A Mayberry State Of Mind
Clara Edwards / Hope Summers
Clara Edwards, one of Aunt Bee’s best friends, is arguably also one of Mayberry’s nosiest citizens and leading gossips. Though she can sometimes be found meddling in other’s affairs, she is more misguided than malicious, and underneath her sometimes brittle exterior is a warm and loving woman who always does the right thing in the end.
If Clara seems a little uppity from time-to-time, she has every right to be. It’s not enough that her homemade pickles brought home a blue ribbon for at least twelve years in a row, or that she had the winning entry in the rose contest for seven years in a row; she is also a descendant of one of Mayberry’s founding fathers.
Clara is very creative and has a real bend toward music and acting. Her brother Claude, who could never keep music in its proper place, plays in a band led by Hippy Harrison. Her nephew Ferdie is an accordionist, and she herself is an accomplished organist and valued member of the ladies’ choir. She taught Opie to play the piano and became manager of his band when it became clear that he and his band mates needed help managing homework, playing gigs and their money. Heck, she is even a member of the album of the month club. And no one plays a better leading lady than Clara in her role as Lady Mayberry in the Mayberry Pageant.
Clara and Aunt Bee’s friendship can be traced back to their years together at Sweetbrier Normal School. Clara was the best dribbler on the basketball team, a fact that Aunt Bee says Clara would never let one forget. And though she mostly seems to be vying with Aunt Bee for a blue ribbon or the attention of a visiting lecturer or pastor, more often than not she is pairing up with Aunt Bee to do good for Mayberry.
One can always find Clara and Aunt Bee and the other ladies of Mayberry ready to bake pies and cakes for various functions or hold a ladies’ bazaar to raise money for an upstanding charity; she and some other of Mayberry’s leading ladies were once arrested for running an illegal charity bingo.
It’s easy to forget Clara’s contribution to Mayberry society when you think of the times she has insinuated that Aunt Bee might be a burden on Andy, or balked at going to the new doctor because he looked so young and couldn’t carve a turkey, or when it seems she was is jealous of Aunt Bee’s winnings from a Hollywood game show. It seems as if her jealousies and prying always result in misunderstandings and hurt feelings. But when the chips are down, Clara always comes through for Aunt Bee. Despite their misunderstandings when they take a trip to Mexico via the Tampico Tamale Contest, they end up the best of friends. In spite of the fact that Clara always felt as if her ancestors are the leading founders of Mayberry, she supports erecting a statue to Seth Taylor. And when Aunt Bee runs for city council, Clara throws her support behind her by becoming her campaign manager. Though she had especially wanted to beat Aunt Bee and have her picture in the Simmons Seed Catalog, her Snow Valley White rose definitely ran second to Aunt Bee’s hybrid Deep Pink Ecstasy and she is gracious enough to admit it in a very sincere way. Clara Edward may be a little uppity, slightly vain and fiercely competitive, but underneath her tough exterior is truly one of Mayberry’s proudest and most caring citizens.
Hope Summers (June 7, 1896-June 22, 1979) was born in Mattoon, Illinois. After graduating from Northwestern School of Speech in Evanston, Illinois, Summers went on to become head of the speech department at Peoria’s Bradley University. She began acting in 1930, mostly in stock and community theaters around Illinois and the Midwest. After appearing on various radio dramas and in her fairly successful one-woman show, “Backstage of Broadway”, in 1950 Summers began acting on Chicago’s Hawkins Falls, television’s first successful soap opera.
Moving to California in the mid 1950’s, Summers began a myriad of guest appearances in a number of early television shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric Theater, Peter Gunn, Gunsmoke, and Dennis the Menace. Beginning in 1958, she portrayed Hattie Dentin in 16 episodes on The Rifleman.
Summers first appeared on The Andy Griffith Show in 1961, the show she is most identified with, in spite of several character name changes. Her recurring role as Clara Edwards continued until the series’ end in 1968 and between 1968 and 1970, reprized her role as Edwards in five episodes of The Andy Griffith Show spin-off, Mayberry RFD.
In between appearance on TAGS, Summers had appearances in other popular series such as Make Room for Daddy, Hazel, My Three Sons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., and many, many others. After TAGS and Mayberry RFD ended, Summers worked on other television series up until 1978. Her last television appearance was in four episodes of 1978’s Another Day.
In addition to her work in television, Summers appeared in many movies, including Inherit the Wind, The Children’s Hour, Spencer’s Mountain, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West and in perhaps her oddest role as a devil worshiper in 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby.
Hope Summers died of heart failure at age 83.