‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Aunt Bee Star Frances Bavier Played an Entirely Different Role in the Series Pilot

The Andy Griffith Show may have aired more than half a century ago, but its influence lives on in the fond memories original viewers have of the family-friendly series and in the way that it has influenced pop culture since. The show’s simplicity was at the heart of its appeal, and that also meant it had a fairly lean cast of characters.

The primary action revolved around just a handful of Mayberry residents. Fans might be interested to know that one of those characters — Aunt Bee — originally appeared in a completely different part! 

‘The Andy Griffith Show’ provided an idyllic escape

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Premiering in 1960, The Andy Griffith Show was a spinoff from an even earlier (if less successful) television program. Andy Griffith had appeared on The Danny Thomas Show, which was centered around famed singer and actor Danny Thomas.

Performing on Thomas’ show had given Griffith the jitters: “So when we started the show a lot of people were talking and wondering why they had me out here. Because I was wooden, very wooden.” 

It didn’t take long for Griffith to find a groove of his own, though, and it eventually opened up for him to launch a show under his own name. At first, Griffith intended to be the comedic center of his show, but once it was clear that many of the laughs would be coming from his interactions with fellow actor Don Knotts, Griffith became more of the straight man.

Griffith portrayed Andy Taylor, the protagonist of the story as the widowed father of a young son and the sheriff of idyllic Mayberry. Knotts played his bumbling deputy Barney Fife. Together, the pair brought plenty of laughs to the screen, but stories reveal that there were lots of laughs and pranks behind the scenes, too. 

Aunt Bee was played by Frances Bavier

(L - R): Andy Griffith, Ron Howard, and Frances Bavier of 'The Andy Griffith Show'
(L – R): Andy Griffith, Ron Howard, and Frances Bavier of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Andy Taylor didn’t have to raise his son Opie all alone. He had the help of Aunt Bee, who was portrayed by Frances Bavier.

Bavier was notoriously difficult to work with and caused plenty of tensions on the set. Prior to her time on The Andy Griffith Show, Bavier had been a New York stage actor, and her professional approach to the craft didn’t always mesh well with Griffith’s and Knotts’ more prank-filled philosophy. “I don’t think she ever felt a part of what these boys were up to and their shenanigans,” Ron Howard (who played Opie) explained. 

While rumor has it that Bavier and Griffith failed to see eye to eye while working together on the show, Griffith didn’t spill many details. He did, however, reveal that she called him near the end of her life and apologized for the tension. 

Frances Bavier played a different role in the pilot

The pilot for The Andy Griffith Show had some key differences from what the show ended up becoming — which isn’t all that unusual for a pilot. In that episode, Bavier still appeared, but she was a completely different character.

According to MeTV, Bavier’s first role on the show was as one of the townspeople of Mayberry. She played Mrs. Henrietta Perkins, and she was having trouble because Mr. Johnson was continuing to charge her for a suit rental. Unfortunately, she couldn’t return the suit because two years prior, her husband had been buried in it.

There is no mention of Aunt Bee in this pilot episode, though Andy Taylor does make reference to a relative named Aunt Lucy. Somewhere along the line, it looks like Lucy became Bee and Henrietta Perkins stepped into the part. The show certainly would have been much different without this change.