Elizabeth Macrae

 

BY: BILL KIRBY JR.

Ronnie Schell, who was cast as Gomer Pyle’s sidekick on the TV hit of the 1960s, says he just adored Elizabeth MacRae, who grew up in Fayetteville and became a television, soap opera and film actress, and Gomer Pyle’s television girlfriend. “We picked up right where we left off,” Schell says of their telephone conversation of reminiscing. “One of the thrills of my life was reconnecting with Elizabeth.”

She was Lou-Ann Poovie, Gomer Pyle’s girlfriend. He was Duke Slater, Gomer Pyle’s sidekick.

“I loved playing Lou-Ann Poovie,” says Elizabeth MacRae, the retired Fayetteville actress who grew up in this city and found fame with countless television roles throughout the 1960s and 1980s, including “Gunsmoke” with James Arness, “Maverick” with James Garner, “Bonanza” with Lorne Greene and Michael Landon, “The Untouchables” with Robert Stack, “The Fugitive” with David Janssen, “77 Sunset Strip” with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., “Hawaiian Eye” with Robert Conrad, “Dr. Kildare” with Richard Chamberlain, “Rawhide”with Clint Eastwood, “I Dream of Jeannie” with Barbara  Eden and Larry Hagman, “The Andy Griffith Show” with Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Ronnie Howard and, of course, “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” with the late Jim Nabors.

And not to forget soap opera roles on “Days of Our Lives,” “Guiding Light” and “Search for Tomorrow,” and a film career to include the 1974 motion picture, “The Conversation,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gene Hackman.

But it was on the Desilu Studios’s DesiluCahuenga sound stage and the RKO Forty Acres backlot that Elizabeth MacRae became a television icon as Lou-Ann Poovie, the ditzy girlfriend of Jim Nabors, aka Gomer Pyle.

And where Elizabeth MacRae came to know Ronnie Schell, who played Duke Slater, Gomer Pyle’s Marine sidekick, who was always running interference from Gomer Pyle’s bumbling ways and gaffs that always left Sgt. Vince Carter, played by the late Frank Sutton, in a quandary.

“She was so great doing Lou-Ann Poovie,” Ronnie Schell says. “I’ve always loved her. She was down to earth. She was not uppity like some actresses. We did about five Gomers together. I, like Frank Sutton, was always jealous because she was Gomer’s girlfriend. She and I got along so well.”

The comedy series would air from Sept. 25, 1964, to May 2, 1969, when the cast would go its separate ways and into other entertainment ventures, although, Schell will tell you he often would see MacRae at the annual Mayberry Days, a fan festival each September celebrating “The Andy Griffith Show” in Mount Airy.
There are those who pass your way in life.
You never forget them.
Lou-Ann Poovie is one of them.

Denny Reese is a radio host in Illinois and once editor and publisher of “The Wanderer,” a magazine chronicling television classics. His latest publication is “Gomer Says Hey,” published by BearManor Media, and available at BearManor Media or Amazon at $22 in paperback and $32 in hardback.

And Reese will tell you that Ronnie Schell never has forgotten Elizabeth MacRae.

“I have written a book on the Gomer Pyle TV series, which was published by BearManor Media, and doing brisk sales,” Reese, 58, says. “I understand one of the two remaining stars from the series, Elizabeth MacRae, is living in Fayetteville, and you did a story on her at the time of Jim Nabors’ death in 2017. I am trying to contact her on behalf of Ronnie Schell, who co-starred with her in Gomer Pyle. He is 88-years young and would love to connect with her one more time. If you could be of any help in connecting these two old friends, I would greatly appreciate it.”

I told Denny Reese that Elizabeth MacRae resides here and not too far from her home
place, and still with her Southern drawl and her charming personality.

“You have made my day,” she would say when learning that Ronnie Schell was reaching out. “I would love to hear from Ronnie. He played ‘Duke’ on Gomer.”

One caveat, however. Ronnie Schell would have to call.

“Bill, Southern girls don’t call boys,” she would say. “Have Ronnie call me. I would love
to talk with him.”

And sure enough, Ronnie Schell did make the call.

‘Like we never parted’

“I think a lot of him,” Elizabeth MacRae says. “We didn’t have too many scenes together, but I got to know him more at Mayberry Days in Mount Airy. We used to go to Mayberry Days, and it was fun. Everybody from the show is gone now … producers, directors, Frank Sutton and Jim Nabors. He said nobody could find me. We didn’t talk too long, but I brought him up to date.”

Ronnie Schell will tell you the telephone call was like a trip down Memory Lane.

“It was like we never parted,” he says. “We picked up right where we left off.”

They talked, Schell says, of fellow cast members now gone, like Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton and Forrest Compton, who played Col. Edward Gray on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” and died at age 94 on April 4 from COVID-19. Frank Sutton, who portrayed gunnery Sgt. Vince Carter on the comedy series, died at age 50 on June 28, 1974, while preparing for
a comedy stage production in Shreveport, Louisiana. Jim Nabors died at age 87 on Nov. 30, 2017 at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Nabors’ death broke Elizabeth MacRae’s heart.

“He was wonderful to me,” she says, and recalls his kindness when her late husband, Oscar-winning screenwriter Ned Young, died at age 54 on Sept. 16 1968. “When Ned died, Jim was living in Bel Air, California, and his mother, Mavis, had come to live with him, and he asked me to come and stay with them. That was so sweet of him to do that. He was such a giver. And later, he did concerts and gave all of the money to his favorite charities.”

Ronnie Schell echoes her admiration for Nabors.

“He was good to everybody,” Schell says. “One of the most honest and nice guys I ever met. He never let his fame go to his head.” Nor, Schell says, did Elizabeth MacRae.
‘Like we never parted’
Elizabeth Hendon MacRae was the second child born to the late James MacRae and Dorothy Hendon MacRae, and who grew up in the two-story home along Brook Street in Haymount. She remembers fondly playing
in the nearby park, watching Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, Cornel Wilde and Clark Gable on the motion picture screen of the Haymount Theater. And she remembers sharing some of the best days of her youth with friends to include Nancy Cook, Betsy Reinecke, Virginia MacMillan, Kitty Rose Patton, Martha Jean Allen and
Mary Lee Breece.

Today, Elizabeth MacRae, 84, lives quietly with her husband of more than 50 years, Charles Halsey, 92, and Cortie, the mixed-breed “mutt” she rescued through the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society. She doesn’t watch reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C,” but Elizabeth MacRae is excited to know both iconic comedies can be seen on MeTV.

“Charles, do we get MeTV?” she calls to her husband.

Nor does Elizabeth MacRae plan to attend Mayberry Days, scheduled for Sept. 21-27 in Mount Airy, and where Ronnie
Schell will be performing on Sept. 24 as part of the weeklong festivities. Schell would love for her to come to the festival.

“Probably not,” she says. “Not with this COVID-19.”

No matter, he found Lou-Ann Poovie and loved reliving the nostalgia of yesteryear.
“We had a nice conversation,” Ronnie Schell says. “We just reminisced about the old days and how much fun we had together. One of the thrills of my life was reconnecting with Elizabeth.”

Epilogue

Ronnie Schell forever will be Duke Slater, Gomer Pyle’s sidekick. Elizabeth MacRae
forever will be Lou-Ann Poovie, Gomer Pyle’s girlfriend.
“She was my alter-ego, and she lives inside me still,” Elizabeth MacRae says of the character that brought her fame and pride to her hometown. “I loved playing Lou-Ann Poovie.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at bkirby@ cityviewnc.com, billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.