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'Andy Griffith' Aunt Bee Recluse in Final Years

January 17, 1990|From Associated Press

SILER CITY, N.C. — The actress who portrayed housekeeper Aunt Bee on "The Andy Griffith Show" lived her last years in seclusion in a dark, dingy house and kept a 1966 green Studebaker with four flat tires in the garage.

The home of Frances Bavier reflects little of the coziness of the fictional house that Aunt Bee managed for Mayberry's sheriff and his young son on the popular television series of the 1960s.

The 86-year-old Miss Bavier died Dec. 6 in the spacious two-story Siler City home to which she retired in 1972. She rarely left the house, town residents say.

"She strikes me as living a sparse life in her latter years, a very quiet life," said Diana Hatch, communications director for University of North Carolina Center for Public Television.

Of an estimated $700,000 estate, Miss Bavier left the house to a hospital foundation and its antiquated contents to the public television network.

An appraisal put the value of Miss Bavier's belongings at $31,683, excluding the Studebaker, last driven in 1983 on a trip to a grocery store.

The stench from the actress' 14 cats coupled with peeling plaster, frayed carpets and worn upholstery indicate Miss Bavier either was unable or unwilling to spend much time keeping up the home.

Her cats apparently used a basement room and a shower stall as a litter box.

Evidently, the reclusive actress spent most of her time in a large back room plainly furnished with a bed, a desk, a television and an end table, where she kept her reading and opera glasses, black licorice and a bell.

"I think she was a person who obviously valued her privacy. She . . . could have had non-stop fans if she had opened her doors," said Hatch.

Two trunks held her fan mail, letters in one and studio portraits of her "to be signed" in another.

Miss Bavier's few costly possessions consisted primarily of some rare leather-bound books, a lace collection and a considerable quantity of table linens, said Hatch.

The few mementos of the actress' television days were the dress and hats she wore in the show and a few publicity pictures. There also was a blue satin gown she may have worn when she won her Emmy Award, said Hatch.

Just as the neat, matronly Aunt Bee would have done, Miss Bavier saved sewing fabric in labeled boxes in a bedroom closet. But what she made with the material was not evident in the house, which had no curtains at the windows. The walls were mostly bare except for a few ordinary electric wall clocks.

And while Aunt Bee was known around the fictitious Mayberry, N.C., courthouse for her tasty box lunches, there was only one cookbook in Miss Bavier's yellow and green 1950s kitchen.

The belongings will be auctioned this spring, said Bob Royster, production director for the public television center.

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