‘Gomer Pyle, USMC’ Star Jim Nabors Eventually Outranked His Character on the Show

by Amy Myers
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When Gomer Pyle became one of the most popular characters on The Andy Griffith Show, fans rejoiced when they discovered Jim Nabors would again portray the goofy, good-natured persona on his own spin-off. Gomer Pyle, USMC followed Gomer Pyle through his exploits in the U.S. Marine Corps. First airing in 1969, the sitcom was an instant hit across the nation.

From Private Gomer Pyle to Corporal Jim Nabors

Although Gomer Pyle never exceeded past the rank of private during his enlistment, actor Jim Nabors had a different story. Because the show was so well-received in its five seasons, the USMC made Nabors an honorary Marine in 2001 with the rank of Lance Corporal and later promoted him to Corporal in 2007, so says Reuters.

What contributed to his accomplishment in the Marine Corps?

Jim Nabors’ lovable and relatable character painted a positive and resounding image of the USMC during the 1960’s. In fact, because of Gomer Pyle, the Marine Corps saw a 35 to 40 percent increase in enlistment while the show aired. Likely, men across the country witnessed the camaraderie and purpose of the show and wanted that for themselves.

The Show Used Authentic Military Equipment

The U.S. military”s support for Gomer Pyle: USMC didn’t end with Jim Nabor’s honorary rankings.

According to MeTV, the production had full access to authentic military equipment. The show took place at Camp Pendleton in California, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the country. Again, thanks to Jim Nabor’s positive portrayal of the military, the show was able to use whatever equipment they needed for shooting—literally and figuratively.

That means for the season three episode, “One of Our Shells Is Missing,” that’s right—it was a real mortar.

Before He Was Gomer Pyle

Another little known fact about Jim Nabors involves his employment before appearing on The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle: USMC.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, before Nabors became one of the most beloved sitcom characters of the 1960’s, he never believed he could fulfill the typical macho-man archetype of the time. After graduating from University of Alabama in 1951, Nabors moved to New York and became a typist for the United Nations. Years later, the aspiring actor moved to California, where he initially worked in the production department of NBC studios.

It wasn’t until he ran into Andy Griffith at a nightclub in Santa Monica that Nabors found his big break. Griffith recognized Nabors’ talent while listening to him sing from the audience. Besides his smooth, tenor voice, Griffith also appreciated Nabors comedic lines in between numbers. Sure enough, the television star snatched Nabors from the nightlife. He quickly became the quirky and friendly Gomer Pyle that we still love today.

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