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Floyd Lawson (Floyd the Barber) is a fictional character on the American TV sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, who was inspired by a real barber in Andy Griffith's real-life hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The barber's name is Russell Hiatt, who had actually cut Andy Griffith's hair on a regular basis while Andy was young and living in Mount Airy. As of January 2012, the real life "Floyd" was still cutting hair daily at his Barber Shop "Floyd's City Barber Shop" in Downtown Mt. Airy.
History of the character
Floyd the Barber was the slow-paced, somewhat absent-minded barber in the TV show's fictional town of Mayberry. He was first seen in episode #12, "Stranger in Town," where he was played by actor Walter Baldwin. Baldwin established the running gag of Floyd's inability to trim sideburns evenly, which continued throughout the run of the show. Baldwin portrayed Floyd for just one episode; from 1961 on, the part was played by Howard McNear, the actor most commonly associated with the role. In McNear's first appearance as Floyd, the character's last name was "Colby"; thereafter the character was always "Floyd Lawson".
Over the first few seasons, the importance of Floyd The Barber to the show increased. Slowly, McNear changed his delivery of dialogue for Floyd from fast-paced to slower and slower as time went on. Floyd also became involved more in the plots of the various episodes as time went on.
In early 1963, midway through the third season, Howard McNear suffered a serious stroke. He was left with limited use of his arms and legs, especially his left arm, which rarely moved. The producers of the show and Andy Griffith wanted McNear to return as Floyd when his health permitted it, and after about a year, McNear was talked into coming back (which he was not going to do at first). The show had a special chair constructed that McNear was able to sit in most of the time while on the set, as the stroke had left him only able to stand for short periods of time. Accordingly, the Floyd character then began to appear regularly again on the series towards the end of season 4.
The last appearance of Floyd the Barber on The Andy Griffith Show was in the final episode of the seventh season. Howard McNear's health worsened and he was not able to return to the show for season 8, and he died less than a year later. To try to fill in his loss on the show, a new character named Emmett Clark (a fix-it man) was brought in. It was announced on the show that Floyd had retired because he had earned enough money. Emmett (played by veteran character actor Paul Hartman) moved his fix-it shop into Floyd's old barber shop location in Mayberry.
Once McNear took over the role, Floyd had a mustache and wore thick glasses and usually a white barber jacket. He was a whimsical, laid back, but occasionally excitable fellow whose barbershop was somewhat of an institution in the fictional town of Mayberry. The men of town would gather there, not only to get their hair cut, but to play checkers, discuss current events, read comic books, or generally just to "shoot the breeze" and "carry on."
At the start of the The Andy Griffith Show, Floyd was a secondary character, despite the fact that his barbershop was one of the main centers of action in Mayberry. Over time, Floyd's role gradually increased, and he began to be featured as a main character in several episodes. On one such occasion, in a 1962 episode called "Floyd, the Gay Deceiver," Floyd's female pen pal, with whom he has been corresponding, writes to tell him she will pay him a visit. Floyd begs Andy to help him because he has been deceiving her into thinking he is a wealthy businessman. Andy reluctantly agrees to help put up the act, only to discover that the woman is a con artist herself, intent on getting her hands on Floyd's "money."
Floyd was also an amateur poet, sometimes composing verse for Mayberry civic events. These poems always consisted of repeating, over and over, the same few words. He also had an inexplicable fondness for Calvin Coolidge, often attributing quotes to him.
Floyd Lawson was the uncle of Deputy Warren Ferguson, who replaced Deputy Barney Fife in the 1965 season, after the departure of actor Don Knotts. He also had a son, Norman, who appeared with him in the episode "Those Gossipin' Men" in 1961. His wife was never seen (and seldom discussed), but in one episode (Quiet Sam, Season 1) it was revealed her name was Melba. Due to Floyd's mentioning that he was a member of a "Lonely Hearts Club" in "Floyd the Gay Deceiver," it is implied that his wife had died sometime between that episode and "Quiet Sam."
