Saturday, June 12, 2010

Happy birthday, “Gomer Pyle”!

On May 18, 1964, longtime Mayberry resident Gomer Pyle left his comfortable gas-pumping existence in that sleepy little North Carolina town to join the United States Marines—and the military would scarcely be the same after that. I know I shouldn’t refer to “Gomer” as a real person—he was a fictional character played by actor-singer Jim Nabors, who celebrates his eightieth—80!—birthday today. The character of Gomer was one of the delights of the black-and-white days of The Andy Griffith Show, a naïve, well-meaning bumpkin completely without malice who wasn’t in nearly as many episodes of the long-running sitcom as I once thought (the IMDb credits Nabors with appearances in twenty-three installments on Griffith). It would be up to the late Aaron Ruben to fashion a series for Nabors’ endearing hick—a series that never left the Nielsen Top 10 during the five seasons Gomer Pyle, USMC was on the air. Gomer Pyle, USMC has its share of detractors—many have questioned why Gomer never had his ass shipped off to Vietnam, for example—but like most classic boob tube comedies set in the service (McHale’s Navy, anyone?), it’s just plain dumb fun. Of course, the other ingredient that made the series work was the presence of character great Frank Sutton (pictured here with Nabors) as Sergeant Vince Carter—a man whose application for sainthood was never in doubt after the constant ulcers he received from Gomer’s eternally optimistic cheerfulness and imbecilic insistence on “helping” his superior officer.

Before Gomer Pyle and Andy Griffith, Nabors made guest appearances on shows hosted by Steve Allen and Danny Kaye and sitcoms like I’m Dickens—He’s Fenster and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington…and after Pyle’s run, Jim headlined the comedy-variety series The Jim Nabors Show and a program that I remember from my halcyon cold-cereal-and-footy-pajamas days, The Lost Saucer (with Ruth Buzzi as his co-star). Among his silver screen credits: Take Her, She's Mine (1963), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Stroker Ace (1983) and Cannonball Run II (1984)—the last three films starred Burt Reynolds (it’s sad when upstanding individuals get mixed up with the wrong crowd). Nabors pretty much stays out of the limelight nowadays, content to work his macadamia nut plantation in Hawaii—but the former television icon was a huge part of my life growing up in front of a television (Gomer Pyle, USMC ran like tap water in my neck of the woods), and I want to wish him a happy natal anniversary. Shazam!

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Jeff Overturf said...

Go-o-O-lly and Shazam! Happy b-day Jim!!!

Steve W. said...

My father and Frank Sutton were friends. I had the privilege of having lunch with my father and Sutton and then, at Sutton's invitation, we visited the set of "Gomer Pyle". Frank Sutton was an exceptionally nice and gracious man and I'm sure he'd be happy that he is being remembered fondly.

Brent McKee said...

In 2007 Gomer Pyle - Jim Nabors - was made an honorary Corporal in the US Marine Corps (he had previously been made an honorary Lance Corporal in 2001). This cause far less controversy amongst Marines and Marine vets than other previous grants of "honorary Marine" status had - Chuck Norris being a huge example.

Promotion to Corporal permits Nabors to own a sword. Marines NCOs are the only noncoms allowed to carry swords in the US military.