A young Frances Bavier publicity photo as a fledging Broadway stage actress.
Aunt Bee was a looker! No, I am serious. Briscoe Darling, the various traveling salesmen, and all her other suitors on the Andy Griffith Show had it right. She was some catch…but no one ever did!
Frances Elizabeth Bavier was born in New York on December 14, 1902. As a young lady she had planned on becoming a teacher and attended Columbia University. But her best friend, actress Kay Johnson convinced her to give the theatre a try. Almost immediately upon graduation from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1925, she found herself cast in the stage comedy The Poor Nut.
First appearing in vaudeville and then moving to the Broadway stage, Bavier’s big break came in the original Broadway production of On Borrow Time. She would also go on to star along side of Henry Fonda in the play Point of No Return.
In 1950, Bavier headed to Hollywood to try her hand in films. She had roles in several films, including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Stooge (1952). She also found work in television appearing in It’s a Great Life (1956), The Eve Arden Show (1957), and Perry Mason (1957).
Originally cast as a whining widow lady in the 1960 pilot for The Andy Griffith Show, Bavier made such an impression that the part of Aunt Bee was created for her virtually on the spot. Bavier would play Aunt Bee for eight seasons and then was the only member of the original Griffith Show cast to stay on for the spin-off Mayberry RFD.
Bavier would win an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Comedy” in 1967. But the classically trained stage actress would always feel her dramatic acting talents were wasted on TV. This lead to internal conflict for Bavier which often spilled over onto the set of the Griffith Show and had cast members and crew walking on egg shells around her.
Years after the show ended, Andy Griffith admitted in several interviews that his relationship with Bavier was not good and felt that she never liked him. And, Bavier’s on-set battles with Hal Morris (Ernest T. Bass) are legendary, especially when Morris was directing an episode. Griffith did say that before her death in 1989, Bavier reached out to him and told him she was sorry they didn’t get along better.
After retiring from acting, Bavier moved to Siler City, North Carolina…and not her native New York City. She said she had come to love North Carolina with “its lovely tree lined roads.” Bavier was known to love Studebaker cars and often drove her pea-green model to the set of the Griffith Show. Upon her death, a blue 1966 Studebaker was found in her garage with four flat tires.
Just as her character Aunt Bee, Bavier never married in real life. She became something of a recluse in her later years and 14 cats were found on her home after her death. See left an estate of around $700,000 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Siler City. Her tombstone reads “Aunt Bee’ with the phrase “To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die.”