Yes, In Real Life Betty Lynn
Really Did Like Don Knotts;
No, She Never Gets Tired
Of Being Called 'Thelma Lou'
BY VELMA SOUTHERLAND
Andy, Barney and Opie may have been the big stars of the much-loved Andy Griffith Show, which first aired on TV 50 years ago this fall, but it was the spunky 83-year-old Betty Lynn, aka "Thelma Lou," who was in the national news last week.
Just the fact that a story about the actress went national and was reported in so many media outlets tells the real story about the popularity of a show from a simpler, sweeter time.
Lynn moved to Mount Airy, N.C., hometown of Andy Griffith, in 2007 in part to get away from the crime in Los Angeles where she had lived for more than 50 years.
The news story by Tom Joyce in the Mount Airy News on Wednesday, April 28, related how Lynn's purse had been snatched at the New Market Crossing Shopping Center on Independence Boulevard on Sunday, April 25.
In the story by Mark Washburn that appeared in the Charlotte Observer, the spunky 83-year-old Lynn is quoted, "I jumped up and started yelling, 'Thief! Thief!' and ran after him."
The police became involved, and a short time later a man was arrested and the wallet was returned to Lynn -- along with 40-some of her $130 which had been in the purse when it was stolen.
Joyce's report quotes Lynn from a 2008 interview, "I'd been robbed on the street twice, and once in a department store," plus her home in L.A. was burglarized a couple of times, but the Los Angeles cops never caught any of the culprits -- and it was just hours before the Mount Airy police had caught the robber.
The story first appeared in the Mount Airy News and was picked up by TV stations in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
Although Lynn appeared in only 26 episodes of the popular show, she is still famous enough for the story to have appeared in the Friday editions of USA Today, the Associated Press, CBS news, Contact Music and who knows how many other news stories.
On April 29, Lynn held court at the Andy Griffith Museum for a number of travel writers. She never mentioned the purse-snatching at all.
She was very animated and positive as she discussed the Andy Griffith show and her fellow actors.
"I've had a very wonderful time because of that show," Lynn said.
As she spoke, a screen on the wall beside was flashing movie scenes of her.
The actress performed in shows with Robert Young, Van Johnson, William Holden, Bette Davis, and Loretta Young, to name just a few.
In her Internet biography, she has 48 credits of numerous movies, some Disney films and TV shows in which she guest-starred for several episodes, including five in Andy Griffith's popular "Matlock" series.
The highlight of her life she said was the "Return to Mayberry" filmed in 1986. She said that Andy said that was the most fun he had ever had and she guessed it was for her too.
Lynn discussed the differences in today's actors and the 1960s when she was an occasional player in Mayberry. She was paid $500 an episode, but after paying her agent and Uncle Sam, would clear only $200-something.
"And today they're all making millions," Lynn said with a little wave of her hand.
Because she was not under contract for the Andy Griffith Show, she said, "Each time I would think that may be it" because Barney (played by Don Knotts) had had two girl friends on the show before Thelma Lou.
That did not happen, but when Knotts signed with Universal and he and thus Barney left the show, there was really no reason for Thelma Lou to continue being on the show.
The show's writers moved Barney to Mount Pilot, where he was on the police force, and Knotts continued to make guest appearances on the show.
Lynn said that the show's management did suggest that perhaps Thelma Lou could remain as a hairdresser or something, but Lynn said she told them no.
"Without Don, I had no purpose."
Toward the end of the show, Thelma Lou did return - with a husband - to Mayberry.
To Lynn, Thelma Lou loved Barney and "would never have done that to Barney."
She related that in order to film that episode, she had to make up a story in her head to explain away Thelma Lou marrying someone other than Barney.
So, Lynn decided that Thelma Lou's "husband" was really a fellow she worked with. Since she was planning to return to Mayberry, Thelma Lou gave her work colleague a hundred dollars to pose as her husband.
At a 1986 reunion in a full-length feature film, the show's writers did have Thelma Lou and Barney get married.
Long after the show went off the air, cast members continued their friendships. Griffith and Knotts were best friends and talked to each almost every day until Knotts' death on Feb . 24, 2006.
Lynn and Knotts were also close. Knotts and his wife and Lynn often went to dinner together.
Lynn related that the man who played Barney Fife was nothing like his character. He was very quiet and almost never spoke unless he had something important to say. But his mind was going all the time, Lynn said.
All round Mount Airy, in the grocery store and wherever she goes, Lynn said that everyone continues to call her "Thelma Lou" - she appears to be completely happy with that.