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Floyd Lawson (Floyd the Barber) is a fictional character on the American sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, who was likely inspired by barbers in Andy Griffith's real-life hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina. One barber named Russell Hiatt was known as "the real-life Floyd". Hiatt may have cut Andy Griffith's hair while Griffith was young and living in Mount Airy, and was still cutting hair daily at "Floyd's City Barber Shop" in Downtown Mount Airy until several years before his death on May 3, 2016. Griffith denied that Hiatt was the inspiration for Floyd Lawson, however, saying, "A barber up there says he cut my hair when I was a child. Hell, he'll have to be 115 years old."
History of the character
Floyd the Barber was the slow-paced, somewhat absent-minded barber in the series' fictional town of Mayberry. He was first seen in episode #12, "Stranger in Town," 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 series. Baldwin portrayed Floyd for just one episode. From 1961 on, the role 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 series 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 series 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 series 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 four.
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 series for season eight, and he died less than a year later. To try to fill in his loss on the series, a new character named Emmett Clark (a fix-it man) was brought in. It was announced on the series 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.
Floyd has a mustache, wears thick glasses and usually wears a white barber jacket. He is a whimsical and laid back, but occasionally excitable and absent-minded fellow whose barber shop is something of an institution in the fictional town of Mayberry. He is also an amateur poet, sometimes composing verse for Mayberry civic events. These poems always consisted of repeating, over and over, the same few words. Floyd also has a fondness for President Calvin Coolidge, often attributing quotes to him-- the irony being that President Coolidge was known for being a man of few words with the nickname of "Silent Cal". The men of Mayberry gather at Floyd's barbershop, 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". When not cutting hair, Floyd can generally be seen sitting on the bench outside his shop.
In 1964, Howard McNear suffered a massive stroke that left him with limited mobility in his arms and legs. He was also unable to stand for long periods of time. After returning to the series a year and a half later, Floyd is only seen sitting or apparently standing behind the barber's chair. Scenes with Floyd standing were accomplished with the use of a special brace that was hidden from view behind the barber's chair.
Floyd Lawson is the uncle of Deputy Warren Ferguson, who replaced Deputy Barney Fife in the 1965 season, after the departure of actor Don Knotts. In the Season 1 episode "Those Gossipin' Men", Floyd has a son named Norman who plays the saxophone. Norman is not seen again in the series, although he is mentioned in the episode "The Jinx" as a terrible baseball player. In other Season 1 episodes, Floyd refers to his wife, whose name is revealed to be Melba in the Season 1 episode "Quiet Sam". Melba was never seen and was never referred to after the first season. In the Season 3 episode, "Floyd the Gay Deceiver", Floyd is apparently single or a widower. The episode centers around Floyd meeting a woman with whom he corresponded through a "Lonely Hearts Club".
At the start of The Andy Griffith Show, Floyd was a secondary character, despite the fact that his barbershop is 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, most notably in the Season 2 episode "The Bookie Barber" and two Season 3 episodes: "Floyd the Gay Deceiver" and "Convicts At Large".
In popular culture
The character of Floyd the Barber has proved to be a large part of the popular 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 (1989). In the song, Floyd, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee hold him captive after he comes in for a shave, torturing and murdering him.
St. Elsewhere, which frequently referenced other television programs, 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 and shuffle to the tissues).
Floyd Lawson is also referenced in the theme song for the animated series Freakazoid as being the titular hero's barber.
In the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", there is a scene in which Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and guest star Joan Collins are walking down a street supposedly located in New York City during the 1930s. As they are walking down the sidewalk, a glass window clearly marked "Floyd's Barber Shop" is visible briefly. This is because both series used the outdoor Desilu Studios lot that was originally constructed as "Atlanta" in the film Gone with the Wind (1939).
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 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."
Actor and comedian Rich Koz has portrayed Floyd Lawson on WCIU-TV's "Svengoolie" which is now seen nationally on the Me-TV Network. Koz appeared as Floyd during the program's showing of Return to Mayberry, the 1986 NBC TV movie reuniting the surviving characters of The Andy Griffith Show. Koz also portrayed Floyd Lawson during a mini-marathon of The Munsters as part of "Svengoolie's TV Graveyard".
A 1988, CBS, Saturday morning kids show titled Hey Vern It's Ernest had a segment in each episode titled "Earl the Barber". Earl is clearly patterned after Mayberry's barber, Floyd. In each episode, lead character Ernest P. Worrell comes in for a haircut and after giving it some thought tells Earl he wants his hair cut to make him look like a Wall Street tycoon. Earl is then shown in quick picture cuts (with fast music) "going to work". When finished he gives Ernest a mirror to check out his handy work. Ernest, shocked at the results, excitedly says "Earl, this doesn't make me look like a Wall Street tycoon." Realizing his mistake, Earl says "silly me, why I thought you said a baby baboon" or a windswept dune or a lazy lagoon, for example. Earl then asks Ernest how he likes the new look. After taking a second look at the mirror, Ernest replies "It could work."
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 was usually in the ads. All rights to McNear's image are controlled by the barber Hiatt.
Hiatt died May 3, 2016 at 92 after nearly 70 years working at Floyd's City Barber Shop in Andy Griffith's real hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina. Due to health problems, he had retired several years earlier. It is uncertain whether he cut Griffith's hair when the actor had yet to become famous, though Griffith got his hair cut at Palace Barber Shop. Hiatt was only two years older than Griffith, so he would have had to have cut his hair before Griffith moved away from Mt. Airy for college in the late 1940s. They both would have been teenagers at that time. In 1946, Hiatt started working at City Barber Shop (which was established in 1929), which added the name Floyd's in 1989 and now has photos and drawings of characters from the show. Jim Clark of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club doubts that City Barber Shop inspired Floyd's, but believes it was based Griffith's memories of barber shops in Mount Airy. Even though Hiatt made no attempt to look like or act like the TV character, Clark called Hiatt "the uncanny virtual embodiment of Floyd the Barber".
People from every state and 42 countries have visited City Barber Shop; many are shown in the 20,000 photos on the walls and the 40,000 other photos in storage. On one occasion, Oprah Winfrey visited. 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.
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- Clodfelter, Tim (May 15, 2016). "SAM". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
- "Floyd's City Barber Shop". Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved May 5, 2016.