VETERAN STAGE AND SCREEN actor Bill Whitworth may be best remembered by Heat fans for his recurring role as the wise old retired Moonshiner Goody Tate. The designation of “retired” during his brief tenure on the show remains up for debate, even today.
Whitworth first appeared in Season 4’s “Shine on Sparta Moon,” where a teenage girl is killed in a crash where spiked moonshine was a factor.
We asked Whitworth via email how the role came about.
“I was sent to read for the part at Shay Griffins office. She was the local casting director. It got narrowed down to 3 people and we went to the set in Covington to read for a cast member and the director. What a thrill I got the “call” for the part.”
Whitworth is now 91. He and his wife, Chris live in the Covington, Georgia area where the series was filmed. While he went on to roles in a number of other projects after Heat, Whitworth still remembers the experience with principle cast member and executive producer Carroll O’Connor.
“After all these years, it still is a dream that I got to play opposite Carroll. He was gracious, skilled at his craft and so easy to work with.”
Whitworth appeared in 3 episodes of the series, ending with season 7’s “Conspiracy of One.” While they never appeared together on screen, this episode was also Howard Rollins’ last. Whitworth’s other appearance happened in “Sparta Gold” in season 5.
While Heat is known for its countless lighthearted moments, it may be the interactions between Gillespie and Goody that stand out the most, aside from the primary duo of Tibbs & Gillespie.
It’s assumed that Goody and Gillespie are old friends. It’s possible they grew up together and the Chief may have been a customer of Goody’s during his moonshining days, even going as far as noticing the glass jars from L&F’s hot peppers were not the typical container for shine.
One scene between Whitworth and Gillespie (before Goody retired), may have been the catalyst for asking Whitworth back for more appearances. It was just that good of a take. Gillespie fans are everywhere will certainly remember those famous “Cricket scenes,” but the follow-up scene certainly had us all hooked on Goody Tate and his friend, Bill.
Here is the pair of those well-known scenes:
Not all scripts among the trio of episodes went as planned thanks to the talents of both O’Connor and Whitworth.
“We even improvised several times which drove the script people crazy as they had to change the lines on the original script if we (kept) the new ones.“
While much has changed in the Covington area since the show wrapped in 1995, the film industry there is still evident to Whitworth today.
“Many other things have been done in this area and will be in the future as we are getting Three Rings studio, a large complex for all types of filming.”
As the series itself and its characters evolved over the course of its run, it appears that Goody Tate may have been one of two mindsets regarding the “New South” that was portrayed in later seasons.
One could infer that Tate, despite his rural Mississippi upbringing, didn’t mind at all what others did or who they associated with. That was their business. Just like distilling was his and his brother’s business. (Remember his brother, Ben?
Or it could be that Goody was a “renovated mind” like Gillespie was, and he tried to adapt. This mindset would be supported by his enthusiasm over the “High Sheriff’s Mexican Deputy” and how, with a smile on his face, “Oh Yeah! I keep forgetting about Puerto Rico!”
Season 7 Episode 17: Conspiracy of One)
As for the man behind the character, Whitworth is an Army veteran who served during WWII and grew up in Marietta, Georgia. Contrary to what IMDb.com says, he tells us that his biography is not accurate. He says he was never a production accountant or aerial coordinator.
However, Whitworth says he is indeed a Ramblin’ Wreck, as he attended Georgia Tech. An entry on the website Goodreads shows he went on to become a mystery novel writer.
Whitworth confirmed that he finished writing “Butterfly Girl” after his acting career.
Before Heat, Whitworth was a division training manager at Southern Bell in Atlanta. He acted in small theater productions and also appeared in commercials and print advertisements later in his life. He was in his mid-60’s when he earned the part of Goody.
While he’s 91 and it’s been a few years and life’s struggles since the last time we saw Goody Tate and Bill Gillespie, the work Bill Whitworth put forth in those times won’t soon be forgotten by Heat fans everywhere.