Mayberry Days opens in Mount Airy, actress Ruta Lee will appear
MOUNT AIRY, NC (WGHP) – Mayberry Days, the annual festival celebrating all things “The Andy Griffith Show” related, is back for its 32nd year with celebrities and all kinds of activities through Sunday .
You probably already know that Mount Airy is the hometown of Andy Griffith and the model for the Mayberry of his spirit. Nearby, Pilot Mountain also appears in the series as “Mount Pilot”.
The festival, run by the Mount Dora Arts Council, started in 1990 because it was the 30th anniversary of the show’s first broadcast, October 3, 1960. Excluding the pandemic years, the festival has been held ever since.
Official events started on Monday and presented a presentation of “No Time For Sergeants”, a film starring Griffith and including his former TAGS teammate Don Knotts (he was “Deputy Barney Fife”, in case you don’t know). Another of Griffith’s films, “Murder in Coweta County”, with Johnny Cash, will be presented on Tuesday afternoon and twice on Wednesday, when producer Dick Atkins will be part of the presentation.
The schedule includes concerts, conferences, performances, visits, a golf tournament and all kinds of interactive activities.
One of the highlights of each year has been appearances by former cast members. After the death in October of Betty Lynn, who played Fife’s girlfriend “Thelma Lou”, only actor/director Ron Howard (“Opie”) remains from the original set. But many peripheral characters appear. There will be a celebration of Lynn’s life at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the Earle Theater.
This year’s program features six former cast membersincluding Ronnie Schell who was most widely known for his role as “Duke Slater” in the “Gomer Pyle/USMC” spin-off series. Don Knott’s daughter, Karen, and Daniel Roebuck, who performed with Griffith during his 9-year run on “Matlock”, are also scheduled to appear at an event called “What It Was Was Andy Griffith”.
But the headliner this year is ubiquitous actress Ruta Lee, who appeared in two distinctly different roles on TAGS, one as a semi-villain in a black-and-white episode, and the other more or less. less as itself in color.
She also made an appearance in the “Mayberry RFD” spin-offs, playing “Terry” in Episode “The City Planner” in 1971, and “Gomer Pyle USMC”, in which Lee was a fur-wearing beauty in “Gomer is dating a movie star” in 1965.
This is Lee’s first Mayberry Days appearance. It will be part of an official presentation for “Professor Brower’s Lecture” at the Historic Earl Theaterwhich is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but the Arts Council says she will “make appearances throughout the festival”.
Who was Ruta Lee?
Well, for one thing, Ruta Lee isn’t really her name (surprised, are you?). She was born Ruta Mary Kilmonis in Montreal, Canada on May 30, 1935, but she is strictly Hollywood. Her mother wanted her to be an actress and uproot her family to settle there (surprise again?). Kilmonis graduated from Hollywood High School (class of 1954) and attended Los Angeles City College and UCLA. She was married to the same man for 44 years and is president of The Thalians, which helps mental health patients at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. IMBD.com credits her with 158 acting credits in 25 films and over 2,000 television roles. Her first acting credit was on “The Roy Rogers Show” in November 1952 under her real name, Ruta Kilmonis, and she later appeared on “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” under that name as well. It’s unclear when she adopted “Lee.”
She was never nominated for a major award, but in 2006 she received the ultimate Hollywood tribute: her own star on the Walk of Fame. This star was in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where as a teenager she was fired for her poor performance as a ticket seller. She talks about it in her memoir which she published in 2021 under the sexy title “Consider Your Ass Kissed”. The book apparently includes a lot of kisses and storytelling.
What was his most famous role?
It’s always a good question, and Ruta Lee’s career – while long and busy – was more about volume than stardom. Her first film role was in 1954 in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, in which she played Ruth Jepson. She appeared in the acclaimed 1957 drama “Witness For the Prosecution”, with Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich, and in “Marjorie Morningstar”, with Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood. And in 1962, she appeared in “Sergeants 3”, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. (which in her book she claims almost led to a romance with Sinatra). In 1972, she starred with Bobby Van in “Apocalyptic machine”. She also performed in Broadway touring shows. But for almost all of her nearly 70-year career, she has focused on television. She’s played all sorts of roles – including some recurring ones – on all sorts of shows. She’s blonde and petite (5-foot-1, her biography says), and she was a dancer. She often played a brother or a girlfriend or a peripheral character, sometimes a sex symbol. These television roles included not only sitcoms, but also westerns and crime dramas. She’s had roles in soap operas, holiday movies, cartoons, variety shows, and even game shows. How many people have appeared with icons such as Roy Rogers, George Burns, Lucille Ball, Andy Griffith, Frank Sinatra, Tab Hunter, Walter Brennan and Robin Williams?
Were they large pieces?
She’s appeared multiple times on certain shows, and she’s almost always played different characters, like she did with TAGS, as it’s called. The Flintstones, Disney movies, ensemble shows, cartoon voices, she was everywhere. She starred in a famous episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “A little drink from a certain fountain” with Patrick O’Neal. She was one of 39 people who appeared in both “The Twilight Zone” and “The Wild Wild West”. She even played herself in a 1967 episode of “The Lucy Show” and again in her last appearance, in “That’s Entertainment” in 2021. But except for a pair of 2-part episodes, in only three series, she played the same character in several episodes: “Coming of Age” (1988-89), “1st & Ten” (1984-85) and “Gunsmoke” (1958 and 1962).
What was his character Jean Boswell about?
This episode – and Lee’s character – was about power and unethical activity. As in several other episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” – including pilot episode aired on “The Danny Thomas Show” – a person passing through Mayberry is arrested by the police. In this case, J. Howard Jackson, a Raleigh media mogul, was fired by Sheriff Taylor on the agreement that Jackson would send him his fine. He didn’t, and Andy went to his office to arrest him for failing to appear. JA displeased and offended, Jackson sent Boswell (Lee), a student reporter, to Mayberry to find dirt on Andy. His “reporting” has people, including Barney, testifying against Andy in a hearing in mayor’s court.
How did she play Darlene Mason?
Lee’s turn as Mason in a color episode – a different genre for fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” – from 1965 is essentially Lee playing herself, a beautiful and glamorous movie star. Mason is thrown in “The unarmed sheriff”, the movie Hollywood decided to make about Sheriff Andy Taylor after a magazine article about him highlighted his uncased work. This episode is also an early take on what will be a recurring theme. While visiting Hollywood while filming the film, Andy and Mason are pictured at a party. Helen Crump, Andy’s girlfriend, who is also traveling – with Aunt Bea and Opie – sees the photos and gets jealous until Andy fixes it. This exact plotline repeated itself two seasons later in “Andy’s Trip to Raleigh,” when attorney Lee Drake (played by Whitney Blake of “Hazel” fame) and Andy worked on depositions near his pool. Her sunshine from their innocent afternoon drew questions that left Helen red-faced.
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