Julie Sommers played district attorney Julie March on the hit courtroom drama Matlock. The lovely ginger first caught Ben Matlock’s eye while the two shared an elevator early on in the series’ first season.. Later on, in that same episode, she bursts into the hearing late – foreshadowing that she’s about to play a significant role in Matlock’s life.
Julie subsequently became Ben’s most significant love interest for the series’s first six seasons, Although she disappeared from the series just as quickly as she showed up – leaving many fans perplexed as to what in the world happened to her. Ben doesn’t even seem to notice what happened to her either – thus further compounding the mystery.
Today we’re going to finally get to the bottom of this almost 3-decade old mystery, and if we have extra time we’ll dive into some of the most captivating behind-the-scenes Matlock factoids – so grab a snack and get comfy because this is going to be one facts-sinating excursion into yesteryear.
What Happened To Julie?
To really get a full picture of why Julie left the show, we’re going to have to look at what was going on with Andy Griffith at the time. While he seemed to be thriving in his role, he was actually struggling to maintain his commitment to the show.
After the series switched networks from NBC to ABC they wanted him to do a bunch of these two-hour made for TV movies that would require him to invest even more of his time and attention. His agent recommended that he refuse to do the films but that was easier said than done.
ABC started to get desperate thinking that they might lose their star of the show so they started brainstorming to try and come up with a plan to keep him on board. They offered to move the entire show closer to where he lived in Wilmington, North Carolina. On top of that, they volunteered to rent him a house if he agreed to extend his contract.
Griffith accepted the offer but Julie Sommars was starting to tire of bending her life around the show. She had a husband and kids in California and she wasn’t going to leave all of that behind just to continue to be on the show.
Griffith would later confirm that there were no hard feelings or resentment after she decided to not continue working on the program. Even though everybody was supportive of her decision, Sommars would never work a day again in Hollywood after quitting Matlock.
Sommars did however have a pretty good run as an actress. She got her start on TV at the age of 18 playing Loretta Young’s daughter on The Loretta Young Show in 1960. She continued her career making numerous appearances in shows like Bonanza, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke and Get Smart. She almost always was typecast as the pretty redhead love interest but that didn’t bother her in the least bit.
She additionally got the chance to star in several films including Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, The Great Sioux Massacre, and Five Desperate Women. She also co-starred in 39 episodes of The Governor and JJ.
Julie Sommars was completely content with having a simple life. By the time she left the cast of Matlock, in 1992 she had been acting for 32 years. When she retired, she redirected her attention to her family life. She did make one last appearance in Matlock in 1994 during the ninth season where it was hinted that she and Ben had broken up a couple of years ago – so at least there was some kind of explanation for her departure eventually and fans got to say their goodbyes.
Matlock Was Tailor-Made for Andy Griffith
We already briefly touched on how Matlock’s producers were willing to do almost anything to keep Andy around. The main reason for their insistence on him staying with the cast was that the show was designed with him in mind from the get-go.
After The Andy Griffith Show wrapped up in 1968, Griffith went on to star in several TV films – some of which ended up inspiring new series. In two of those series, Fatal Vision and Street Killing, Griffith played an attorney.
Neither of those series were met with enthusiastic ratings and they were relatively short-lived. Still, NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff was impressed by Griffith’s performance in Fatal Vision. He was certain that Andy could shine on a series as a dry, intuitive attorney of some kind.
Tartikoff joined forces with Dean Hargrove who worked as a producer on Perry Mason to write a pilot that was custom designed for Griffith and thus Matlock was born. Spring of 1986 was a big year for Griffith. Not only did Matlock premiere in March to an impressive 28 million viewers, but he also starred in the well-received Return To Mayberry TV movie.
Griffith Received A Standing Ovation For His Trial Scenes
In the majority of Matlock episodes, Ben is able to deduce who the real wrongdoer was through cross-examining the witness. During these lengthy scenes, Andy had to spend a great deal of time on his feet. Griffith suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition that results in inflammation of the nerves and a great deal of pain to sufferer. He had to wear knee braces to combat the paralytic effects of the infirmity.
He would spend his weekends rehearsing the dialogue and would carry notes in his pocket just in case he needed a refresher. Griffith would almost always get his speech just right on the first take. After nailing his lines, the crew would break out in applause and give him the standing ovation that he deserved.
