When The Andy Griffith Show released Return to Mayberry, Aunt Bee actress Frances Bavier had retired from acting. So another classic TV star had to stand in her place.
The made-for-TV movie, which was released in 1986, shows Andy Taylor returning to his small utopian town (as the name suggests) to visit his now-grown son, Opie, who is expecting a child of his own. While Andy is there, he helps his old friend Barney Fife campaign to be the new sheriff of Mayberry.
The movie saw almost all the original stars return to the screen, including Andy Griffith, Ron Howard, and Don Knotts. But the one person missing from Return to Mayberry was the loveable Frances Bavier.
When the movie took place, Bavier had long ended her career in movies and television. In fact, she filmed her final project, Benji, over a decade prior. And for the 14 years leading up to that, the actress had only worked on Andy Griffith and its spinoffs.
When ‘Return to Mayberry Filmed,’ The Aunt Bee Actress Had Moved to her Own Mayberry
As MeTV writes, when it was time to film the movie, the Emmy-winning actress had moved to a tiny town in North Carolina that was close to the fictional city that made her famous, Mayberry. And the producers couldn’t convince her to come out of retirement to reprise her iconic role one last time.
So Aunt Bee never made an appearance in Return to Mayberry. But because she was so important to the story, the writers still found a way to include her in the script. In parts of the film, we can hear her speaking. But her voice doesn’t sound quite right, and that’s because Judy Jetson actress Janet Waldo took liberties over the character.
Waldo was actually one of the most famous voice-over actresses of her era. Over the course of 64 years, she lent her vocals to animated shows like Josie and the Pussycats, The Smurfs, and, of course, The Jetsons. And she also showed her face on The Andy Griffith Show during the 1962 episode titled A Wife for Andy.
Why Frances Bavier refused to make an exception for the movie, we don’t know. But Some fans have guessed that she couldn’t because of health reasons. Bavier had heart problems. And she died in because of coronary complications in 1989, two years after the premiere of Return to Mayberry.
Others believe that Bavier had simply grown tired of the character because she played her for 11 straight years in The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle: USMC, and Mayberry R.F.D. But either way, Janet Waldo did Aunt Bee the kind of justice that would have made Bavier proud.