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Jim Nabors may have played the addle-brained, wholesome rural bumpkin Gomer Pyle in a popular military sit-com half a lifetime ago, but he is refreshingly profane when you meet him in person.
At the start of an extensive interview, it took less than two minutes for him to launch his first F-bomb. For people familiar with the golly-mouthed Gomer Pyle, it seems almost unimaginable.
Over the next hour, the 84-year-old retired actor and singer offered up a remarkably prolific array of swear words. Delivered in his mild manner, with his kindly Southern drawl, it almost didn’t across as profanity, which made it that much funnier.
Playing a gas station attendant-turned-Marine enlistee on “Gomer Pyle: USMC” was very good for Nabors, and he has been very good for the military.
For one, he has enjoyed recognition and opportunities rarely available to someone who never enlisted in the Armed Forces.
Recently Jim sat at the controls of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning stealth multirole fighter plane, which is undergoing testing and final development in the islands. Test pilots on either side of him executed a vertical take off, then they told Jim which buttons to push before he thrust the throttle forward, propelling the aircraft horizontally.
In doing so, he became the U.S. Navy’s 28th “honorary naval pilot.”
It was particularly ironic because Nabors cannot fly a plane, but his husband Stan Cadwallader can — and does. In 1978 Cadwallader became a licensed commercial pilot and he routinely flies the honorary naval pilot along with their enthusiastic pack of dogs to their farm in Hana in their Piper Navajo Chieftain aircraft.
Nabors’ relationship with the military has been a two-way street. During the run of “Gomer Pyle: USMC,” he says, Marine recruitment and enlistment increased by 35-40 percent. His influence helps to explain why he was asked to accompany comedian Bob Hope to visit and entertain troops in various bases and combat zones during the Vietnam War.
Later, one Marine helped repay part of the Corps’ debt to Nabors. In the late ’60s the Houston Astrodome was home to one of the largest rodeos in the world, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which some people call the Fat Stock Show. After the calf-roping event, Nabors performed for a crowd that he remembers numbering nearly 60,000 people. He spoke of bringing them to their feet before he was escorted off the field surrounded by Marines in formation. As they walked, people crowded around Nabors, thanking him, photographing him and reaching out to touch him. He noticed something incongruous: A middle-aged woman was crying and trying to work her way closer to him. He reached out to comfort her.
But when she was within arm’s length of Nabors, her face suddenly contorted from sadness and tears to hatred and rage. She swung one of her hands toward his face. There were razor blades somehow attached to the end of her fingers. Nabors raised his arms to deflect the blow. The razor blades sliced into the skin of one of his arms, leaving blood streaming down it.
A marine standing next to Nabors took action. He punched the woman, eliminating the threat. Frightened and bleeding, Nabors was whisked off to a dressing room where his manager washed and bandaged the wounds.
Nabors never found out what happened to his attacker. To this day, he has no idea what point she was trying to make, if any. But for a brief period, he often feared being pinned in or surrounded by crowds.
Nabors, who is from Alabama, recalled a time when he was doing a show in Las Vegas and received a call from his home state’s four-term governor, George Wallace. Alabama was welcoming the nation’s governors to town so Wallace asked if Nabors would come entertain the VIP crowd.
Nabors cleared the date and flew all his dancers and performers to Alabama, naturally assuming the governor would pick up the costs. When the conservative Democrat later presented Nabors with the bill, in the gentlemanly tradition of the region, Jim paid it. But from then on, when Wallace requested Nabors’ presence at events, the performer always specified in advance that he would appear alone and would need a check to pay for an airline seat.
During the run of “Gomer Pyle: USMC,” Nabors says, Marine recruitment and enlistment increased by 35-40 percent.
It may seem odd for people who remember the polemic Wallace, but he and Nabors got along well. The performer, who has always been averse to politics and activism, had already learned to get along with people he didn’t agree with.
Jim was also good friends with the family of Ronald Reagan. Nabors, who still considers the late president to be one of the finest people he ever met, recalled a discussion with him while they were waiting to film the “Mike Douglas Show.” It was during Reagan’s last term as California governor.
As Nabors recounts it, they were sitting in an actor’s trailer on a dock by the bay as rain poured down around them. Jim wanted to ask the actor-turned-politician a personal question. He pinched Reagan on the leg and asked if he was really going to run for president. Reagan laughed and said he planned to go around the country to talk to some groups and “see if people will buy what I’m selling.”
In 1975, Cadwallader walked over to Jim at the Ala Moana shopping center and asked: Are you Jim Nabors? Yes, He was.
Cadwallader was working as a Honolulu fireman and he lived on his boat.
Nabors mentioned it was his birthday and, by chance, he was carrying a large bottle of Dom Perignon he had just been given. They decided to dine together.
It turned out they had a lot in common. They were both island transplants from far away. Cadwallader was from a small town in Michigan. Nabors was born in Sylacauga, Alabama, where the population when he was born in 1930 was 4,115.
Cadwallader’s job couldn’t have been much more different — he was stationed in Nanakuli on the Waianae Coast — but some codes among firefighters go well with elements of the world of celebrities. To do their work effectively, firefighters need to coordinate, cooperate and communicate. They also protect their own.
They describe themselves as best friends, partners in business and in life. They are also two men who have lived together for 40 years and are now married.
As with the military — a world Nabors was familiar with — firefighters do drills, maintain equipment, cook, eat and exercise together, which fosters camaraderie. They also tend to avoid discussing politics and religion, to avoid stirring up hostile feelings in their close-knit groups, Cadwallader noted.
The date went well. Together, they later renovated a dilapidated Diamond Head home that Nabors had purchased.
Interestingly, Nabors and Cadwallader don’t refer to themselves as gay. They are not same-sex activists by any means. They describe themselves as best friends, partners in business and in life. They are also two men who have lived together for 40 years and are now married.
In 2012 Jim and Stan took part in a civil union ceremony in Honolulu. At the start of 2013, they were married in Seattle.
When various media took an interest in their relationship, Nabors said, “If you have a person who has been your best friend for nearly 40 years, you better hold onto them, no matter what, because they are hard to come by in this life.”
Their relative discretion about their sexuality surely has something to do with the world and the era they grew up in. But interestingly, Jim’s family figured out early that he was unlikely to ever settle down with a woman and he says his parents encouraged him to succeed by being himself.
Nabors and Cadwallader have kept their Diamond Head home for 40 years. These days they spend a lot of time in an enclosed patio that overlooks their pool and a gate that opens up on a sliver of beach and a small cove. Beyond the cove, there is a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
Due to an array of serious health issues — Nabors has faced off with severe asthma, hepatitis B, liver failure, a liver transplant, a reconstructed knee, the implantation of a pacemaker and a new heart valve — Jim will be staying in Hawaii from now on. They don’t plan to travel any farther than their farm in Hana.
Looking back on their lives, including their long life together, do they have any regrets? Would they have done anything differently or is there anyplace they wished they had visited? Jim talked as Stan nodded his approval: “We live in Hawaii because we love it here. There is no reason to go anywhere else. There are no regrets, only gratitude.”
This summer Nabors and Stan plan to celebrate Jim’s 85th birthday and the 40th anniversary of their life together.