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Keep watching to find out why Charlene, Matlock’s daughter was written out of the show. It seems like Andy Griffith was the only cast member to see the show through to the end.
Griffith Would Have Preferred It If Matlock Got Dark
Andy knew that most audiences associated him with the sweet and benevolent Andy Taylor from Mayberry but Griffith enjoyed the opportunities that he had to explore his darker side. One such role was in 1957’s A Face in the Crowd where he got the chance to play a megalomaniacal TV personality.
While doing Matlock he would often get frustrated with Dean Hargrove for not letting him explore the darker side of law practice. He wanted his character to be an alcoholic or to spend a stint in jail for some kind of transgression but Hargrove wasn’t having it.
Andy Was Obsessed With Peanut Butter
Griffith was a simple kind of man. He didn’t require lavish treatment or luxurious catered delicacies. As far as on-set food went, all that he asked for was that peanut butter be available at all times. One of his favorite snacks was apple slices dipped in the creamy stuff. The easiest way to wind up on Andy’s bad side was to forget this one request.
Andy would get super stressed when he would go look for a jar of peanut butter and found it missing. He was especially annoyed when people that weren’t even cast or crew members would show up and eat all of his peanut butter and apples.
Alf Was A Guest Star
In 1987, in an obvious ploy to try and draw in more viewers, several stars from other NBC shows made appearances on Matlock in an episode where Ben defends a Hollywood producer who is accused of slaying a prestigious network executive.
Betty White, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, and Jason Bateman all have guest-spots in the episode but one of the most absurd cameos comes at the end of the episode when the alien puppet ALF shows up and testifies about the producers fierce and abrasive behavior while on set. It’s unclear whether Alf is supposed to be a puppet or an actual alien in the Matlock universe. That details left to the audience to decide.
It Was Re-Aired In 2013 As A Protest
Andy died from a heart attack on July 3, 2012 at his home in Manteo, Roanoke Island, North Carolina. He was 86.
After the Oscars failed to include Griffith in their yearly ‘in memoriam’ segment honoring actors and actresses who passed away in the prior year, WKYC, the Cleveland, Ohio NBC affiliate decided to air a Matlock two-hour TV movie in the place of the typical Thursday evening lineup. That two-hour time slot normally included The Office, the ill-fated and struggling situational comedy 1600 Penn, and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Astonishingly, it did just as well in the Cleveland market as The Office and 1600 Penn did nationally. Law and Order still drew in a better rating but NBC thought it was amusing that a 21-year-old TV film beat out 2 modern comedies. That just goes to show you why you should never underestimate the enduring appeal of Matlock.
More Screen Time As Ben Matlock
Andy Griffith is best Known as Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show with his Matlock role in close second. It’s true however that he starred in significantly more episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. In total there were 249 episodes of that series while Matlock lasted for 195 episodes.
Matlock had an hour long time format while The Andy Griffith Show filled a half-hour time-slot, so in total Andy Griffith spent significantly more time on screen as a defense attorney on Matlock than he did as the lovable sheriff in the sleepy little town of Mayberry.
What Happened To Charlene?
During season one, Ben Matlock’s practice was a father-daughter venture. Charlene, his daughter, was completely written out of the series after only one season. Her departure was explained away by saying that she had moved to Philadelphia to go start her own law firm. The truth, however, was Linda Purl, the actress who played Charlene had temporarily decided that she no longer wanted to be an actress and left Hollywood to pursue a career as a Jazz musician.
While she has released a number of albums over the years, she did eventually make a return to Hollywood and has since made appearances in several films and TV shows. In 1998, she played Dr. Ruth Young in Mighty Joe Young. She also had a recurring role on The Office as Helene Beesly, Pam’s Mom for seasons 6 and 7.
Well, we’re just about all out of time, Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with us.
It’s kind of crazy to consider how ABC decided to move the entire show from Hollywood clear across the country to Wilmington, North Carolina just to keep Andy onboard. It’s not surprising that people like Julie Sommars weren’t feeling the move and left. Nancy Stafford, who played Attorney Michelle Thomas also left the series at this transition point.
Anyways, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite series starring Andy Griffith, Matlock, or The Andy Griffith Show? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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