Walter Mencken 7 p.m., Dec. 10
From the tips of his serrated felt beanie down to his pigeon toed gait, George 'Goober' Lindsey was American television's embodiment of the carefree, slow-witted yokel. Even more than his country cousin Gomer (Jim Nabors), whose frequent basso profundo musical outbursts added a depth of character to his otherwise empty-headed, but good-hearted demeanor, Goober was a kosher country bumpkin.
Atlanta's favorite son, the Fairfield-born and Jasper-raised George 'Goober' Lindsey, died Sunday in Nashville following a long illness. He was 83.
The man behind the dimwit received a Bachelor of Bioscience from the University of North Alabama (UNV) in 1952. After a stint the U.S. Air Force and then as a high school teacher, Lindsey studied at the American Theater Wing in New York for two years while grinding out a living working as a comedian in nightclubs and coffeehouses. An agent from the William Morris Agency liked what he saw and signed him on.
Lindsey auditioned for the role of Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show in 1962, but was passed over in favor of Nabors. According to the family’s obituary, the night the spinoff series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. premiered, Goober was so upset over losing the part, that he kicked in his television screen.
While Gomer frequently mentioned his cousin in passing, Goober Pyle nee Beasley (his surname was later changed to reflect an even closer kinship) didn't graced The Andy Griffith Show until April 13, 1964.
Most TV actors can't wait to break free from the limitations placed upon them by a recurring character, but Lindsey. He was Goober. There was a bit role in Ensign Pulver, the 1964 "sequel" to Mr. Roberts, and some vocal (The AristoCats, The Rescuers) and live-action work (Snowball Express, Charley and the Angel) at Disney.
There was a record album...
...and even a cameo in Cannonball Run II and a visit to Fantasy Island, but for the most part, Lindsey's career never took him far out of Mayberry.
In 1968, Ken Berry replaced Andy Griffith and the popular CBS series became known as Mayberry R.F.D. Goober stayed in character long after the show had jumped the shark.
After Mayberry finally went the way of Atlantis in 1971, Lindsey appeared briefly on Hee-Haw, a comic cavalcade of celebrity hillbillies that made Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In look like Moliere.
I first became aware of Lindsey's commitment to draw attention to the plight of mentally challenged when reading an interview in the TV section of the Chicago American. In my mind, I envisioned the Mayberry madcap removing his traditional 'Jughead' cap and lowering his comedic defenses long enough to expose the reporter to a gob of the real Goob."I think that I have one great performance inside me," George confided, "perhaps playing a mentally retarded person."
The statement came decades after Lindsay had introduced his singular comic creation to the world.
Lindsey may never have had a shot at his dream role, but that didn't stop him from giving his all to charity. The annual George Lindsey Celebrity Weekend and Golf Tournament in Montgomery has raised over $1 million for the Alabama Special Olympics.
Lindsey was also the co-founder of Reel Art: The George Lindsey UNA Film Festival. The University of North Alabama's library houses all of Lindsey's film and TV scripts as well as Ernest Borgnine's complete collection of scripts.
Lindsey is survived by his son George Lindsey, Jr., daughter Camden Jo Lindsey Gardner, two grandsons, and niece Raisinette.
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