George Lindsey, the actor best known for his portrayal of dim yet lovable gas station mechanic Goober Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show,” died at 12:05 a.m. on Sunday, May 6, after a brief illness. He was 83.
Born in Fairfield, Ala., on December 17, 1928, George Smith Lindsey was raised in Jasper, Ala., and was the only child of Alice Smith Lindsey and George Ross Lindsey. As a young boy, Lindsey’s best buddies were his dog One Spot and his pal Sappo, a lifelong friend and a popular foil for Lindsey’s stand-up comedy act.
Lindsey liked to hang around his Aunt Ethel’s gas station, where the mechanics wore felt caps to keep the grease and oil from dripping into their hair. Those caps would inspire Lindsey’s trademark “beanie” worn by Goober.
Gas station notwithstanding, the Lindsey family of George’s youth felt the full weight of the Great Depression. Those hard times were later a rich source of material for his comedy act, with jokes guaranteed to get a laugh, such as: “We were so poor that we’d eat beans for breakfast, drink water for lunch and swell up for supper.”
As a student in Jasper, Lindsey was a good athlete. At Walker County High School, he excelled in football and basketball. One of the few other official high school activities he enjoyed was doing theatrical productions. He was as surprised as anybody when he graduated high school. With no real plans for his future other than a desire to be in the spotlight, Lindsey enrolled in local Walker Junior College. After being invited not to come back for a second semester at Walker, Lindsey enrolled (that is to say, “was sent away”) for a year of junior college at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Mo.
Next up was the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Lindsey lasted a semester there, but couldn’t afford the tuition for a second semester. It was probably just as well. As he joked in his 1995 autobiography, Goober in a Nutshell, “I was in remedial everything. I was even in remedial lunch.” He was, however, able to scrape together enough money to enroll at Florence State Teachers College (now the University of North Alabama).
Lindsey thrived in Florence. He eventually rose to starting quarterback for the football team. His football prowess earned him a much needed scholarship, which allowed him to finish his collegiate career at Florence State. He also performed regularly with the college theater group. He graduated in 1952 with a degree in biological science and physical education.
His alma mater in Florence remained a passion for Lindsey the rest of his life. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the university in 1992 and was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. He was proud to be a co-founder of the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival in 1998. Several scholarships are also endowed in his name. The university is home to the George Lindsey Collection, which contains most of his television and movie scripts and much of his other career memorabilia. Lindsey was proudly on hand during the film festival in March of this year for the dedication of the George Lindsey Theater on the UNA campus.
After he graduated from college, Lindsey joined the Air Force. He was assigned to special services and to be a swimming instructor. At one point during his service at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, he served as personal lifeguard for General Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command.
Much of his time with the Air Force was spent at Pinecastle Air Force Base near Orlando. He was responsible for putting together plays and other entertainment for the servicemen. He also worked on plays at nearby Rollins College in Winter Haven. It was at Rollins that Lindsey met and fell in love with Joyanne Herbert. They were married in 1955.
After Lindsey was discharged from the Air Force, the newlyweds moved to his home turf in Alabama. With his college degree (and a teacher’s certificate) and Air Force experience, Lindsey landed a job coaching basketball and baseball and teaching history at Hazel Green High School in Madison County.
“I was the worst teacher in the world,” Lindsey later said. After a painful year at Hazel Green High, Lindsey decided to put everyone out of the misery of his teaching. He was accepted at the prestigious American Theater Wing in New York City. With the help of GI Bill funds, he studied at the American Theater Wing for two years and loved every minute of it. To help pay the bills during and after this time, he worked as a comedian and actor in nightclubs and coffeehouses. He was noticed by agents from the William Morris Agency, and he signed with them to represent him.