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Maggie Peterson of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ dies at 81

Updated May 18, 2022 - 9:24 am

Maggie Peterson was known to millions of TV fans as Charlene Darling, of the Darling family bluegrass band from “The Andy Griffith Show.”

But to her best friend, she will be remembered as Betty from the “Archie” comic-book series.

“We had this routine, she would be Betty and I would be Veronica,” Lorraine Hunt-Bono said Monday, a day after Peterson died at age 81 in Greeley, Colo. “Betty was the airy one and Veronica was kind of stuck-up. So we’d go into a nice restaurant and I’d say, ‘Betty, what are you ordering?’ And she’d say, ‘I’d love some chicken and dumplings!’ And I’d say, ‘You can’t have that here! This place is too fancy!’

“We had a whole routine worked up and we did it all the time. She was just so wonderful. She was the best friend I had since I was in my early 20s. We were Betty and Veronica.”

Peterson, formerly Maggie Mancuso, lived in Las Vegas for more than 40 years with her husband, the great musician Gus Mancuso. Greeley was her original hometown. Peterson moved back to Colorado after Gus died in December in Las Vegas of Alzheimer’s at age 88.

Peterson frequently sang at Hunt-Bono’s Bootlegger Bistro, entertaining the dinner crowd with her sweet voice and dazzling tales. She was a popular touring singer from her teenage years, and also a “Bold Girl,” folding towels on the detergent company’s TV commercials. She was discovered by agent Dick Linke, who also repped Griffith, Jim Nabors and Jerry Van Dyke.

Peterson would appear on just six episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” but became a TV icon. She is especially well-remembered for her first episode on the series in 1963, titled “Mountain Wedding.” Peterson’s Charlene Darling character was divorcing her husband so she could marry Sheriff Andy Taylor (Darlene was mad for the sheriff). The episode closes with Ernest T. Bass, the rowdy mountain man who was forever chasing Charlene, running off with the bride during the ceremony.

In a comic bait-and-switch, the bride turned out to be Barney Fife (played classically by Don Knotts), not Charlene.

Peterson would later joke that the dress she was to wear did not require alterations: “Don and I both wore a size 6.”

“The whole troupe was filled with great actors,” Peterson once said. “They took what they did seriously.”

Peterson’s film credits included “Angel in My Pocket” with Griffith and “The Love God” with Knotts. On TV, she appeared in “The Bill Dana Show,” “Gomer Pyle: USMC,” “Love, American Style,” “The Odd Couple,” and “The Andy Griffith Show’s” 1986 reunion special “Return to Mayberry.”

Peterson is to be featured on an encore episode of “Breaking Bread with Dennis Bono,” hosted by Lorraine’s husband and the Vegas entertainer, at 5 p.m. Saturday on KDWN 720 AM/101.5-FM.

Through her career, Peterson also appeared with Griffith and Knotts in Lake Tahoe, where the three friends performed a music-comedy show in the main showroom.

In Las Vegas, she was a location scout for movies set in Vegas, including “Casino,” “Mars Attacks” and “Pay It Forward.” Employing her vast knowledge of city landmarks, she worked alongside Hunt-Bono, who was a member of the Clark County Commission at the time. Hunt-Bono went on to serve as the state’s lieutenant governor, and was also the head of the Nevada Film Commission in those days.

Hunt-Bono often laughed with Peterson as the former TV star was getting “into character” for one of her “Andy Griffith Show” reunions. “She’d say, ‘I’m off to Omaha, Nebraska, so I’ll be Charlene for the next three days.’”

Peterson could have been an even bigger star on network TV. Hunt-Bono recalls her friend being delivered three scripts by then-corporate giant General Foods, which offered to back a series starring Peterson.

“I remember reading these scripts with her, and they were so good for her,” Hunt-Bono said. “I said to her, ‘Margaret! You should do one of these shows! What an opportunity! They want to sponsor you!’ And she’d just go, ‘Oh, no. I’m fine where I am. I don’t need this. I just want to sing.’ She was something. A great singer, a great comedienne and a great little actress. She was my Betty.”

Cool Hang Alert

Naughty Ladies Saloon at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur was a Cool Hang even before the advent of this column entry. The tradition continues with Vegas cover outfit the Pop Rebels Band at 8 p.m. Friday, and again May 27. No cover. Also dance floor. Get to it.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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