Mayberry’s mother hen, Aunt Bee of The Andy Griffith Show, was always ready with a delicious offering fresh from the oven. She delighted her on-screen friends and neighbors with her convivial social presence and community generosity. But the late actress who played the role, Frances Bavier, was by all accounts something of a wallflower.
One characteristic was the same between the two women—one the actress, the other her beloved on-screen persona—and that was the small-town life they both preferenced in their winter years. Bavier left Hollywood for the relative peace and quiet of Siler City, North Carolina, a small town with a total population of 4,000 at the time.
Bavier lived alone but for the company of 14 cats.
When Bavier died in 1989 at age 86, her will specified that $100,000 go toward a trust fund for the police department in…
Floyd Bowers worked at an Exxon station near the late Bavier’s resting place and opened up to The News & Observer 15 years after the actress’s passing. “She wasn’t the woman you saw on TV,” Bowers began. “She liked her privacy, and she was hard to please.” Bowers’s wife had worked at the hospital where Bavier was cared for towards the end of her life, and evidently, she was a “hard patient.”
There was one aspect of her community toward which the reclusive actress felt a deep appreciation, however. Her local police force.
Remembering actress Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) on what would have been her 115th birthday! 🎉
Bavier’s will, written before her death in 1989 at the age of 86, bestowed US$100,000 into a trust fund for the Siler City police, according to The News & Observer. The bulk of the fund was preserved as a lump sum while the interest was shared in the form of an annual “Christmas bonus” for the 20-odd members of the force.
The generous legacy shocked and surprised locals who had thought of Bavier as a woman who kept to herself and was occasionally hard to deal with. One woman, Bavier’s next-door neighbor Gladys Farmer, even filed a lawsuit a year after the actress’s death, citing Bavier’s verbal promise to leave her US$25,000 in cash, the contents of her house, and her car—a beautiful Studebaker.
She was not successful.
Bavier’s considerable estate (nearing US$1 million in value) was further divided between a number of named individuals in New York, the actress’s home state, and the Actors’ Fund of America. Additionally, UNC public television auctioned off the coveted Studebaker and benefited from the proceeds. No doubt this further angered the bereft next-door neighbor!
Bavier’s obituary was printed in the Los Angeles Times and intimated that the actress, in her later years, was socially reclusive and almost never ventured outdoors. In testament to this, the tires on Bavier’s Studebaker, at the time of the vehicle being seized, were all completely flat.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Nicholson played a handful of guest parts on TV shows before his movie career took off.
The Greensboro News & Record ventured as to why the reclusive actress had left her money to the local police: they kept the fans at bay, they said. It seems the actress’s retreat to small-town life really was an effort to escape the trappings of fame.
Aunt Bee, with her penchant for manners and etiquette, would have been proud as punch that Bavier’s legacy was a charitable one. The police department of Siler City remains equally grateful.