The Mysterious Mr. Schwamp


I begin this week’s column with a confession. I’m a lifelong, dyed in the wool fan of The Andy Griffith Show. It debuted just a few weeks before I was born, I grew up watching it in prime time, and I’ve religiously followed it in reruns for decades. Andy and Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee, Floyd and Otis, and the whole gang feel like extended family. I belong to several Facebook fan groups where members vigorously debate the merits of their favorite characters and argue over who should and shouldn’t have been Andy’s girlfriend. (Helen Crump? Seriously?)

The show has attained a kind of cult status. Multiple books have been written about it, college courses have been taught on it, and we aging Baby Boomers secretly yearn to spend our golden years in a friendly little town just like Mayberry where people are nice, where right always triumphs over wrong, and where the home cookin’ is, in Andy Taylor’s words, “extry gooo-oood!”

Given all that adoring attention, you may be surprised to learn a big mystery from the program remains unsolved more than 50 years later. Who played the mysterious Mr. Schwamp?

Who? It’s easy to not remember him. Although he appeared in over two dozen episodes, both black and white and color, he never spoke a single word. Not even once, although Andy and Barney frequently refer to him by name as “Old Man Schwamp.” Or Schwump, if you prefer. We don’t know the correct spelling because the character is never listed in the show’s credits. In fact, nobody even knows the name of the round-faced actor of a certain age who portrayed him. He smiles in acknowledgment of his name from time to time, but that’s all.

There’s a rumor among some fans that the actor was a personal friend of Andy Griffith who had fallen on hard times. He was given a small walk-on role with only a few lines as an act of charity. Supposedly, according to this uncorroborated version, the actor forgot his lines and froze. So Andy filmed the scene without him speaking. That supposedly amused the show’s star, who got a kick out of it when he saw the finished product. So Griffith had the writers insert brief, passing scenes with Old Man Schwamp from then on. (When your name is in the show’s title, you can get away with things like that.)

Mr. Schwamp appears at a Mayberry stag dance, watches Ernest T. Bass throw a rock through a window, and of course passes time on a sidewalk bench outside the courthouse. He also pops up in a few episodes of the spinoffs Gomer Pyle, USMC and Mayberry RFD. Always without speaking, and never mentioned in the closing credits. He remains the one complete mystery from a TV program millions of Americans know inside and out.

A few years ago, someone posted on YouTube a home movie taken by Ron Howard’s father of a behind the scenes glimpse of The Andy Griffith Show set. In the background, standing among the crew, a gentleman is seen reading a newspaper who bears a strong resemblance to the mystery man. Could he had been part of the production team, and the whole thing was just an elaborate inside joke? Probably. I agree with that theory.

But we’ll never know the true story. Don Knotts, who played the belovedly bumbling Barney Fife, passed away in 2006. Andy Griffith followed six years later. Mr. Schwamp’s identity likely went to the grave with them.

Why does it matter, you ask. In the great scheme of things it doesn’t. But we humans love pondering the unanswerable. Americans have spent 82 years wondering what became of Amelia Earhart, after all.

And so Old Man Schwamp stares back at us from a half century old spool of celluloid. The chubby face grins and his eyes twinkle. He clearly enjoys knowing what we don’t know, and probably never will.

Did you find this enjoyable? Please continue to join me each week, and I invite you to read Tell it Like Tupper and share your review!

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29 thoughts on “The Mysterious Mr. Schwamp

  1. Nicole

    It drives me NUTS that no one can remember him-he was in so many episodes! And apparently he had no family or surely some descents would have come forward to identify him!

    We actually named our dog Mr. Schwump! It started out as a joke but after I researched him and realized no one knew who he was, I was like “now we Have to name him Mr. Schwump as a tribute to this poor lost soul.”

    It’s kind of sad that he was that forgettable when he’s such a scene stealer with just one silly little grin!

      1. Roger Guffey

        The man also appeared in Christmas in Connecticut but was not identified in credits. Several years ago, a carnival worker died in my home town of Monticello, KY and no one knew his name. My dad allowed the authorities to bury him in our cemetery.

