Back to Mayberry
by Jennifer Cohron
Oct 10, 2010 | 3165 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kenneth Junkin (Otis), Allan Newsome (Floyd) and David Browning (Barney) take a break together during a fan event for “The Andy Griffith Show.” (Photos Special to the Eagle)
Kenneth Junkin (Otis), Allan Newsome (Floyd) and David Browning (Barney) take a break together during a fan event for “The Andy Griffith Show.” (Photos Special to the Eagle)
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Allan Newsome worries sometimes when he writes down "Floyd Lawson" as his alias on official paperwork for his job at Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal.

Newsome has been portraying the fictional barber made famous on "The Andy Griffith Show" since 1994.

"It's never been a problem, but we have to fill out outside employment forms too. That's always fun. I've finally just started putting down 'tribute artist' or 'entertainer,'" Newsome said.

Newsome was recruited by "The Mayberry Deputy" David Browning, who has made more than 5,000 appearances as Barney Fife since 1989.

Browning invited Newsome to Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, N.C. -- Griffith's hometown -- after seeing his impromptu Floyd impersonations. Newsome accepted and has been bringing Floyd to life at fan events ever since.

Newsome has to be prepared because he never knows which obscure line a Floyd fan may want to hear.

A little boy at one event asked Newsome about the color of his eyes. Newsome correctly responded, "Azure," as revealed by Floyd in "Floyd, the Gay Deceiver."

Gordo resident Kenneth Junkin, who has been portraying town drunk Otis Campbell for 15 years, said he often gets told where to find the local bootlegger when he is in character.

"I don't know if they're joking or not, but in some towns more than one person tells me the same address," Junkin said.

Junkin met the original Otis, actor Hal Smith, once at a fan event in Nashville. Junkin was standing in line holding the invisible dog that Otis sometimes had with him on the show. Smith started a conversation with Junkin and made the dog do a few imaginary tricks.

"I was thrilled to death," Junkin said.

Ironically, Smith did not drink in real life and Junkin chooses to play Otis sober as well.

Junkin said one of his favorite Otis moments is when Barney hits him with a tomato while preparing him to be a deputy. In the seldom-seen finale to the episode, Otis comes by the courthouse and throws a tomato at Barney.

Junkin said fans seem to love Otis in spite of his obvious imperfections.

"Everyone in Mayberry realized that Otis had a problem, and they tried to help him with it," Junkin said.

Newsome said Floyd's humor sometimes get overlooked amid the crazy antics of Otis, Barney and the show's other characters.

"If you start paying attention to what Floyd's doing in the background, he's funny. He's saying and mumbling things to himself back there all the time," Newsome said.

Newsome listed the episode "Convicts-at-Large" as an example of actor Howard McNear's ability to be funny without saying a word. While Barney is forced to dance with ringleader Big Maude, Floyd is sitting on the couch eating and waving his hands in the air.

"They're captured by these lady convicts, yet here he is smiling and having a great time," Newsome said.

Newsome has met several original cast members but not McNear, who died in 1969. However, he has heard stories about McNear's talent and the respect he earned from other cast members.

"Other cast members would come to the set when they weren't even being filmed just to watch him work," Newsome said.

Griffith valued McNear's contributions so much that allowances were made so he could return to the show after suffering a stroke in the third season.

McNear, who could not walk after the stroke, was often filmed seated or sitting on a hidden device attached to the barber's chair that made him appear to be standing.

Newsome said McNear starred in several Elvis Presley movies and could count the King of Rock and Roll as one of his biggest fans, both personally and professionally.

America's favorite deputy

Browning stepped into the uniform of deputy Barney Fife in 1989 with 20 years of acting experience.

A friend requested that he portray Barney for an event he was hosting that featured the Dillards, known as the Darling Boys on the show.

Browning made his own costume with clothing and accessories borrowed from police and fire officials in his area.

The concert was such a success that Browning decided to bring the character to other events to attract attention to the outdoor drama that he was directing in Virginia.

"Over the next year, I increased my attendance at the drama 130 percent," Browning said.

In 1991, Browning was invited to a Mayberry reunion at Opryland. Several original cast members did two shows a day and signed autographs afterward.

The line leading to Don Knotts table was always long, and Browning decided to entertain fans by whipping them into shape in true Fife fashion.

Knotts enjoyed Browning's performance and even offered to give him pointers about the character. Browning respectfully declined.

"I said, 'There's no way that I could do the character the way you did. I think it's best if I improvise and do it the way I can do it because there's only one Don Knotts,'" Browning said.

Two years later, Knotts and Browning worked together at a fundraiser for Milligan College in Tennessee. Over the next 11 years, they made over a dozen appearances at various events.

Before stepping into the role of Otis, Junkin worked as Knotts' security and driver at fan events. Junkin said Knotts was much more low-key than the high-strung character he made famous.

Junkin learned that many fans sent Knotts bullets in the mail. Instead of throwing them away, Knotts kept them in a drawer in his home.

Junkin was impressed that Knotts would stay at an event for hours until every person who wanted an autograph got one, and he never charged for a signature.

"He was just as nice to the first person as he was to the last," Junkin said.

Browning said he enjoys meeting the fans that Knotts earned for the Barney character. However, everyone has not always been as happy to meet him.

A boy of 3 or 4 approached him at one event and announced, "You're not my favorite."

"I said, 'Well, that's fine. Who is?' He said, 'Floyd the barber.' So when people say that children don't get the show, I tell them that story. If parents watch it, their kids are going to watch it and fall in love with it too," Browning said.

Fifty years later

Five decades after "The Andy Griffith Show" first aired, its fan base is larger than ever.

A crowd of over 75,000 attended this year's Mayberry Days. Tribute artists are always in demand for fan events, including the annual Squad Car Nationals in Graysville that has attracted people from 45 states and 10 countries.

In addition to portraying Floyd, Newsome runs the official website for The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club, www.mayberry.com. He also hosts "Two Chairs No Waiting," an Internet radio show that features interviews with cast members, tribute artists and fans.

Newsome said 1,600 people get a daily e-mail from the site about the show and 13,000 subscribers get the bimonthly e-Bullet newsletter.

Junkin said tribute artists used to worry that the enthusiasm for the show would die down with time. They've come to learn that good acting and writing will always be popular, and fans will always yearn for Mayberry.

"They don't want to meet Kenneth Junkin. They want to interact with a part of Mayberry because people seem to be hungry for a simpler time," Junkin said.