Jim Nabors’ claim to fame was his Andy Griffith Show character of Gomer Pyle. For the rest of his career, despite his other talents, he would always be known to the public as Mayberry’s child-like and slow-witted gas station attendant.
And as far as the actor was concerned, he was just fine with that.
Nabors had no acting experience before joining ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
Griffith saw Jim Nabors perform at a nightclub and found his act “electrifying,” according to Daniel de Visé’s biography, Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show.
The author also noted that Griffith Show producer Aaron Ruben recalled being impressed with Nabors’ first stab at acting as Gomer Pyle: “So in comes Jim Nabors. He has a script, he reads, and what he lacked in professionalism and experience he made up for with a certain naive charm that he had.”
The show originally had considered George Lindsey (who ended up playing Gomer’s cousin Goober Pyle) for the part of Gomer. Griffith asked them to wait on hiring Lindsey for the role until they’d met Nabors.
“I was doing the same character in the nightclub as I did on Andy’s show,” Nabors told Allan Newsome, host of the Andy Griffith Show fan podcast “Two Chairs No Waiting.”
“When I read for his show for the first time, I did the character that I was doing for the nightclub. … My act had no point of view whatsoever, but somehow or other, it worked,” he said.
Jim Nabors had a soft spot for Gomer Pyle
Perhaps the actor was simply grateful for the literal role that the character of Gomer Pyle had played in his career. Because of Gomer, so many doors had been opened for Nabors.
In addition to his Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. spinoff from the Griffith Show, Nabors appeared regularly on The Carol Burnett Show, hosted his own variety show, and guested on numerous other variety shows.
“I loved Gomer, I really loved Gomer,” Nabors told the podcast host. “I had the good fortune of, if you’re going to play a character, to play such a nice guy as he was. I’ve always liked the character very much.”
Nabors, who died in 2017, added that fans frequently inquired if he ever didn’t want to be associated with Gomer. His answer was an adamant ‘no.’
“People always ask me if I would like to be identified differently and absolutely not,” Nabors revealed. “I really enjoyed it and I still do. I haven’t necessarily made my career totally on Gomer because I’ve used so much music in my career but I’ve been very blessed in that I’ve had such a diverse career and that I had a situation comedy and the concert career and had a variety show.
“It’s been really wonderful because in show business, you’re always kind of looking for your next job. It’s a very insecure business and fortunately, I’ve never been without a job in the last 40 years,” he said in the 1998 interview.
Frances Bavier coached Nabors on the show’s set
Nabors and Aunt Bee actor Frances Bavier were good friends, de Visé revealed, visiting antique stores together on the weekends.
When she saw the actor first saying his lines as Gomer Pyle, Bavier reassured Nabors that he was going to be fine: “Darling,” she told him, “the camera never misses anything. It never misses a wink or a blink or a smile. I know you’re from nightclubs. You don’t have to do any of that expository, expressive acting. Just settle down and be yourself.”