    1. Jeff drake

      Check the actors guild! If he’s on screen, he must have made some little money, and since he was on so many times, I’m sure he was required to join the guild!

    1. admin Post author

      Unfortunately, Susan, that was just an April Fools Day joke pulled by The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club in 2012. The mystery of his true identity remains unsolved.

      1. cat7

        He also played in a Perry Mason episode, The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito. Same routine, he’s standing near a door leaning on something as the trial takes place in what appears to be a hotel conference room.

  2. CJ Stanton

    One thing I have noticed.- if you look at the facial features of Mr Schwump and the facial features of actress Jean Howard (Ron Howard’s mother) when she was older (Apollo 13), there is a striking similarity. I am wondering if “Schwump” wasn’t a close relative of Mrs Howard’s (perhaps her brother?)

  3. Briscoe Darling Jr.

    I think that every year during the Mayberry Days festival there should be a Mr. Shwump Day to celebrate the unknown actor.

  4. Dave

    Interesting bit about Mr Schwamp. I also enjoyed his little appearances. Thanks for posting this. Maybe someone who knows a past crew member still alive or Ron Howard can find out 🙂

  5. David Allen

    In one of the Andy Griffith interviews, he talks about Mr. Schwump’s appearance in the episode titled “The Lodge”. Howard Sprague is going to join Andy’s lodge. Andy tells the story that this was Mr. Schwump’s first part where he had to actually do something – every other time he was just standing in the background. They were going to start the shot tight on his hands as he drew a glass of root beer from the tap. He was so nervous and shaking that he couldn’t hold the mug, so they had someone else draw the mug but as always, when he passed by Andy called him by name. In the interview, Andy mentions that he didn’t know the actor’s name so this probably wasn’t a close friend of his.

  6. Gary

    Has anyone had access to the paperwork related to Andy Griffith show? Something like payroll records, episode contracts, etc. To track down Mr. Schwamp.

  7. Jeff W.


    Wondering if actress Betty Lynn who played Thelma Lou might know who played Mr. Schwamp? She’s one of the last people alive who could possibly know. Have you thought of contacting her?

  8. Terry Houseworth

    Great column! I too was born about the time it was released and have watched and still watch it all the time. I love picking out the bloopers and inconsistencies as there are many. Mr Schwamp made me laugh everytime I saw him because he never said a word. That show will always be in my mind probably the best sitcom of all time!

  9. Dave DePasquale

    Still watch this show just about every day. Mr. Schwump was a different kind of person. Hard to believe that no one knows you he is. If you look at he people who played the parts, a lot of them were in lot of different shows over the years. Some became famous. Good writing and good acting? Been to several of the reunion shows. Have pictures with Charlene Darling, Malcolm Merriweather, Ernst T Bass, and the Darling family. Tried to get to Barney Fife, but the line was to long.

  10. Dave Ryan

    Just watched the episode the fun girls at the end of the show credits was the name wimmers listed but I didn’t catch the first name but old man schump was at the dance and in the episode Andy says he’s not standing in the stag line with Old Man Schump

  11. Jeff Singer

    Schwump was the brother of Danny Thomas. Andy first appeared on an episode of the Danny Thomas show.

  12. steve buffington

    Is it just me or is Mr. Schwamp from The Andy Griffith Show and a older Beaver one in the same?

  13. Ken Heatley

    I just watched an episode of Perry Mason (S:7, Ep:3) “The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito”. During the scene where they are holding a Coroner’s Inquest in the Gold Gulch Hotel, it looks like it might be Mr. Schwamp leaning against a player piano beside the front door. He appears several times.

    1. cat7

      Yep, I posted the same thing about 4 hours prior to you a few posts up. I’m surprised no one has noticed him in that episode before now

  14. Andrew Collins

    Is it just me or does Mr Schwump resemble Parley Baer who played Mayor Stoner? Perhaps he could be a family member, even though Mr Schwump preceded Mayor stoner in the series.

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