Who says you can’t go home again? You couldn’t prove it to actress Betty Lynn. After playing Barney Fife’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou, on The Andy Griffith Show years ago, Lynn decided that she wanted to move to Mayberry for real.
Though it may be hard to believe, Lynn played Thelma Lou on the Griffith Show for just 26 episodes, from 1961 to 1966. She was the steady girlfriend of Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and, despite some relationship ups and downs, they were meant for one another.
Thelma Lou and Barney parted ways when he left Mayberry to join the Raleigh police force and Knotts left the series after five years. Barney returned in a season six episode to attend his high school reunion and was excited to reunite with his former girlfriend. Unfortunately, she had married another man. Thankfully, still-single Barney and now-widowed Thelma Lou were reunited and married in 1986’s Return to Mayberry movie.
In real life, Lynn lived in West Hollywood for almost 60 years. Things have changed quite a bit in Los Angeles since she bought her house there and her home was burglarized twice in one year. This prompted the 81-year-old actress to make a change in 2006. Lynn recently told AP’s Allan G. Breed, “I just was too frightened to stay. So I thought, I’ve got to find some place I feel SAFE.”
And so, Lynn moved over 2,000 miles to one of the inspirations for the fictional Mayberry — Mount Airy, North Carolina. She’d visited the area a few times as part of the annual “Mayberry Days” festival. The community is also actor Andy Griffith’s hometown but he doesn’t visit very often anymore. TV Land co-sponsored a Griffith Show tribute statue in Mount Airy in 2003.
Lynn noted, “The people here were always so sweet to me, so friendly, and generous. Let me tell you. Southern hospitality is no myth. It’s real!”
Though it’s not the real Mayberry, the town is littered with show-inspired businesses like Floyd’s City Barbershop, Opie’s Candy Store, Wally’s Service, Goober’s restaurant, and even Thelma Lou’s Puppy Parlor. There’s also lots of businesses that use the fictional town name in their titles like the Mayberry Five & Dime and the Mayberry Kountry Kitchen.
Lynn still makes semi-regular appearances at conventions and autograph shows across the country. Prior to his death, Knotts and Lynn would sometimes appear together, sitting side by side. Last year, Knotts’ widow donated some of her husband’s clothes to the Griffith museum in Mount Airy and Lynn was on hand, with tears in her eyes, to see them arrive.