Betty Lynn, the actress who portrayed Thelma Lou, the healthy girlfriend of Don Knotts’ Barney Fife, on Andy Griffith Show, is dead. She was 95.
Lynn died Saturday after a brief illness in Mount Airy, North Carolina, where she lived in a nursing home. She had moved to the birthplace of Andy Griffith – now home to the Andy Griffith Museum, where she regularly signed autographs and delighted fans – in 2006. The museum announced her death.
Before her most famous role, the red-haired Lynn appeared in movies like June bride (1948) and Cheaper for dozens (1950) as a contract player at 20th Century Fox. Lynn starred as the wife of Tom Tryon’s title character Texas John Slaughter, part of ABC’s Disney’s wonderful world, when she auditioned to play the girlfriend of the neurotic deputy.
She joined the comedy near the end of her first season in 1961 and continued to appear in 26 episodes, earning $ 500 per episode. Show (she never had a contract). When Knotts left sitcom to focus on his film career – Barney was written off after leaving Mayberry to join the police department in Raleigh, North Carolina – Lynn also left.
The couple returned to a Mayberry High School reunion (class ’48) for the episode “The Return of Barney Fife” in January 1966, where Barney hopes to revive her love affair with Thelma Lou, but is crushed to be introduced to her husband. That would mark her last appearance in the series.
But on the 1986 NBC film Back to Mayberry, Thelma Lou (now divorced) and Barney are finally getting married.
Lynn reunited with Griffith once again to play his secretary on a handful of episodes in the first season of NBC’s Matlock in 1986.
Betty Lynn was born on August 29, 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother, Elizabeth, was a singer who performed at the Chicago Opera. Her mother enrolled her in the Kansas City Conservatory of Music at the age of 5, and she sang on the radio and in dinner clubs as a teenager.
When she turned 18, Lynn was hired by the USO and sent to New York and then to China, Burma and India to perform in a diverse show for the troops “like the girl next door”, where she “sang in the hospitals and talked to the boys and visit with them, ”she said.
After eight months with USO, she appeared in the Broadway-bound comedy Park Avenue, where she was discovered by a Fox talent scout and signed by the studio. She came to Los Angeles with her mother and made her big screen arc in the family comedy Sits nicely (1948), starring Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara and Clifton Webb.
She then played the younger sister of Barbara Bates’ character in June bride, starring Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery, and the daughters of Loretta Young in Mom is a freshman (1949) and Fred MacMurray and O’Hara in Dad was a fullback (1949).
After working again with Webb in Cheaper for dozens and with Davis in Payment on request (1951) Lynn returned to New York and often appeared on live television, which she said derailed her film career.
“The studios hated television,” she noted. “When they asked me what I had done, I said, ‘I made live TV, it’s absolutely wonderful, it’s like making a play!’ They just wanted to freeze. I did not understand that they had big problems because people stayed at home instead of going to the cinema. I completely made fun of myself. ”
She played Ray Bolger’s sister-in-law in 1953-54 on the ABC show Where’s Raymond?, had small parts in such films as Gun for a coward (1956) and Meet me in Las Vegas (1956) and guest appearances in series including Train, Lawman and Tales of Wells Fargo before her concert on Texas John Slaughter.
Lynn also had recurring roles Family affair and My three sons and appeared on sections of Farmer’s Daughter, Mod Squad, Small house on the prairie, Police history and Barnaby Jones.
She said she moved to Mount Airy after her longtime home in Los Angeles was broken into twice.
A private funeral is planned in Culver City, the Andy Griffith Museum said, and a memorial service will be announced later.
Donations in her memory can be made to the Betty Lynn Scholarship Endowment (for students pursuing a career in dance or acting) or the Barbara and Emmett Forrest Endowment Fund (to the Andy Griffith Museum and Mayberry Days), both in the care of the Surry Arts Council, PO Box 141, Mount Airy, NC 27030; or Holy Angels Roman Catholic Church, 1208 N. Main St., Mount Airy, NC 27030.
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