Maggie Peterson, an actress who made a lasting impression as the sweet-natured, occasionally flirtatious mountain girl Charlene Darling on The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s, died May 15 in Colorado, her family has announced.
“It is with great sorrow that we report that our dear Aunt Maggie died yesterday afternoon,” the family posted on Facebook today. “She passed peacefully in her sleep with her family present.”
Although she appeared on only five episodes of the classic rural sitcom in the Charlene role, Peterson was among the show’s most familiar and memorable recurring cast members, often joining her onscreen family The Darlings (played by real-life bluegrass group The Dillards, along with actor Denver Pyle as patriarch Briscoe Darling) in singalongs.
Peterson developed a catchphrase with her repeated entreaties about the sentimental impact of outrageously titled song suggestions, as in the following exchange with Pyle’s character:
Briscoe: “How ’bout ‘Don’t Hit Your Grandma with a Great Big Stick’?”
Charlene: “No, Paw! That one makes me cry!”
Other songs that made Charlene cry: “Slimy River Bottom,” “Boil that Cabbage Down” and “Keep Your Money in Your Shoes and It Won’t Get Wet.”
In one episode, Peterson’s Charlene was betrothed, by mountain custom, to an unwitting Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith), while in a later episode it was Charlene’s infant daughter who was betrothed to Andy’s young son Opie (Ron Howard).
With her appearances as Charlene from 1963-66, Peterson became a de facto member of Griffith’s unofficial repertory of actors, returning to the sitcom and its spinoffs Gomer Pyle: USMC and Mayberry R.F.D. as other characters. She also appeared in the 1969 feature films Angel in My Pocket (starring Griffith) and The Love God? (starring Griffith regular Don Knotts). She returned to the Mayberry universe in 1986, reprising her Charlene role in the TV reunion movie Return to Mayberry.
Peterson, who occasionally used her married name Maggie Mancuso, also appeared in The Bill Dana Show — like Griffith, a spinoff of The Danny Thomas Show — Love, American Style, Green Acres and The Odd Couple, and the 1969 feature The Over-the-Hill Gang. She retired from acting following a 1987 role on The Magical World of Disney and subsequently worked for the Nevada Film Commission
Peterson, who lived in Las Vegas, recently lost her husband of more than 40 years, the jazz musician Gus Mancuso, who died in December. “Maggie’s health took a turn for the worse after the death of her husband Gus,” the family wrote, “and we are relieved that we were able to move her home to be close to family for her last days.”
A Colorado native, Peterson began her show business career in the 1950s as a singer, performing with a family vocal group called the Ja-Da Quartet. The group was noticed at a record convention by Griffith’s manager Dick Linke. Peterson’s vocal skills later were utilized on the Griffith show, when Darlene would join in the family singalongs, most notably with her rendition of the bluegrass standard “Salty Dog.”
Peterson often took part in Mayberry fan club events, with her family writing to fans today: “Despite being in Las Vegas and away from her family, your love and devotion helped her to not feel alone. She made many mentions to us about how she couldn’t believe how generous you all were. You truly made a positive impact on her life and helped her during some very difficult times…We hope that during this difficult time you can find solace in knowing how important you were for making the end of Maggie’s life much better.”
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