You know that an actor has made a special connection with the audience when, even though he or she wasn’t a series regular, they’re completely associated with the show and you can’t think of it without thinking of them. Remember Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched? He was beloved for that role, but what most people don’t seem to realize is that he was only in 11 of the 274 episodes produced. And then there’s Hal Smith, who brought Otis Campbell (aka “Otis the Drunk”) to life on The Andy Griffith Show, but he was only in 32 out of 249 episodes of that show. Now that’s star power!
As fans are well aware, Otis had an arrangement with Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith): when he got too drunk and was stumbling through the streets of Mayberry, he would bring himself to the courthouse and lock himself in a cell to sleep it off. It’s a concept that was there from the beginning, starting with the pilot for the series that aired as part of an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, though in that show Frank Cady (Mr. Drucker on Green Acres) filled that role as Will.
Daniel de Vise, author of Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, offers, “To me, Hal Smith was one of the first in a parade of veteran television and film actors who were invited to come by the Desilu lot and try out for one of the lovable-kook characters that Sheldon Leonard had envisioned surrounding Andy on the show. In each case, the actor was told it might be a one-off part, maybe lasting for only one or two episodes. I picture them running out to Cahuenga Boulevard every few hours to feed the meter. But when the chemistry worked, as it did with Barney and Otis and Floyd, Sheldon or [producer] Aaron Ruben would sweep in and tell the actor that the part might just work out.
“In Hal’s case,” he continues. “I think it was a bit of a risky character because already in the 1960s Hollywood was starting to get a little sensitive about the idea of milking a person’s alcoholism for humor. Hal later recalled that someone from the sponsor, General Foods, lobbied the studio to ‘fire’ the character, but the showrunners insisted on keeping him and stood up to the sponsor.” And thankfully they did.
Please scroll down for much more on Hal Smith.
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