After three seasons of uninterrupted success, the producers of Gomer Pyle, USMC would likely have been content not to change a thing about the show. But some one major change was forced upon them for the fourth season -- the departure (temporarily, as it turned out) of Ronnie Schell, who for the three previous seasons had played Pfc. Duke Slater, best buddy to series protagonist Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors). (Schell, a veteran stand-up comic, had been offered a co-starring role in the CBS sitcom Good Morning, World, which ended up being cancelled after one season). The departure of Schell, whose panicky yet slick and knowing persona made a good foil for Nabors, left the series' star with one fewer key comic persona to interact with, and had him doing more one-on-one stories with Frank Sutton's Sgt. Vince Carter, his platoon sergeant, and also more stories with Miss Bunny (Barbara Stuart, Carter's girlfriend. All of the other supporting cast members were present, however, including Allan Melvin as Carter's nemesis, Sgt. Hacker; and William Christopher (still five years away from M*A*S*H) as Pfc. Hummel, one of Gomer's platoon buddies. Also introduced here was Carol Burnett in the role of Sgt. Carol Barnes, who would reappear once in the following season, as a female non-commisssioned officer with an interest in Gomer.
Most of the series' homespun humor was intact, with Gomer's country-bred honesty usually triumphing over the cynicism of those around him. And in one episode, "The Price of Tomatoes", reunited Nabors with Andy Griffith Show recurring actor Denver Pyle. Indeed, the series seemed to turn back to its Andy Griffith Show roots throughout this season. The opening episode offered Francis Bavier in her Andy Griffith role as Aunt Bee, while another episode had Gomer actually going home to visit Mayberry (but not meeting any of the stars of The Andy Griffith Show). The over-reliance on the series' Andy Griffith Show connections, indicated that the writers may have been running out of ideas, 100 shows into the run of the series, but like The Andy Griffith Show which spawned it, Gomer Pyle, USMC remained steadfastly in the top five rated programs nationwide -- both perhaps represented different facets of escapism, from the Vietnam War and worsening strife in the streets. ~ Bruce Eder
Cast & Crew
Jim Nabors - Pvt. Gomer Pyle
Frank Sutton - Sgt. Vince Carter
Ronnie Schell - Pvt. Gilbert `Duke' Slater
Barbara Stuart - Bunny
William Christopher - Pvt. Lester Hummel