Friday, May 11, 2012

In a Nutshell: Memories of Maurice Sendak, Vidal Sassoon, & George “Goober” Lindsey

We’ve lost a few remarkable people in the last few days. On May 8 it was Maurice Sendak, whose eerie illustrated fables capture the dark moments of childhood. (His final interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, recorded last fall, is one of the most poignant radio farewells I’ve ever heard.) The following day brought news of the demise of Vidal Sassoon, not merely a hairdresser to the stars but also a gutsy bloke who rose from the slums of London to fight Fascism and anti-Semitism. (One of his daughters, Catya Sassoon, was briefly a Roger Corman action star, kicking butt in such martial-arts flicks as Angelfist before dying of a drug overdose in 2002.)

I never spoke to either Sendak or Sassoon. But I once enjoyed a long phone conversation with George Lindsey, who passed away at age 83 on May 6. George was best known for playing Goober, the amiable but dim-witted cousin of Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show. I was then researching my biography of Ron Howard, and most of my questions involved young Ronny’s performance as Andy’s son, Opie. George didn’t hesitate to praise his co-star: “I can just tell you he’s one of the best actors, not child actors, but one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I never saw him be unpleasant on the set. You loved to do scenes with him ‘cause he always knew his part. And he was always as good as you were in a scene.” George added, “It was a nice part of my life, ‘cause when the person that you’re acting with can act that good, you can go full bore.”

Years after Andy and Opie headed to the fishing-hole for the last time, George always got laughs by quipping, “If I’d been nicer to that little red-headed boy, today I would be a movie star.” Instead he spent the rest of his career on the tube, mostly repeating the Goober characterization on Mayberry R.F.D., on the corn-pone variety show Hee Haw, and in several TV movies. Although, like most of the Andy Griffith cast, he was Broadway-trained, he found himself largely typecast as a rural bumpkin. Not that he entirely minded. For him much of the show’s success had come from the fact that over time “I really think we became those people when we worked. I think we believed we were those people. [Frances Bavier] was Aunt Bee, and [Ron Howard] was Opie.”

Fortunately for George Lindsey, his later years treated him kindly. A few decades back, he moved from Tarzana, California to Nashville, the epicenter of activities for The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club. With Andy Griffith Show über-fans Ken Beck and Jim Clark he wrote his autobiography, Goober in a Nutshell. He participated in several Nashville Mayberry Reunions (Howard and Griffith never showed, but Don Knotts and Howard Morris have been honored guests), and he went on tour with his comedy act. He proudly revealed, “I was just at the Illinois State Fair. I had a line plumb down the midway waiting to get autographs.” (One woman wanted to snap a photo of him for her dogs.)

He also staged golf tournaments, raising money for the Special Olympics, and inaugurated a film festival at his alma mater, University of North Alabama, in gratitude for the football scholarship that once helped pay his tuition. I wondered, after his many years in Hollywood, if he missed Southern California. Said George Lindsey, “I was there for twenty-five years, but I don’t miss it.”


  1. I did not read Sendak as a child - but I've delved in a bit since growing up and he was amazing. Equally amazing is that three celebrities have passed, and one of them has a Roger Corman connection. I liked Cat Sassoon a lot on screen - she wasn't an award winning actress - but she had presence and a great look topped off with the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen. I was greatly saddened by her passing ten years ago.

    But I am really touched by your tribute to George "Goober" Lindsey - possibly the communication you had with him - or maybe he played a bigger part in my life across all of those shows. He seemed like one of the most genuine and down-to-earth actors ever. I would have liked to work with him, but alas, that never happened. I do enjoy that he became one of those celebrities with "his nickname" in the middle of his real name, joining the likes of Chuck "Porky" Mitchell and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.

    I hope all three rest in peace - and find themselves enjoying a brilliant afterlife somewhere.

  2. And let's not forget Don "The Dragon" Wilson, and I guess Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, if you go back that far. Thanks for writing, Mr. Craig.