Last week, I posted about The Mystery of Al Becker. Thanks to Jim Clark and Neal Brower, we learned who the real Al Becker was. My post also called attention to the use of the same name more than three years earlier in an episode of The Real McCoys.
I recently have also wondered about the likelhood that there was a real Mendelbright that either Everett Greenbaum or Jim Fritzell actually knew. The writers used the name on several occasions in The Andy Griffith Show.
The name first appeared in the third season episode “Man in a Hurry.” When the stranded Malcolm Tucker wanted to use the phone on a Sunday afternoon, Andy told him he was free to try but it wouldn’t do him any good. Andy explained, “See, the Mendelbright sisters visit by phone every Sunday afternoon. Everybody knows about Maude and Cora and they let ‘em use the phone for a good three or four hours.” Andy said the sisters were in their 80s so it was hard for them to get about and Maude lived in Mayberry while Cora lived in Mount Pilot.
By the way, while not canon since it was not part of the actual episode storyline, the Mendelbright sisters also figured into the commercial ending which was an advertisement for Sanka Decaffeinated Coffee, a product of the series sponsor, General Foods. In the commercial, Andy was in the living room with Malcolm unable to call Wally’s as the Mendelbright sisters were still on the line. Andy tried to trick them into hanging up by saying it was an emergency as he had run out of Sanka Coffee and needed to order more. They misunderstood and each said they had not run out while pointing out that Sanka was caffeine free causing Andy to finally give up. He then picked up a jar of Sanka and broke the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience to encourage viewers to enjoy Sanka. “Try Sanka Coffee in the ‘nice to hold’ new jar. The coffee for folks who love good coffee. Outstandingly good coffee!”
Three episodes later, the name Mendelbright appeared again, this time in “Class Reunion.” (This episode was actually the fifth filmed after “Man in a Hurry” but it was aired just three episodes later.) As the episode opened, Andy was helping Barney move a trunk into storage in his garage since Barney’s landlady insisted he remove it from her cellar. Barney explained his landlady needed the space to grow mushrooms after seeing an advertisement on how to “[g]row mushrooms for fun and profit.” Andy then commented that Mrs. Mendelbright was full of ambition. This was the second use of the name Mendelbright and the first time the audience learned the name of Barney’s unseen landlady.
Just six episodes later in that same season, the name appeared yet again, this time in “The Darlings Are Coming,” the same episode which introduced the mountain family. When the Darlings were first seen, they had pulled up to a horse trough in town. It was engraved with the name “David Mendelbright,” the dates 1870-1933, and the words, “Let no horse go thirsty here.” The episode offered no further explanation as to who David Mendelbright was, though the phrase about horses is in quotation marks, indicating it is a quotation of Medelbright’s.
The original script for this episode of The Andy Griffith Show offers a bit more information. First, it is of interest that this engraving was not a random name created by the prop master or one he might have used on his own, perhaps having heard it from the previous episodes. The name David Mendelbright, the dates, and the inscription seen on the trough in the episode were all provided verbatim in the script, though the writers envisioned the words inscribed on a bronze plaque affixed to the trough. The script specifically described the structure as “a permanent concrete watering trough donated by one of the town’s founders many years ago.” Since this reference to David Mendelbright being one of the town’s founders was not reflected in the episode as aired, it is not canon, but it is a great piece of Mayberry trivia.
So the name Mendelbright was used in “Man in a Hurry,” then “Class Reunion” three episodes later, then “The Darlings Are Coming” six episodes later. All three episodes were written by the writing team of Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell, the same writers who gave us Al Becker as discussed previously. Greenbaum and Fritzell also wrote the fourth season episode “Up in Barney’s Room” where the viewers got to actually see Mrs. Mendelbright.
Was there a real person named Mendelbright that the writers were making an inside joke about by using the name? It seems likely though we will probably never know. Neither Jim nor Neal had any inside information from their dealings with Everett Greenbaum, so there is no way to be sure. Of course, it could simply be a name the writing team just liked the sound of and decided to use a few times, but I like to think it had some further meaning that will remain a Mayberry mystery.