by Jim Clark
(this story first appeared in The Bullet, official newsletter of The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club, on May 25, 1994)
Jean Carson's introduction to show business was as a "bad little indian girl" when she was a young child. Around age 12, Jean got her first paying job -- five dollars for "a little dance number" in a production of Carmen that came to her hometown of Charleston, WV. Chomp! The acting bug had bitten.
Young Jean, daughter of Alexander and Sadie Leete (descended from William Leete, first governor of the Colony of Connecticut) Carson, studied dance with dedication. "I told my mama I was going to Broadway." And in 1948, after furthering her training at respected Carnegie Tech (also training ground for Mayberry's Jack Dodson), Jean debuted on Broadway in George S. Kaufman's Bravo.
Other highlights for Jean on Broadway in the next decade were Anniversary Waltz with the late MacDonald Carey, Kaufman's Metropole, Two Blind Mice with Melvyn Douglas and a Tony nomination for Bird Cage.
Meanwhile, Jean also was busy through the '50s on top shows like "The Red Buttons Show" (as a regular), "I Witness," "The Ford Theater Hour," "The Trap," "Ellery Queen," "The Glass Key," "The G.E. Theater" (performing with Ronald Reagan), "Philco Television Playhouse," "The 20th Century Fox Hour" (with Fred MacMurray), "Your Lucky Strike Theater," "The Betty Hutton Show" (as a regular), and into the '60s with shows like "The Tom Ewell Show," "Wagon Train," "Sugarfoot," "The Untouchables," "Dante," and a classic "Twilight Zone" titled "A Most Unusual Camera" which was written by Rod Serling with Jean in mind.
Jean's first feature film was the widely acclaimed The Phenix City Story (1955). Her next movie has become something of a Sci-Fi classic: I Married a Monster from Outer Space. (No doubt one of Goober's favorites in Mayberry, this 1958 flick is available on video.)
Jean's part in her next movie, Sanctuary (1961), ended up on the cutting room floor, but she did get to work with Reta Shaw, with whom she would later escape to Mayberry in "Convicts at Large." Other films include One Man's Way (the 1964 story of Norman Vincent Peale), Blake Edwards' Gunn (1967), Warning Shot (the 1967 detective story with an impeccable cast), The Party (1968, with Peter Sellers) and Fun with Dick and Jane (1977).
"I was always kind of typed," Jean says. "I'm what you call a 'second woman' or 'second tomato.' They never get the man."
And that's just what TAGS producer Aaron Ruben was looking for when Jean got the call from CBS casting director Ruth Burch to be "Fun Girl" Daphne on the show. "Aaron probably thought I would be good with Joyce Jameson (Skippy)."
And Jean's visits were indeed "fun" times for everybody. "Andy and Don," she says, "were so well liked and knew so well what they were doing. I probably enjoyed their shows more than any others I ever worked on because Andy and Don were so pleasant and so well loved. And little Opie - his family was so professional. A lovely child. That whole regular cast was so good."
There was attention to every detail on the TAGS set. "Lee Greenway was such a marvelous makeup man - he did all of Lucille Ball's makeup, you know." Jean continues. "I remember I would carry this old leather script case with me and he would say, 'When are you gonna let me shine up that old thing and make it look like something?'" And so Jean let him do it.
Though she officially retired from acting in the early '80s, Jean has continued to be very involved with theater groups in the Palm Springs area where she has won several awards. She has worked on productions such as Elephant Man, Steel Magnolias (as Weezer) and Surprise.
And it's not surprise to any fan of TAGS that Mayberry stories featuring Jean Carson and both of her Mayberry characters (convict Naomi and "Fun Girl" Daphne) are still among the most popular episodes from the entire run of the series.
Information from the Intenet Movie Database
|Notable TV guest appearances
Notable TV guest appearances