hand off to the sheriff. He explains that Andy may have put his leg out of commission, but in doing so, Andy triggered a series of events that caused the ex-con to get his life together. He returned to his studies, learning math and electronics. He turned everything around, running a successful chain of electronic stores.

So it turns out that Luke isn't vengeful. He's grateful. The gun is a gift. Peering through the window, all Barney, Gomer and Otis see is a five-fire alarm they need to put out, which of course they try to do in a fashion that’s as slapstick as humanly possible.

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BruceBeckwith 42 months ago
If Mr. Gordon was convicted of armed robbry and did time in San Quentin, how is it he was armed in so many of his roles? Possession of firearms by a convicted felon is a felony in and of itself. Can you investigate and report back ME-TV???
DonMiller BruceBeckwith 36 months ago
you do realize these are just props?????????
texasluva 49 months ago
Pretty incredible guy in show business. With 196 credits. In 1958 alone he played in 15 that were either movies or TV series. Always the tough guy, gangster, former cop etc. So he put his prison time into good use in many a movie. Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954).
JohnGibbons 49 months ago
His wife was Lynn Cartwright who went on to play “older Dottie” to Gina Davis’s character in A League of Their Own. She played in two Adam-12 episodes when Leo Gordon also guest starred.
STARFIGHTER77 51 months ago
LEO. GORDON WAS A GREAT ACTOR .Ican recall Him playing a retired cop & an ex--cop on DRAGNET,ADAM--12 and wrote an episode for the ADAM --12 Series . He also played realistic bad guy roles in Many Westerns .
Samuel STARFIGHTER77 51 months ago
I have THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO complete series on dvd and Leo Gordon shows up in an episode in the first or second season, which would have been 1972 or 1973.
Samuel 51 months ago
I remember Leo Gordon from 2 John Wayne westerns - HONDO and McLintock. Wayne always said never punch down in a fight on screen, so he always preferred actors as tall as he was for villains.
Cowgirl 51 months ago
Leo Gordon also guest starred on several episodes of Maverick. He played a gambler who started out as a bad guy but became friends with Bret.
robert 51 months ago
that was a good episode. why does metv have so few episodes. seems to be repeating the 30 or so they have over and over.
EarlThomas 51 months ago
In all the years and numerous parts he played I never saw him do a good guy part but once.It was where he played a old wrestler on Little House on the Prairie
Andrey 51 months ago
Leo Gordon wrote a lot of screenplays as well, mainly for TV. But last month I was watching an old WW2 movie with George Peppard and Rock Hudson called 'Tobruk'. I noticed one of the commandos looked familiar and it was Leo Gordon. Turns out he actually wrote the screenplay for the movie as well.
Midnight_Rider_1961 51 months ago
I was very fortunate to have watched Tom Lester speak at a conference some 30 years ago. He was very humble and not afraid to share his faith. Hollywood was not about to change him and didn’t. Truly, he was an inspiration to hear.
AgingDisgracefully 51 months ago
Wasn't Leo the spokesguy for a bald-spot covering spray paint?
For those SPECIAL times, when a combover just won't do.
Me again.
I remember that. The spray was invented by Ron Popeil, who invented lots of wacky stuff.
TonyClifton babyboomer56 36 months ago
May he rest in peace.
J 51 months ago
Look up Danny Trejo, who is still acting. He has a similar background and served time in San Quentin.
Granny 51 months ago
Leo Gordon was my favorite bad guy. My mother used to call him "Mr. Nasty" and when we saw him in a movie or a TV show we knew it was going to be a good one.
daDoctah 51 months ago
Wait, wasn't Andy Taylor the "Sheriff without a gun"? Wasn't that even the title of a magazine article written about him and how he kept the peace without a weapon, an article that was later the basis for a movie being made that got some of the characters to visit Hollywood?

(And wasn't the actor who played the fictional version of Sheriff Taylor played by Gavin McLeod in a rug?)
Evan daDoctah 51 months ago
You're right about him not carrying a gun. But there were still rifles locked up in the office and I think I remember an episode where Andy packed a firearm when a dangerous situation arose.
WordsmithWorks daDoctah 51 months ago
On occasion, Andy did wear a sidearm. When dealing with escaped criminals with the State Police. In this episode, he did bring out a handgun and bullets stored at his house.
Jeffrey Evan 51 months ago
yeah and anytime there was trouble Andy had his pants legs inside his boots
jholton30062 daDoctah 51 months ago
Andy rarely carried a gun as sheriff, but an early episode had him both hunting crows and in a skeet-shooting match (where he shot against Thelma Lou's cousin, and lost). He would strap on a revolver when the situation called for it (if he was working with the state police on a manhunt).
Angela 51 months ago
"[about working with John Wayne in Hondo (1953), in which Gordon played a villain who gets killed by Wayne] In the scene . . . where he kills me down by the stream, I reach for my gun and he shoots me. I buckled up and pitched forward. Wayne hollered, "Cut! Cut!", even though John Farrow was directing. Wayne says to me, "What was that? When you get hit in the gut with a slug you go flying backward". I pulled up my shirt to show him where I'd really been shot in the gut [by police while being arrested for armed robbery many years previously]: "Yeah? I got hit point blank and I went forward"."
Evan 51 months ago
Leo Gordon was a good guy in a movie called "Shame" in the early 60's. He played a man who exposes and shames a racist rabble rouser who tries to incite anti-black hysteria in a small town. That racist character was played by - William Shatner!
Mike Evan 51 months ago
The movie being referred to here is "The Intruder", written by Charles Beaumont from his novel, and produced and directed by Roger Corman.
Beaumont was a frequent writer on Twilight Zone; he has a brief on-camera role in "The Intruder", as a school principal.
Corman and his crew made the whole movie on location in Missouri, very much "under the radar". In 1962, this was a necessity, even in Missouri.

The novel is still in print, as is a DVD with features about the making of the movie.

Just thought you'd like to know …
JoeSHill 51 months ago
Actor Leo Gordon didn't always play heavies. he co-starred in "LURE OF THE SWAMP" (1957) that starred future "DAKTARI" star, Marshall Thompson as a swamp guide, who was talked into being a guide for a lovely photographer played by Joan Vohs. this Hubert Cornfield-directed film was an impressive thriller, and with Leo Gordon playing anything but a heavy, it sure made a big difference!
Josie92 51 months ago
I could be mistaken, but wasn't he the boat captain from Jaws? He gets eaten by the shark in the end?
dbalius Josie92 51 months ago
You’re thinking of Robert Shaw (the actor, not the choir director) who was also the target in “The Sting” and many other movies. A great actor.
Josie92 dbalius 51 months ago
I did have to go look up Robert Shaw. Thanks for the info!
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