FRANCES BAVIER (December 14, 1902 – December 6, 1989) was an American stage and television actress born on this date (d: 1089); Originally from New York theatre, Bavier worked in film and television from the 1950s until the 1970s. She is best known for her role of Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. from 1960 to 1970. Aunt Bee logged more Mayberry years (ten) than any other character. She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Comedy Actress for the role in 1967. Bavier was additionally known for playing Amy Morgan on It’s a Great Life (1954-1956).
Bavier had roles in more than a dozen films, as well as playing a range of supporting roles on television. Career highlights include her turn as Mrs. Barley in the classic 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still. In 1955, she played the rough and tough “Aunt Maggie” Sawtelle, a frontier Ma Barker-type character, in the Lone Ranger episode “Sawtelle’s Saga End”. In 1957, she played Nora Martin, mother of Eve Arden’s character on The Eve Arden Show, despite the fact that Arden was less than six years younger than Bavier. That same year, Bavier guest-starred in the eighth episode of Perry Mason as Louise Marlow in “The Case of the Crimson Kiss”.
She was in the episode of Make Room for Daddy, which launched the characters of “Andy Taylor,” with Andy Griffith and Ron Howard as “Opie Taylor.” She played a character named Henrietta Perkins. The episode introduced The Andy Griffith Show, and Bavier was cast in the role of Aunt Bee. Bavier had a love-hate relationship with her famous role during the run of the show. As a New York City actress, she felt her dramatic talents were being overlooked, yet after playing Bee for eight seasons, she was the only original cast member to remain with the series in the spin-off, Mayberry R.F.D., for two additional seasons.
Bavier was easily offended on the set of The Andy Griffith Show and the production staff took a cautious approach when communicating with her. Series star Andy Griffith once admitted the two sometimes clashed during the series run. On a 2003 appearance on Larry King Live, Griffith said Bavier phoned him four months before she died and apologized for being “difficult” during the series run. Bavier confessed in an interview with Bill Ballard for Carolina Camera that “it is very difficult for an actress … to create a role and to be so identified that you as a person no longer exist and all the recognition you get is for a part that is created on the screen.”
While the character of “Aunt Bee” was thought of as “everyone’s aunt” by fans, off the set, Bavier was a far different personality than the woman that she portrayed on television. Her being a lesbian was an open secret to the Andy Griffith Show cast and crew, and in Hollywood gay circles. She dated some women but passed them off as “good friends”. In that era, an actor could never really be candid about their sexuality.
“Aunt Bee” might have been a gentle soul, a woman who was primarily focused on the kitchen, but in real life, the actor who played her was a fierce, driven career woman.