Monday, March 12, 2012

Aunt Bee in Charge

I guess Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith Show was like everybody's favorite aunt.

She doted on her family, and she was a world–class cook. And she had the most easygoing, mild–mannered disposition you could imagine. She was rarely moved to anger at any time during that series' nearly decade–long run.

As accepting and forgiving as Aunt Bee typically was, though, there was another side to her. I don't mean to say that she had a Jekyll–Hyde personality because that isn't true. But there was definitely, as I say, another side to her personality, a side that was seldom seen but apparently was always lurking just beneath the surface.

In March 1962, it was not common for women to be in the workplace. Certain professions were primarily the domain of women — notably professions like teaching and nursing — but, by and large, most women were not found outside the home.

That's where most women utilized any management skills they possessed, and that was a reality that was usually reflected on TV shows.

Consequently, the theme of women actually working in a non–domestic, non–nurturer capacity was fertile ground for sitcoms.

That, I suppose, is what made the episode of The Andy Griffith Show that aired half a century ago tonight so interesting — it merged the two.

See, this is how the episode played out ...

After supposedly injuring one of his arms while subduing some suspects, Andy brought in four prisoners, the Gordon boys, who had been running a moonshine operation he and Barney had been trying to find. With two prisoners in each cell, there was no place for Otis when he came in after tying one on.

Not that Otis particularly wanted to share the jail's accommodations with the Gordons. They accused him of fingering them. Whether that was true was never really established, but Otis clearly felt threatened in their presence.

Anyway, Andy concluded that they couldn't put Otis in a cell with one or more of the Gordon boys — so it was decided that Otis would stay at Andy's house under Aunt Bee's supervision.

Initially, Aunt Bee wasn't wild about the idea. When Andy first mentioned it to her, she and two of her friends were baking cakes for the church social, and Aunt Bee was knocked a bit off balance by the presence of the inebriated Otis. But she soon warmed up to her role as the warden.

(Meanwhile, back at the jail, Barney was warming to his expanded role as the supervisor of the Gordon boys. Asserting that the boys could have taken a more productive path in life "had your twigs been bent in a different direction," he embarked on a program of rehabilitation by dispensing arts and crafts kits.)

But back to Otis ...

The next morning, Aunt Bee brought Otis his breakfast, but he wasn't ready to get up and told her to keep it warm for him while he slept some more. "I'm a prisoner in this house, and I expect to be treated like one!" he told her.

"Well, if you're a prisoner, I'm responsible for you," she told him, "and that makes me the warden." And she put him to work doing things around the house — cutting the grass, cleaning the windows, chopping wood, scrubbing the floor.

Aunt Bee wouldn't allow the hung over Otis to take any breathers, and he implored Andy for help.

"She's about to work me to death," Otis told Andy.

"Aunt Bee?" Andy replied incredulously.

"Aunt Bee?" Otis answered. "Bloody Mary!"

Getting no relief from Andy, Otis began plotting his escape. But Aunt Bee was too clever for him. She was always one step ahead of him, thwarting every attempt.

Meryl Streep may have won an Oscar for her performance in "The Iron Lady," but Margaret Thatcher had nothing on Aunt Bee.

At the end of Otis' 24–hour incarceration, Aunt Bee had him wearing a coat and tie — and announcing to Andy that he wasn't going to drink anymore. Aunt Bee had put him on probation, he said. "If I make one more false move, I gotta come back!"

(Devotees of The Andy Griffith Show will tell you that Otis didn't keep that promise.)

Andy was duly impressed. "I believe you missed your calling," he told a beaming Aunt Bee. "Getting ol' Otis to walk the straight and narrow ain't no small accomplishment!"

Otis was eager to leave. "I don't ever want to see 'The Rock' again," he exclaimed. Andy advised him not to be bitter.

Aunt Bee, of course, was usually a sweetheart, and, to my memory, she never showed that tough–as–nails side on the show again.

(Oh, incidentally, that cast on Andy's arm was real, but the circumstances surrounding it are mysterious even 50 years later. Reportedly, Griffith hurt himself when he hit a wall; the reason for that act has never been adequately explained.)