Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

1964 - United States

Jim Nabors had played mechanic Gomer Pyle for two seasons on The Andy Griffith Show before his character was spun off into his own situation comedy, which was nearly as popular as its parent.

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. put the likable, bumbling but well-meaning Mayberry resident in the world of the Marine Corps--specifically, fictional Camp Henderson in California. When the show premiered in September 1964, Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) went with Gomer to his new base and watched over him in the first episode, to help get the new show off to a strong start.

Gomer Pyle tv series

Gomer’s superior was the gruff, by-the-book Sergeant Vince Carter (Frank Sutton), who deservedly chewed out the private in just about every episode. But there was also an undercurrent of a father-son relationship, as Carter became a protector and guide to the sometimes-clueless Gomer, whose phrases included "Shazam!"; "Gol-lee, Sergeant Carter..." and "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" (Gomer also had a girlfriend, singer Lou Anne Poovie, played by Elizabeth MacRae.)

In many ways, Gomer Pyle was similar to No Time For Sergeants, a play that later became a television drama and a movie. In each version, Griffith stared as a bumpkin Southern boy who made good in the Air Force. (Ironically, a series version of “Sergeants” with Sammy Jackson playing the Griffith role of Will Stockdale failed the same season “Pyle” made its debut.)

Critics were not enamoured with the show, and some questioned why Gomer Pyle remained stationed in the US at a time when thousands of soldiers were being called to duty in Vietnam. (The show never addressed the real-life war.) Viewers may have liked it that way; they enjoyed Gomer's antics and kept the show in the top ten for its entire five-year run.

In 1969, Nabors decided to cancel Gomer Pyle himself, so he could star in a variety show that he felt would be a better showcase for his talents. (Nabors' deep baritone voice provided him with several hit records and was showcased occasionally on "Pyle"; it was also a regular of The Jim Nabors Hour, which also featured Gomer Pyle regulars Frank Sutton and comic/impersonator Ronnie Schell.)

Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle

CBS cancelled Nabors in 1971, as part of the network’s efforts to modernize its programming and get rid of shows that appealed mainly to poorer, rural audiences. Typecast from his role as Gomer Pyle, Nabors found his subsequent roles mostly comedic. He appeared in every season premiere of The Carol Burnett Show, because Burnett considered him a "good-luck charm". They were so close that he became the godfather to her daughter Jody.

Nabors finally landed a straight dramatic role in an 1973 episode of The Rookies, a police procedural that followed the exploits of three rookie police officers, but limited his on-screen appearances to concentrate on nightclub and concert engagements, although he returned to the role of Gomer Pyle in 1986 for the television movie Return to Mayberry, in which the cast of The Andy Griffith Show reunited. 

On 15 January 2013, Nabors married his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle, Washington, a month after same-sex marriage became legal in Washington. Nabors died at his Honolulu, Hawaii, home on 30 November 2017, aged 87.

A final note: Although he was promoted to private first class during the series, Gomer Pyle never received another promotion from the Marine Corps--that is, until August 2001, when Marine Corps General James Jones bestowed upon Gomer (and the 71-year-old Nabors) the title of lance-corporal during a ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii. Go figure.

Published on March 10th, 2023. Written by Michael Spadoni for Television Heaven.

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