The Wisdom of Floyd the Barber
In every show, there are certain characters that steal the show. On The Andy Griffith Show there was more than one scene stealer that included (character names) Barney Fife, Gomer and Goober Pyle,Otis Campbell the drunk and Ernest T Bass. However, any scene that included the town barber named Floyd Lawson that was played by Howard McNear was certain to be funny.
Here is one famous scene between Sheriff Andy and Floyd:
Andy Taylor: Well, as Mark Twain said, everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.
Floyd Lawson: Did he say that?
Andy Taylor: Mm-hmm.
Floyd Lawson: I thought Calvin Coolidge said that.
Andy Taylor: No, no Floyd, Calvin Coolidge didn’t say that.
Floyd Lawson: What’d Calvin Coolidge say?
Howard McNear had a long career in radio, films and television. For nine years he originated the role of Doc Adams on the radio version of Gunsmoke. Born in 1905 in Los Angeles, he worked mostly in Southern California ( he never even visited New York ). He did countless radio shows from the 1930s, tv series appearances – he even played Andy the barber on Leave it to Beaver and films such as Bell Book and Candle as James Stewart’s business partner. He was a favorite of Billy Wilder and has a great scene with Walter Matthau in The Fortune Cookie.
Despite his long career, it was the role of Floyd the Barber that Howard McNear will be remembered.
In Richard Kelly’s book, The Andy Griffith Show, Andy Griffith had the following to say about actor Howard McNear (Floyd):
“Howard, first of all, was a leading man in the San Diego theatre years ago. He never was in New York in his life. He developed this comic character, I believe, on The Jack Benny Show. Howard was a nervous man and he became that man, Floyd.
Then Howard had a stroke and was bad off for a long time. He was out of our show for about a year and three-quarters. We did a lot of soft shows, that is, those that were not hard on comedy — stories about the boy or the aunt. But we needed comedy scenes to break up things.
We were working on a script one day, and Aaron [Ruben] said, `Boy do I wish we had Howard.’ And one of us said, `Why don’t we see if we can get him.’ So right then we called up Howard’s house and we got his wife, Helen. `Oh,’ she said, `it would be a godsend.’
Well, we wrote him a little scene. He was paralyzed all down his left side and so we couldn’t show him walking. We had him sitting or we built a stand that supported him. He could then stand behind the barber chair and use one hand. Most of the time, however, we had him sitting. His mind was not affected at all. He was with us about two years after that before he died. Finally poor Howard died. I’m sorry because there was never anyone like him. Kind, kind man.”
In the same book, Jack Dodson (Howard Sprague) says:
“Unfortunately, I didn’t know Howard before his stroke. Even after his stroke he was just a wonderful human being and a splendid actor. Sadly, it was during the playing of a scene with Howard that we realized he couldn’t go on anymore.
It was the segment where I wanted to raise the rent on the barbershop. The characters had a great falling out and then, at the end of the show, they were brought back together in the courthouse. Howard had a little difficulty with that segment. We had to change our shooting schedules a little so that his days were not quite so long as they had been. And then, finally, we had a very simple scene of reconciliation. He couldn’t remember it. He went over it and over it, frustrated with himself. Seeing his despair and anxiety was the most painful experience that I’ve ever had. And then he didn’t come back after that.”
McNear died after his second stroke in 1969. Richard Linke (Associate Producer) had this to say about McNear’s funeral:
“We went to the funeral, and I have to say that it was the only funeral I’ve ever been to where the laughs exceeded the tears. There were a couple of people who knew him well. They spoke in the form of a eulogy — I guess you could call it that. Oh, but it was funny. They related Howard McNear stories from the pulpit. It was something else. Really, it made a nice thing. I think Hal Smith, who played Otis, got up there. It was something else, those stories. And yet, it was all done with dignity. Oh, he was a nice man.”
Howard McNear passed away in 1969 at the age of 63. At his funeral, it was fellow Griffith actor Parley Baer (Mayor Stiner) who delivered the eulogy.
1. Fortune Cookie, The (1966) aka Meet Whiplash Willie (1966) (in UK) 1966 [Mr. Cimoli]
2. My Blood Runs Cold (1965) 1965 [Henry]
3. Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) 1964 [Mr. Pettibone]
4. Irma la Douce (1963) 1963 [Concierge]
5. Wheeler Dealers, The (1963) aka Separate Beds (1963) [Mr. Wilson]
6. Bachelor Flat (1961) 1961 [Doctor Bowman]
7. Blue Hawaii (1961)[Mr. Chapman]
8. Errand Boy, The (1961)[Dexter Sneak]
9. “Andy Griffith Show, The” (1960) 1960-1968 [Floyd Lawson]
10. Heller in Pink Tights (1960) 1960
11. Anatomy of a Murder (1959) 1959 [Dr. Dompierre]
12. Bell Book and Candle (1958) 1958 [Andy White]
13. Good Day for a Hanging (1958)[Olson]
14. Drums Across the River (1954) 1954 [Stilwell]
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