January 1971: Jasper welcomes home Mayberry's favorite son


The Daily Mountain Eagle announced a "salute to Goober" with a banner headline on Jan. 6, 1971. The story was accompanied by a three-column collage depicting the many faces of George Lindsey. Only one photo showed him as the Goober Pyle character first introduced on "The Andy Griffith Show" and then carried over to "Mayberry RFD." The rest came from his appearances on more than 40 television shows such as "Gunsmoke" and "The Twilight Zone."

The Eagle noted in an editorial on Jan. 28 that Lindsey often made unannounced visits to family and friends in Jasper. However, this was an opportunity to roll out a literal red carpet for him. 

Event planners packed as many public appearances as they could into a day, concluding with  his acceptance of the "Favorite Son Award" at the Jasper Area Chamber of Commerce's 24th annual membership meeting and banquet on Jan. 29. Tickets were sold for $7.50 and were limited to 500.

Those who couldn't attend the Friday night chamber banquet could listen to the festivities on WWWB-FM and WARF.

The Eagle described Lindsey as "a one man Chamber of Commerce" for Jasper and Walker County." He never missed an opportunity to throw in a mention of Jasper while making the rounds on the talk show circuit, which was led at that time by Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Joey Bishop and Steve Allen.

Some locals took offense to the put-downs.

One reader wrote to Eagle editor Ben Knight asking, "Why is it your friend George Lindsey always makes fun of Jasper on the TV guest shows? Does he think he's too good for us?"

Knight assured the reader that Lindsey meant no harm and was doing the city a favor by doling out free publicity.

"George Lindsey never makes fun of Jasper. He kids Jasper, and all of us should retain a sense of humor. He spoofs and laughs, but we'd say the name of Jasper has been absorbed by more millions of living room viewers than the name of any town our size in the nation," Knight said.

One such joke about Jasper was that the sidewalks were rolled up at 9 p.m.

On Jan. 15, Walker College President Dr. David Rowland, Jasper Mayor Jack Moore Brown and Chamber Executive Vice President Joe McCluney appeared on the front of the Eagle holding a large key to the city that was being mailed to Lindsey in case everything was locked up when he arrived.

The joke was revived for the Jan. 27 paper, which featured a nighttime photo of downtown Jasper proving that the sidewalks were still there.

On Jan. 26, the Eagle announced that Lindsey and his family would be arriving at the Birmingham Airport at 5:05 p.m. on Jan. 28. 

A 30-foot red carpet was rolled out for him, and the airport agreed to place two "Welcome Home" signs on the building near the VIP area.

Lindsey and his family were greeted at the airport by a host of dignitaries and fans as well as 40 members of the Walker College Band. A police escort led the way back to Jasper.

His arrival and triumphant return were covered by all Birmingham television stations and newspapers as well as the local paper and radio station. Stories and photos were also passed along to the AP and UPI wire services for national distribution.

Lindsey's first appearance was at a Walker College basketball game on the night he got to town. The following day, he visited Jasper Shrine School, Walker High School, Walker College, T.R. Simmons School, Jasper Arrow Plant, Top Dollar headquarters and three Jasper nursing homes.

A ceremony was also held in his honor at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 on the steps of the Walker County Courthouse. Eagle employees were there passing out copies of a 12-page "Goober Day" special section celebrating Lindsey's life and career.

The front page read like a love letter to Lindsey from the Jasper City Commission: "Welcome back, Goober! You've never forgotten us in your climb to stardom and we'll never forget you 'cause you're truly Jasper's favorite son. George Lindsey, the city of Jasper thanks you for the wonderful national publicity you've given Jasper on many occasions on television and for calling us your folks back home. We are pleased to offer you the key and lock to the city of Jasper, Alabama. On any opportunity you have to come home, you're always welcomed as you are our favorite citizen!" 

The first article in the section alluded to what would be a lifelong struggle for Lindsey — separating himself from the Goober character.

"As time goes by, I'd like to be more identified as George Lindsey a comedian and a singer. It ain't going to be easy. Everywhere I go, even out of costume, it's 'Hi, Goober.' You'd be amazed," Lindsey told Jack Anderson of The Miami Herald.

Anderson also reported that Lindsey had previously thought about developing a series of his own in which he played a small town football coach.

"That's out now. Mayberry's doing too well and they won't let me out of my contract," Lindsey said.

A press release from Walt Disney Productions on Lindsey's work in "The Aristocrats" pointed out that Lindsey didn't live like the rube he played on TV.

"He has a Cadillac for show, a business manager, a $25-a-week allowance and a house in the San Fernando Valley." Lindsey had also joined a country club "so the kids could learn to swim and play tennis and I could learn to hit a golf ball properly." 

In addition to his career in entertainment, Lindsey had also invested at the time in a steak house franchise bearing his time. He was also an investor and board member of the Modern Investors Life Insurance Company.

To Jasperites, however, Lindsey and Goober were one and the same.

Prior to the big day, the Eagle asked local men to bring their old felt hats to the Chamber of Commerce office. The plan was to turn them into a collection of Lindsey's iconic "Goober" hats and present them to him in hopes that he would wear some of them on "Mayberry RFD." 

Guy Able was appointed "Goober Cap" chairman. One of his duties included making sure that all Jasper filling station attendants would be wearing hats appropriate to the occasion.

On Feb. 1, Knight wrote an article proclaiming that "Goober Weekend" had been a "smash bash and a towering tribute to both Walker County's super TV star and to the area itself."

At the banquet, Lindsey's mother, Alice, had presented him with a small trophy for being "My Man of the Year — Every Year."

Telegrams congratulating Lindsey were received from Gov. George Wallace, former Gov. Albert Brewer, Congressman Tom Bevill, "Green Acres" star and Winston County native Pat Buttram, Andy Griffith, Glen Campbell Johnny Cash and "Mayberry RFD" co-star Paul Hartman. 

In spite of having friends in high places, Knight proclaimed that "he hasn't changed. Only his bankroll has."

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's feature editor.