When not cutting hair, Floyd can generally be seen sitting on the bench outside his shop. In fact, in almost all of his appearances later in the series, Floyd is only seen sitting or apparently standing behind the barber's chair. This was due to the effects of the stroke; in real life, it left McNear unable to stand for any significant length of time. From 1964 on, scenes with Floyd standing were accomplished with the use of a special brace that was hidden from view behind the barber's chair.
In pop culture
The character of Floyd the Barber has proved to be a large part of the pop culture as proven by these examples: In two episodes of the comedy sketch program Second City Television, actor Eugene Levy played Floyd the Barber. His first appearance was in a parody of The Godfather, in the opening scene as Amerigo Bonasera, in which he asks the Don to hurt Opie for breaking his barber pole. The last line delivered by Floyd is "Ohh, and would you kill Howard Sprague for me?" referring to Howard Sprague, a character from The Andy Griffith Show. His other appearance was in a parody of The Andy Griffith Show, "The Merv Griffith Show," in which he is in his barber shop cutting hair and at a surprise party for Gomer.
Kurt Cobain wrote a song titled "Floyd the Barber" that was recorded on Nirvana's first album, Bleach. In the song, Floyd, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee hold him captive after he comes in for a shave, torturing and murdering him. Interestingly, when Cobain's body was found, the television was tuned to a station that aired syndicated re-runs of The Andy Griffith Show. It may have been one of the last images he saw.
St. Elsewhere, which frequently referenced other television programmes, had a barber named Floyd in the series finale (which also referred to Dr. Kimble's one-armed patient being on the loose, Henry Blake (patient no. 4077) being the victim of a helicopter crash, and a re-enactment of the Mary Tyler Moore’s group-hug & shuffle to the tissues).
Floyd Lawson is also referenced in the theme song for the TV series Freakazoid as being the titular hero's barber.
He is also mentioned numerous times on different episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," there is a scene where Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and guest star Joan Collins are walking down a street supposedly located in New York City, New York during the 1930s. As they are walking down the sidewalk, the glass window clearly marked "Floyd's Barber Shop" is visible briefly. This is because both shows used the outdoor Desilu Studios lot that was originally constructed as "Atlanta" in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind.
In an episode of St. Elsewhere, guest-starring Griffith cast member Jack Dodson, the characters make reference to the hospital's barber also named Floyd. Dodson's character adds, "He may bury us all."
In Andy Griffith's real hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, barber Russell Hiatt has cut hair for several decades in his institution called "Floyd's City Barber Shop" while also welcoming streams of tourists including, on one occasion, Oprah Winfrey. George "Goober" Lindsey and John Schneider (of The Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville) both had their hair trimmed by Hiatt himself while visiting Mount Airy.
FX series Sons of Anarchy featured a barber by the name of Floyd, first showing up in season 1.
In the English dub of Digimon: The Movie, Matt and T.K. go to a barber shop where the barber is addressed as "Floyd". In the closing credits, other characters in the barber shop are credited as "Andy", "Barney" and "Aunt Bea".
In the fourth season episode of "Arrested Development" entitled "Smashed," during the "haircut meeting," Ron Howard refers to his barber as Floyd, remarking that he calls all of his barbers "Floyd." Mr. Howard, of course, was a fellow castmate in "The Andy Griffith Show."
Comedian Tim Wilson paid homage to Lawson in the lyrics of his 1999 song "Haircut Malpractice", singing "We ought to strap you in the chair with Floyd Lawson and get that mess under control,"
The "real-life" Floyd
In the mid-1960s, Russell Hiatt contacted Howard McNear and gained his written permission to use his likeness on T-Shirts and other items for an unlimited amount of time. Over the years, McNear's likeness has been used for things such as large billboard ads advertising "Pink Floyd" on rock radio. A large pink image of Howard McNear will usually be in the ads. All rights to McNear's image are controlled by the barber Hiatt.