Betty Lynn remains one of the last living ambassadors of The Andy Griffith Show. The nonagenarian remains a regular presence at the annual Mayberry Days celebration in Mount Airy, North Carolina. There’s a good reason for that, as we’ll explain below.
You perhaps know her best as Thelma Lou, the sweetheart of Barney Fife. Well, when he wasn’t seeing Juanita Beasley.
But Betty Lynn has a fascinating career that reaches far beyond Mayberry, as far as Calcutta in the foothills of the Himalayas. She brushed shoulders with and befriended another famous Bette. She had a recurring role on My Three Sons and reunited with Andy Griffith on Matlock.
Let’s take at more details from Betty Lynn’s life, many of which come from a wonderful profile on the actress in The Miami Herald.
1. She toured Asia as a teenager with the USO during World War II.
At the age of 17, Lynn was singing in a club called the Town Royal in her hometown of Kansas City. She spotted a notice in the local paper calling for auditions to the USO. Months later, she soon found herself bouncing in a Jeep on a road to Mandalay in Myanmar (then Burma) when a Marine handed her a pistol. “You may need this,” he said. Lynn slept with the gun under her head as she toured the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations during World War II. The Hump Express, the paper for troops serving in the CBI, featured Lynn in this cover photo on the 1945 edition. She was performing a show called “Smoke Rings.”
Image: The Hump Express, March 8, 1945
2. Bette Davis nicknamed her “Boo.”
Following the war, Lynn landed on Broadway, where 20th Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck discovered her. She signed a contract with Fox, and made her film debut in the 1948 flick Sitting Pretty for the studio. Later, she appeared in a couple of films with Bette Davis, notably June Bride (1948) and Payment on Demand (1951). The sweet Lynn and the notoriously sour Davis formed an unlikely friendship. Davis playfully called her younger costar “Boo” and advised Lynn to be more selfish if she desired to be a star. “You are not No. 1 in your life,” the legend said. “And you will never be a star.” Lynn was fine with that.
Image: The Everett Collection
3. She earned $500 per episode on The Andy Griffith Show.
Lynn admitted she had only seen The Andy Griffith Show twice before she landed a regular role as Thelma Lou. From 1961–66, she acted in 26 episodes, which earned her $500 per appearance. When Don Knotts left the series at the end of the fifth season, the sitcom found little use for Lynn and Thelma Lou vanished from Mayberry.
4. She had a falling out with Andy Griffith due to her role on Matlock.
Lynn reunited with Andy Griffith in 1986 on Matlock. In a mere handful of first-season episodes, she played a secretary on the lighthearted legal drama. However, Lynn was unsatisfied with the limited amount of lines she was given in the script. She brought her complaints to Griffith, who would not budge. “They let me go as soon as they could,” Lynn says. “I was upset with him because he wouldn’t listen.” The two had a falling out which lasted two decades… until Andy suddenly rang her up in 2008. He wanted advice on whether he should take a role in Play the Game, which would end up being his final film. They patched things up and remained friendly until his death.
5. She retired to the real Mayberry.
Lynn lived in Los Angeles until 2006. After an appearance at Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, the former hometown of Andy Griffith that served as the inspiration for Mayberry, she fell in love with the place. After her home was burglarized back in L.A., she made the decision to move to the small Carolina town. No wonder — she was treated like a true celebrity there. Lynn has lived there ever since.