This mysterious, unidentified Mayberry actress was the stand-in for Don Knotts
Nice Dress Nellie was the true ''Marvel'' of The Andy Griffith Show.
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In a small town like Mayberry, everybody knows each other's names. (No offense, Cheers.) From Floyd, Bee and Barney to minors like Leon and Johnny Paul Jason, dozens of familiar faces populated The Andy Griffith Show. This makes it all the more incredible that today, 60 years after it premiered, the sitcom still offers some casting mysteries.
Fans once wondered about the identity of the man in the white Fedora. Turns out, he was played by Tom Jacobs, brother of Danny Thomas. On the other hand, the actor who portrayed "Mr. Schwamp" continues to stump Andy Griffith Show fanatics. You can often spot these Mayberry citizens in the background of crowd scenes, town hall meetings, parades, etc.
"Nice Dress Nellie" is another of these perplexing figures about town. This stylish woman appears throughout the entire run of the series. She made her debut in the second episode, "The Manhunt," in October 1960, and can be seen leaning against the door in the Civic League meeting eight years later in the finale, "Mayberry, R.F.D."
Nellie is dancing by the saxophone player at the Mayberry Union High School reunion in "Class Reunion." She is dancing again, with a bespectacled man, in "Fun Girls." She is sitting at the judges' table during the flower contest in "Only a Rose."
But fans will most likely remember her from a moment in season one. In the episode "Andy Saves Barney's Morale," Barney Fife gets a taste of power. Andy has left him in charge, you see. Barney, in turn, has arrested most of the town — including the Mayor, Aunt Bee and Opie!
Mayberry citizens pack the jail cells. Andy sets the free and greets them as they exit the cell like a clown car.
Our familiar Nellie files past Andy, following Franklin from the bank.
"Hey, Nellie," the sheriff says to her. "That's a nice dress."
Thus, the legend of "Nice Dress Nellie" was born.
Like Mr. Schwamp, Nice Dress Nellie befuddled fans for decades. The actress went uncredited, unnamed and unknown.
However, in 2019, at long last, more clues to the true identity of Nice Dress Nellie arose. We now have some clarity.
Bruce Bilson worked as the assistant director on the earliest seasons of The Andy Griffith Show. The Andy Griffith Show fan podcast Two Chairs, No Waiting featured a meaty interview with Mr. Bilson that was recorded at the Mayberry Days festival in 2015. Bilson had loads of insight into the creation of the beloved show, but none as satisfying as his explanation of Nice Dress Nellie.
"Her name was Marvel," Bilson said of the actress. "She stood in for Don Knotts, if you would believe that."
Aha! A last name! The Mysterious Mrs. Marvel! Alas, no first name was given, but how fascinating is that? She was the stand-in for Barney Fife himself!
In a film or television production, the stand-ins do the work too menial or boring for stars. As the directors, cinematographers and lighters set up a scene, the stand-ins post on the set, taking the place of the main actors. This allows the cameramen to frame the shot, position the characters, tweak the lighting. Meanwhile, the stars can rehearse lines and eat sandwiches in their trailers. Stand-ins are the same size and shape as the characters they represent. In this case, Mrs. Marvel proved to be the ideal substitute for Don Knotts.
Keep your eyes peeled for her and remember — she was the real fill-in for the deputy!