Duke Slater coming back to Mayberry

By Aila Boyd - aboyd@civitasmedia.com

Ronnie Schell, the veteran actor who appeared in two episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” and appeared as a series regular on the spin-off series “Gomer Pyle: USMC” is set to present his new one-man show “Ronnie Schell Again” during the Mayberry Days festival.

Schell’s show is scheduled for today 1:30 p.m at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

“I know my audience in Mount Airy, so I gear my material to them,” Schell said.

This year’s Mayberry Days appearance makes Schell’s fourth time attending the festival, having first come in 2011.

During his one-man show, Schell said that he plans to play episodes of his appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show,” in addition to “Gomer Pyle: USMC,” for which he owns one of two original copies of the series. Jim Nabors owns the other set.

“I love the town and the people are delightful,” Schell said of Mount Airy. “I think they’ll be surprised, it’s a very enjoyable hour.”

Schell is best known for his acting on “Gomer Pyle: USMC,” where he played Gomer’s buddy, Duke Slater. He also appeared as two different characters on The Andy Griffith Show. In 1966 he played Jim Martin, a director; in 1968 he played Bernie the furrier.

At the same time he was working on Gomer Pyle, Schell also starred in one season of “Good Morning, World” with Goldie Hawn on CBS.

As for interactions with Griffith and Don Knotts, Schell said that he toured with Griffith and was social friends with Knotts. Schell hosted Knotts’ memorial service in 2006 at the request of Knotts’ widow and his daughter, Karen.

Karen Knotts also will be in attendance at Mayberry Days, doing two different shows during the festival.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Karen,” Schell said.

During his time on “Gomer Pyle: USMC,” Schell starred alongside Jim Nabors, even going on to act for two seasons on “The Jim Nabors Hour.”

“It was a joy,” Schell said of his time with Nabors. “I love him.”

Schell said that “Gomer Pyle: USMC” could have gone on for another three or four seasons, but explained that Nabors wanted to branch out and sing, which prompted the creation of “The Jim Nabors Hour.”

“He was like an older brother to me,” Schell said of Nabors, who lives in Hawaii.

Schell explained that he only sees Nabors once a year when the actor visits the continental United States.

One of Schell’s favorite stories to tell about his five-decade career is of his time working with Hawn, explaining that she worked as a go-go dancer in Baltimore before landing the role of Sandy Kramer, Schell’s girlfriend, on “Good Morning, World.”

“I knew she had something, but she wasn’t disciplined,” Schell said of Hawn.

Schell explained that he told Hawn that if she didn’t take acting seriously that she was never going to make it, she later went on to win an Academy Award, which Schell said put things into perspective for him.

“I found out about her Academy Award win while working in some toilet bowl in Omaha,” Schell said, adding that when the two see each other now it feels like old times.

Hawn won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1969 film “Cactus Flower.”

Schell is still a working actor and performs frequently in Las Vegas, Nevada and Palm Springs, California.

Despite having an extensive list of television and film credits to his name, Schell explained that finding work is somewhat difficult at the age of 85.

He said that age discrimination is a major problem in Hollywood and he is even passed over for cartoon voice roles despite what he describes as his “youthful” voice.

When discussing the issue with his wife, Schell said that his wife responded with “You’ve had your turn Ronnie.”

“She shut me up, and she was absolutely right,” Schell said of his wife’s response.

Schell said that he’s satisfied by his career success, explaining that he never achieved widespread name recognition, but he has certainly enjoyed the ride.

“It’s been mighty lonely in the middle,” Schell said.

As for Schell’s career emphasis on comedy, Schell explained that he didn’t intentionally set out to be a comedian, rather it was a natural fit.

“I’ve always been a funny person,” Schell said.

By Aila Boyd


Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.

Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.

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