‘Thelma Lou’ never tires of Mayberry Days

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Betty Lynn turned 90 on Aug. 29, but Mayberry Days and its fans never get old for the actress who played Thelma Lou on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

In fact, just the opposite is true.

“It gives me a tremendous lift,” she said of visiting with devotees of the show during Mayberry Days and other occasions.

“I feel happy when I’m with them,” the longtime actress added earlier this week as she and other Mount Airy residents were preparing for Mayberry Days to get under way for a 27th year.

But in Betty Lynn’s case as one of “The Andy Griffith Show” celebrities who take part in the event, this involves an ambitious schedule that would wear out someone half her age.

It called for her to attend the kickoff event for the annual Mayberry Days golf tournament on Thursday, then spend hours greeting fans and signing autographs that afternoon at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

After going home to regroup and change clothes, she was scheduled to be among other Mayberry celebrities attending a Thursday night banquet and program at Cross Creek Country Club.

Then on Friday morning, Lynn’s itinerary called for her to be on hand for a city proclamation in recognition of the annual event, then another autograph session that afternoon.

This morning, she is scheduled to ride in the Mayberry Days Parade.

Lynn admits that her arms do get a little tired waving to fans during the procession, and she sometimes wears out toward the end of autograph sessions, which — in addition to those during Mayberry Days — are held on the third Friday of every month.

But on those rare occasions, the love of the fans provides the fuel that keeps her going.

“The people are so good — they love the show so much,” Lynn said. “They give you a big lift, actually — even if I’m not feeling too well.”

Mayberry royalty

Such public appearances have become a way of life for the ex-performer who moved to Mount Airy in January 2007 after visiting during Mayberry Days and falling in love with the place.

Since then, she’s come to be considered royalty by both locals and tens of thousands of loyal “Andy Griffith Show” followers. They not only attend Mayberry Days, but flock here during other times of the year to soak up atmosphere in the town that inspired the show’s setting and meet a key member of the cast.

In addition to appearing on 26 episodes of the series as Deputy Barney Fife’s girlfriend, Betty Lynn had a noteworthy Hollywood career otherwise. It included roles in many TV series and movies in which she performed alongside such stars as Bette Davis, Fred MacMurray, Clifton Webb, Loretta Young, William Holden, Maureen O’Hara and others.

Despite all that, she considers her portrayal of Thelma Lou the “most meaningful” of a film and television legacy that began in 1948. “I don’t feel that way about any other show I was connected to,” the retired actress said.

Now far from the bright lights of Tinseltown, Lynn is still in the limelight as far as “Andy Griffith Show” fans are concerned — and one gets the impression that she loves every minute of that attention.

“I meet so many people,” said Lynn, who added that during a recent Friday autograph session this included visitors from California, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas and other states.

“People drive from all over to get here.”

This includes fans of every age, who typically will talk to Lynn about her appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show,” maybe mentioning some episode they had just seen her in, she said.

Also, they sometimes ask Lynn to name her favorite people on the program, which is difficult because “I liked everybody.” Yet she does have a soft spot for the relationship exhibited on the show between Andy and Opie.

Then there is the usual signing of autographs and posing for photographs, which is not as cut-and-dried as it might sound. “Everything they bring, I try to sign it,” she said.

This has included unusual items such as a dashboards from vehicles, replicas of Mayberry squad cars, cookbooks and even the shirts on fans’ backs — the latter requiring a degree of skill.

“I try to sign them without getting ink on their tummy,” she said.

“A lot of these people will bring me things,” Lynn said, which also sometimes border on the unusual, such as a yellow duck in recognition of the duck pond referenced on the show. Lynn additionally has received Christmas ornaments, cards and other items.

But usually, the most cherished of the gifts is the love and admiration displayed by fans — which she considers priceless.

“It’s really sweet,” said Lynn, who indicated that such attention is especially gratifying at this stage of her life.

“I’m grateful, I really am,” she said from the perspective of a longtime performer.

“If you don’t have an audience, then what are you?”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Thelma Lou actress Betty Lynn waves to fans during a past Mayberry Days Parade.
Thelma Lou actress Betty Lynn waves to fans during a past Mayberry Days Parade.

By Tom Joyce


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