Fans of The Andy Griffith Show not only got to enjoy the citizens of Mayberry, North Carolina for eight seasons, but they got two spinoff series including the hilarious Gomer Pyle, USMC. The sweet gas station attendant Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors, got his own endearing TV show that followed his experience joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
The entire concept of the character of Gomer Pyle first came about when Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell, two writers on The Andy Griffith Show, met an incompetent gas station attendant and decided it would make a hilarious character on their show. They named their character after another writer, Gomer Cool, and Denver Pyle, one of the actors on the show. Andy Griffith actually discovered Jim Nabors when he was performing at a nightclub in Santa Monica.
Gomer Pyle was only supposed to be in one episode, but quickly became a fan favorite. After a couple of seasons, producers decided he needed his own show. So the finale episode of season four of The Andy Griffith Show served as the pilot episode to kick of the first season of Gomer Pyle USMC.
One of the notable things about the series is that despite being a military-themed show, it never makes any commentary about war, the government or politics. The show was airing during the peak of the Vietnam War so the fact that it was lighthearted and wasn't political quickly made the CBS sitcom popular.
The storyline focuses on the titular character, Gomer Pyle, who would frequently get into trouble for doing the wrong thing as a new marine. His drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Carter (played by Frank Sutton) would hilariously get incredibly frustrated with Gomer's naivete at (the fictional) Camp Henderson in California. Barbara Stuart appeared in the first three seasons as Sgt Vince Carter's girlfriend "Miss Bunny" and Duke Slater (played by Ronnie Schell) was Gomer's platoonmate. Roy Stuart played Gomer's corporal, Chuck Boyle starting in the second season and left after the fourth season, and Elizabeth MacRae played Gomer's girlfriend, Lou-Ann Poovie, debuting in season three.
The character was so beloved, Nabors was named an honorary marine in 2001 by the U.S. Marine Corps "based on his outstanding contributions to the Marine Corps and the United States."
The TV series ran for five seasons and even had guest appearances from some of their friends from Mayberry -- Andy Griffith, Frances Bavier, Ron Howard, and George Lindsey all showed up as their characters from The Andy Griffith Show. Nabors even guest-starred on The Lucy Show as Gomer Pyle. Lots of crossover between CBS shows during this time!
After five seasons of success, Nabors was ready to move on to a new project and hosted his own variety show. The Jim Nabors Hour also aired on CBS from 1969-1971. The new show gave Nabors the chance to show off his baritone singing voice (which really is incredible) and also bring two of his Gomer Pyle USMC costars along as regulars, Ronnie Schell and Frank Sutton. Unfortunately, The Jim Nabors Hour was canceled after the second season due to the "rural purge" happening on CBS.
Throughout the rest of his career, Nabors was generally typecast into comedic roles based on his years playing Gomer Pyle. He appeared on various shows including The Carol Burnett Show, The Rookies, The Krofft Supershow and Buford and the Galloping Ghost. He even appeared in the Dolly Parton film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
In 2013, Nabors married Stan Cadwallader, his partner of 38 years. The actor and singer passed away in 2017 at the age of 87 at his home in Hawaii.
This article was originally published in May of 2020.