Jerry Summers: Gomer Pyle in Chattanooga

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The goofy, goofy country boor seen day and night in reruns of the Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC in real life was a quite different person. James Thurston Nabors was born in Sylacauga, Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama and graduated with a Business Administration degree in 1951. He also declared his acting career in Tuscaloosa by starring in skits. After graduating from college, he moved to New York where he worked at the United Nations as a typist.

He came to Chattanooga after leaving New York and got a job as a film cutter for Channel 3 (WRGP) in the 1950s, pairing commercials with films to fit certain times. He will also participate in local acting roles and as a singer. In May 1958 he appeared in his first leading role in The Fireman’s Flame musical Little Theater where he received a good review for “showing a remarkably good voice and unparalleled shoe talent. soft “.

At Channel 3, he will meet his colleague Farol Faye Seretean who will become his manager and will circulate his first records.

He then moved to San Francisco where he performed in a nightclub as a singer and comedian. He arrived in Hollywood playing in a variety of supporting roles. After Andy Griffith saw one of his shows he was selected to play country bumpkin Gomer on the Andy Griffith Show and he also caught the attention of Steve Allen who invited him to be a guest artist. of his variety show.

His role on the Andy Griffith Show led to a successful acting career. It appeared on the show from 1962 to 1964, but seems to have an eternal place in the cable TV rerun market due to its popularity. His talents in the Mayberry comedy led to the equally successful Gomer Pyle USMC program where Nabors was portrayed as a clumsy recruit from training camp in the Marine Corps. This production aired from 1964 to 1968 and is also a popular cable rerun.

Nabors never forgot his Chattanooga roots and made several return trips in the following years to the city. In addition to the Sereteans, he developed long-standing friendships with businessman Olan Mills, III, and his wife Norma Jean (Butch) Mills. He was also a porter at Farol Faye’s funeral in 1992.

In 1965, he came with actress Kay Starr to Chattanooga for a three-day stay with his old friends. Among those who came to visit Nabors were country music stars Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl, Earl Scruggs of Flatt and Scruggs and Dr Nat Winston, Tennessee Mental Health Commissioner. Resuming his old role of Gomer, he remarked, “This town has grown a lot since I left.”

After his stay in Chattanooga, he took a trip to South Carolina where he was appointed president of a boys’ home in the Greenville area. A new chapel named after Jim was dedicated to his name.

In 1976 he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, then bought a 500 acre farm in Maui and became a successful macadamia nut grower. He sold the property to a conservation organization around 2001, but still owns a house on the property and has retained the rights to use the land.

From 1972 to 2014, Nabors sang the unofficial Indiana anthem “Back Home in Indiana” before the start of the Indianapolis 500 race which is held annually on Memorial Day.

He went on to star in many roles in films and on various shows, although in 1994 he had to undergo a liver transplant arranged by his good friend Carol Burnett at the UCLA Medical Center. Burnett had always considered Jim his “lucky charm” and had regularly invited him to his Christmas promotions.

Questions regarding Nabors masculinity have frequently emerged in the Hollywood gossip world. It has been falsely alleged to have had a relationship with his good friend the late Rock Hudson. As a result, they would never visit or talk to each other again until Hudson died.

After same-sex marriage became legal in some states, Nabors and his 38-year-old male companion, Stan Cadwallader, traveled to Seattle, Washington, and they were married in 2013.

When he was over 80, Nabors limited his professional and public appearances and essentially retired to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. He passed away in 2017. He had a long and successful career that began in part in Chattanooga.

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Jerry summers

(If you have additional information on any of Mr. Summers’ articles or have any suggestions or ideas on a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at [email protected]

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