Veteran performer Betty Lynn finds herself in the enviable place of relishing the role of hometown sweetheart, earned in part by her performances in the Andy Griffith Show as Deputy Barney Fife’s girlfriend Thelma Lou.
Mayberry Days, for her, is a natural extension of the welcome extended by the local community.
Lynn’s dramatic roots began with radio drama. Recently she recalled Hal Smith, (who played Otis), and his love of the old fashioned radio shows.
“They had invented television when I started acting but it wasn’t really out (widespread) yet,” recalled Lynn. “That was in 1933 I think but Hal used to listen radio comedies like Jack Benny’s. I heard when he died he was found in his easy chair beside the radio. I’m sure he was listening.”
Lynn said she was not prepared for the response to her work on Griffith’s show when she first moved to Mount Airy in 2007. She said people would timidly approach her in the supermarket and ask if she was Thelma Lou. Many burst into tears or hugged and kissed her. She said she felt obliged to cry and hug them back.
“Everyone here has been so good to me. I am so blessed,” said Lynn. “I had no idea of the large group who know about me. I’m very grateful.” The actress also indicated she feels lucky to be receiving gratitude and adoration of fans and doesn’t want to let them down, as evidenced by her continuing to make herself available for autograph sessions at the Andy Griffith Museum every third Friday of the month.
“People are so respectful. Many who’ve taken pictures of me before come back and get them enlarged and ask me to sign them. There was a couple who came from New Zealand to see me and ask what it was like here. Another time a young boy drove hours to get here and arrived right before we closed at 5 p.m. It amazes me. I think I am the oldest member of the original cast still around so get me while you can.”
One of the most recent changes Lynn is adjusting to is finding ways other than hugs to keep the relationship with fans going following surgery for a blocked carotid artery. She chose to remain awake during the procedure so the medical team could quickly tell if the procedure was going well.
“I have to be careful now. It’ll take a while to heal but I’m praying I’ll get thought it,” said Lynn. “I won’t be able to move like I usually do during the (Mayberry Days) parade. I can’t turn so much now and I hope they (fans) will all understand. Maybe I’ll put a sign on me that reads you break it you own it.”
She said she returned from the surgery to find messages from well wishers for her birthday had filled up her answering machine. Lynn said she had never heard so many different people sing happy birthday to her.
Lynn said she always looks forward to meeting fans who return every year for the Mayberry Days celebration, many of whom make reservations a year in advance.
“Of all the things I’ve done, Thelma Lou is the one I have loved doing the most,” said Lynn. “I loved working with everyone on the (Andy Griffith) show. Isn’t that something on how Ronnie (Ron Howard) has turned out. He told us when he was 8 what he wanted to be (a director) and he did it. He was not like a lot of child actors. You could just see him working through a part with his mind. I loved watching him.”
She also remembered the special relationship between Don Knotts and Griffith and said a lot of the show’s appeal was because of “two great men working together.” Lynn said the two kept in touch daily even after Knotts left the show. She said those were wonderful times and she often thinks of her fellow cast members who have died.
“It’s not sad though it sounds that way,” said Lynn. “I never get tired of them. I still love watching the show and I feel sometimes people continue to watch because it makes them feel happy. That’s worth a great deal to me.”
Lynn said she looks forward to being in the Mayberry Day’s parade again this year. She said Mount Airy Police Department Lt. Kelly Hiatt will be serving his last year on security for her during the parade because he plans on retiring.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-719-1952.