George Lindsey: Life and Times

 

Words by Terrell Manasco

 

We’ve all seen him in that familiar costume: the scalloped Jughead beanie hat, the ever-present tire gauge tucked neatly into the breast pocket of his white shirt, and an oil rag dangling from the back pocket of his dark blue work pants.

We’ve seen the classic “Judy! Judy! Judy!” routine that his cousin Gomer loved so well, when he would “take off on Cary Grant” and impress Daphne and Skippy— “the Fun Girls”.

We’ve seen the famous episode of The Andy Griffith Show in which he took an entire car apart and reassembled it inside the Mayberry Courthouse more than once, almost giving Sheriff Andy Taylor several heart attacks. Then there’s the episode where the suave Barney Fife innocently attempts to teach him how to woo the ladies. How? By crouching outside Helen Crump’s window and spying on Andy and Helen as they snuggle on the couch while watching TV, prompting him to suddenly yell out, “Woohoo! Go Andy! Woohoo!”

George Lindsey is well-known and loved by fans of that show. But there is much more to his story than his portrayal of the dim-witted but lovable Goober.

George Smith Lindsey was born December 17, 1928 in Fairfield, Alabama. He grew up in Jasper, graduating from Walker County High School in 1946 after being a stand-out athlete in football and basketball. After spending a year at Walker College and the University of Alabama, Lindsey was awarded a football scholarship to Florence State Teachers College, now known as the University of North Alabama, and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1952.

After graduation, he spent three years in the Air Force, stationed at Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico. Lindsey appeared in over 300 service shows and was named runner-up in the worldwide U.S. Air Force contest. After his discharge from the service, Lindsey taught history and coached baseball and basketball for a year at Hazel Green High School.

In 1956 he hitchhiked to New York City after being accepted by the American Theater Wing, and graduated in 1958. After making his television debut on The Jack Paar Show and acting in two Broadway plays, Lindsey moved to Los Angeles in 1962, where he landed bit parts on The Real McCoys and Daniel Boone.

During this period, he was spotted by Andy Griffith, who was casting parts for a new TV show set in the fictional town of Mayberry. He auditioned for the role of Gomer but lost out to Sylacauga’s own Jim Nabors. In 1964 he appeared in the film Ensign Pulver. That same year he was cast as Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober Beasley (later renamed Pyle).

Lindsey once admitted he initially had trouble with the part after having played several serious roles. He recalled asking Griffith about the character. Griffith said, “Goober is the kind of guy who goes into a restaurant and says, “Hey, this is great salt!” Lindsey played Goober in 86 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and 54 episodes of its spinoff series, Mayberry R.F.D.

But the life of “Goober” was far from over. He appeared as the Goober character on Hee Haw from 1972-1992, as well as two television movies; Goober and the Trucker’s Paradise (1978) and Return to Mayberry (1986).

Lindsey considered himself a serious actor and sometimes felt typecast, having played several darker roles before being cast as Goober. He appeared in six episodes of Gunsmoke, as well as episodes of The Rifleman, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and an episode of The Twilight Zone. In later years he came to accept the role, and even embraced it.

After the Griffith shows ended, Lindsey made appearances in television series such as Movin’ On, CHiPsFantasy Island, and M*A*S*H. He also provided voices for characters in three Disney animated films: Robin Hood, The Aristocats, and The Rescuers.

Off the set, Lindsey devoted a great amount of time to various humanitarian efforts. For 17 years, he conducted the George Lindsey Celebrity Golf Tournament in Montgomery, raising over 1.7 million dollars for the Alabama Special Olympics. He also raised funds for an aquatic center for the Alabama State Hospital. In 1992, UNA presented him with an honorary doctor for humane letters degree. He was also the recipient of the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award. Lindsey was well-known by several celebrities who knew him as being a very caring man who genuinely wanted to help others.

In addition to his humanitarian work for special needs children, Lindsey also helped establish the George Lindsey/University of North Alabama Film and Television Festival in 1998, an annual event created to provide young filmmakers an opportunity to show their work and learn more about the filmmaking industry. Several well-known actors have appeared with Lindsey at the festival, including Lee Majors, Rance Howard, and his close friend, Ernest Borgnine.

Speaking by phone from his home in Florence, Jasper native Bart Black spoke fondly of Lindsey, who stayed with Bart’s father and Lindsey’s best friend Clyde “Sappo” Black when he came to Jasper, occasionally bringing Ernest Borgnine along. Black recalls Lindsey as being a very humble and unselfish man who loved UNA and was very proud of the Special Olympics. Lindsey loved a good home-cooked meal but had a weakness for junk food and ice cream.

He was also a prankster. Black recalls waiting in line with Lindsey at a Jasper retail store several years ago. Lindsey whispered, “Watch this!” and sprayed something from a can he had hidden in his pocket, then walked away. Soon there was a rather foul odor in the air, and Black watched in silent amusement as customers began looking around in befuddlement and holding their nose.

George Lindsey returned home to Jasper one last time. On May 12th, 2012, he passed away in Nashville and was laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery. His epitaph reads, “I’m glad I made you laugh.”

You sure did, George. And thank you. 78

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1 Comment

  1. We have a large collection of George Lindsey memorabilia that can be viewed at the Bankhead House & Heritage Center!

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