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Jim Nabors 1930 - 2017
December 1, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments
 

Jim Nabors didn’t just create one of the great sitcom characters in television history with his goofy Gomer Pyle (top).

He also exemplified what older folks mean today when they pine, wistfully or angrily, for the time when the going was good in America, doggone it.

Nabors, who died in his Hawaiian home Thursday morning at the impressive age of 87, originally signed to play the good-hearted and slow-thinking Gomer as a one-off in a December 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

Gomer’s wide-eyed wonder at the world around him (“Gaaawwwwlllleeee” was his signature phrase) proved so endearing that he returned for another 22 Andy Griffith shows before enlisting in the television Marines and starring for five seasons in his own spinoff, Gomer Pyle, USMC.

Nabors mustered out of the show while it was still a big audience fave. He wanted to work at his real first love, singing, and he got to do a lot of that while hosting a variety show for the next two years.

After that he did a little acting and a lot more singing. He sang the opening song at the Indianapolis 500 for decades. He also moved to Hawaii, where he met his eventual life partner and husband, Honolulu firefighter Stan Cadwallader.

They settled down there, among other things running a macadamia nut farm. Nabors performed on occasion, picking his spots, and didn’t seem to mind that he could have played Luke Skywalker or Batman and he still would have been known to most of the world as Gomer Pyle.

Part of that affinity is a tribute to his performance skill. While he always insisted he wasn’t an actor, creating Gomer was something he only made look easy. The roadside of television history, particularly early television history, is littered with stereotype “hicks” who were seen as harmless, one-dimensional, and forgettable.

Nabors made Gomer human, and it didn’t hurt that we first got to know him alongside Griffith, who gave a small-town Southern television sheriff as much dimension as a sophisticated big-screen movie star.

Together, and of course with the help of Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, Opie, and the rest of the Mayberry posse, they created the image that the World War II generation and the early Baby Boomers are referencing when they talk about the good old days when the whole country felt like family.

You didn’t have to lock your doors at night. The kids could play anywhere. Everyone had a good job, all families got along and no one had any secret problems.

That America existed. It really did.

On television.

In the real-life 1967, the national crime rate was higher than it was in 2016. In the real-life 1950s, you didn’t want to be a black person or a woman looking for a fair shot, or any shot, at much of the American dream. If you were gay, like Jim Nabors, the wrong whisper could ruin your life.

But much of television, in those days, was an escape to the world we wanted. Where modern shows like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead or The Sopranos send us into a world far more menacing than anything we face after we turn the TV off, much of 1950s and early 1960s television conjured the world we wish we had.

Especially the sitcoms. Leave It To Beaver, anyone? Ozzie and Harriet?

In a 1980 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Nabors said that was a good thing.

“In Mayberry, there was no illness,” he said. “There was no war. There was no violence. There was no graffiti. We all had a good time, and we laughed a lot.”

He could have added that Gomer Pyle, USMC, never dealt with the Vietnam War, though some 10,000 real-life Marines and more than 35,000 other U.S. soldiers died there during the years it was on.

That’s not a criticism of the show. It simply reflects what Nabors, and the era of television he helped define, brought to American culture.

It isn’t hard to understand why we miss that time, even if a lot of what we miss was only found on the 17-inch Magnavox.

 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Mac
Has it been noted that homophobe Karen Pence, wife of Ex- Indiana Governor Homophobe and now Vice President Homophobe,Mike Pence,tweeted about Jim Nabors' passing (because of the Indy 500 singing) but failed condolences to Nabor's husband. Sad. Miss Manners is p***ed. If I was dining(no booze,please) with the Pences,I would only dine alongside RuPaul and his husband present:"Yes,Waiter,we'll have the Squirm For Five,well done."
Dec 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Fridays on CBS,1965. First up-The Wild,Wild West-the exploits of Secret Service agents in the post-Civil War saving the newly Reunited States. Not of a hint of carpetbagging,not a black person to be found but it did have an evil little person with tiny hands out to destroy America. Then Gomer,who,as mentioned above,trained for a war that evidently did not exist,nor listened to the Doors and never smoked funny cigarettes. Next-Hogan's Heroes-the fun exploits of World War II prisoners and those goofy but lovable Nazis. I watched them all. They all still play in 2017 where folks long for Reconstruction spies in an all white yet gadget-filled scary America;the antics of Marines training to never get killed in Vietnam and prison camp fun.
Dec 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
 
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