5 TV Aunts Worth Remembering

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As a follow-up to this post about TV uncles, we're giving equal time to the TV aunts who've shaped our lives (or just plain made us laugh) over the years.

1. Aunt Esther

Fred Sanford's sister-in-law Esther didn't show up until midway through Season Two; until that time Fred's main comic foil was Aunt Ethel (played by Beah Richards). But Richards didn't quite have the necessary wicked wit with which to dress down Redd Foxx, so he brought in his old pal LaWanda Page. Page had started out working as an exotic dancer billed as "The Bronze Goddess of Fire," but when she met Foxx on the "chitlin' circuit" he saw potential in her off-stage raunchy sense of humor and encouraged her to try her hand at stand-up. As Aunt Esther, she more than held her own with Fred Sanford, dismissing him as a "fish-eyed fool" whenever he spat out one of his many insults ("Why don't you press your face in some dough and make gorilla cookies?")

2. Aunt Bee

aunt2.pngFrances Bavier grew up in New York and appeared in several films as well as on the Broadway stage during her career, but she will forever be "Aint Bee" (as her nephew Andy Taylor called her). The pilot episode of The Andy Griffith Show showed Beatrice Taylor arriving to help take care of Opie after the marriage of Rose, the Taylor family's housekeeper. Andy explained that Aunt Bee had raised him, so she knew a lot about little boys. After Andy married Helen Crump, Aunt Bee went to live with Sam Jones, another widower (what is it about Mayberry that kills off all the women-folk?), and his son, Mike, who were the main characters on the spin-off series Mayberry R.F.D.
Over the years, Bavier fell in love with the scenery in North Carolina and moved into a house in Siler City after she retired. Her estate was valued at approximately $700,000 after her death, yet she lived mostly in one small back room of her home, while letting her 14 cats rule the rest of the house.

3. Aunt Clara

aunt3.pngOf all Samantha's eccentric relatives on Bewitched, the loveably loopy Aunt Clara was the only one for whom her mortal husband Darrin had genuine affection. Aunt Clara always meant well, but she had trouble remembering the exact words to her spells, which resulted in complications such as accidentally bringing Benjamin Franklin back to life when attempting to conjure up an electrician to help fix a lamp. Actress Marion Lorne was born in Pennsylvania in 1883, but moved to England when she married British playwright Walter Hackett. She was the grande dame of the London stage for 25 years, and Hackett founded London's Whitehall Theatre (now Trafalgar Studios) in honor of his talented wife. Alfred Hitchcock (who cast her in his Strangers on a Train) once said of Lorne: "She was more than an actress in England; she was an institution."

4. Aunt Harriet

aunt4.pngPopular legend over the years has maintained that the character of Aunt Harriet was created for the Batman TV series in order to avoid any possible hints of a homosexual relationship between the two men living together at stately Wayne Manor. But Aunt Harriet was introduced in the DC comic book series two years before the television series debuted "“ she was brought in to care for Bruce and Dick after Alfred the butler died. Madge Blake didn't start acting until she was almost 50 years old; prior to that time she held several factory jobs, and during World War II she worked in Utah at the company developing the detonator for the atomic bomb. While she was under contract to play Larry Mondello's mom on Leave It to Beaver, she was offered the role of Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show, which she had to turn down. She recommended her good friend Frances Bavier to the TAGS producers.

5. Aunt Viv

aunt5.pngEven Jazz, who was never the sharpest knife on the butcher's block, noticed the difference at the beginning of Season Four on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: ""You know Mrs. Banks, ever since you had the baby, there's been something different about you." For the first three seasons of the show, Aunt Vivan was played by Janet Hubert-Whitten. The actress got pregnant, and her impending motherhood was written into the series. However, when she requested shorter work hours as her due date approached, Will Smith insisted that her paycheck be cut accordingly. According to Smith, that was just the tip of the iceberg. He told the Atlanta Journal in 1993: "I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be "˜The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show'"¦ She said once, "˜I've been in the business for 10 years and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.'" Hubert sued Smith and NBC for defamation, and Daphne Maxwell-Reid became the new Aunt Viv. Unlike Hubert's outspoken career-woman who frequently stood up to Uncle Phil, Maxwell-Reid's Vivian not only got less screen time, she also portrayed the character as a quiet homemaker who usually acquiesced to her husband.

June 12, 2009 - 6:30am
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