[Vision2020] Mayberry RIP

Moscow Cares moscowcares at moscow.com
Sat Jul 4 18:21:52 PDT 2015

I grew up as a kid in Van Nuys, California watching the Andy Griffith Show with my dad.

One of my favorite sound-bites from the Andy Griffith Show . . . Sheriff Andy on carrying guns:

Courtesy of The New York Times at:


Andy Griffith, TV’s Lawman and Moral Compass, Dies at 86


Andy Griffith, an actor whose folksy Southern manner charmed audiences for more than 50 years on Broadway, in movies, on albums and especially on television — most notably as the small-town sheriff on the long-running situation comedy that bore his name — died on Tuesday at his home on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by the Dare County sheriff, Doug Doughtie.

Mr. Griffith was already a star — on Broadway in “No Time for Sergeants” and in Hollywood in Elia Kazan’s film “A Face in the Crowd” — when “The Andy Griffith Show“ made its debut in the fall of 1960. And he delighted a later generation of television viewers in the 1980s and ’90s in the title role of the courtroom drama “Matlock.”

But his fame was never as great as it was in the 1960s, when he starred for eight years as Andy Taylor, the sagacious sheriff of the make-believe town of Mayberry, N.C. Every week he rode herd on a collection of eccentrics, among them his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife, and the simple-minded gas station attendant Gomer Pyle. Meanwhile, as a widower, Andy raised a young son, Opie, and often went fishing with him. “The Andy Griffith Show,” seen Monday nights on CBS, was No. 4 in the Nielsen ratings its first year and never fell below the Top 10. It was No. 1 in 1968, its last season. After the run ended with Episode No. 249, the show lived on in spinoff series, endless reruns and even Sunday school classes organized around its rustic moral lessons.

The show imagined a reassuring world of fishin’ holes, ice cream socials and rock-hard family values during a decade that grew progressively tumultuous. Its vision of rural simplicity (captured in its memorable theme song, whistled over the opening credits) was part of a TV trend that began with “The Real McCoys” on ABC in 1957 and later included “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction,” “Green Acres” and “Hee Haw.”

But by the late 1960s, the younger viewers networks prized were spurning corn pone, and Mr. Griffith had decided to leave after the 1966-67 season to make movies. CBS made a lucrative offer for him to do one more season, and “The Andy Griffith Show” became the No. 1 series in the 1967-68 season. But Mr. Griffith had decided to move on, and so had the times. “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” with its one-liners about drugs and Vietnam, and “The Mod Squad,” about an integrated trio of undercover officers, were grabbing a new audience.

But the characters in “The Andy Griffith Show” — Barney (Don Knotts), Gomer (Jim Nabors), Opie (Ron Howard, who went on to fame as a movie director), Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) and the rest, including Gomer’s cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey, who died in May) — have remained tantalizingly real to their fans, who continue to watch reruns on cable TV and online.

Andy Griffith was more complex than Andy Taylor, although the show was based on his hometown, Mount Airy, N.C. Before he fetched up in Mayberry, he was known for bringing authenticity to dark roles, beginning with the lead in “A Face in the Crowd,” in 1957, the story of a rough-hewn television personality who, in the clutches of his city-slicker handlers, becomes something of a megalomaniac.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, Mr. Griffith starred in no fewer than six movies with the words “murder” or “kill” in their titles. In 1983, in “Murder in Coweta County,” he played a chillingly wicked man who remains stone cold even as he is strapped into the electric chair.

Sheriff Taylor aside, Mr. Griffith was no happy rustic; he enjoyed life in Hollywood and knew his way around a wine list. His career was tightly controlled by a personal manager, Richard O. Linke.

“If there is ever a question about something, I will do what he wants me to do,” Mr. Griffith told The New York Times Magazine in 1970. “Had it not been for him, I would have gone down the toilet.”

Far from the gregarious Andy Taylor, Mr. Griffith was a loner and a worrier. He once hit a door in anger, and for two episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” he had a bandaged hand (explained on the show as an injury Andy received while apprehending criminals).

But the show’s 35 million viewers would have been reassured to learn that even at the peak of his popularity, Mr. Griffith drove a Ford station wagon and bought his suits off the rack. He said his favorite honor was having a stretch of a North Carolina highway named after him in 2002. (That was before President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.)

He was also gratified to find his character ranked No. 8 on TV Guide’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” in 2004. (Bill Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable was No. 1.) But one honor denied him was an Emmy Award: he was nominated only once, for his role in the TV movie “Murder in Texas.” “The Andy Griffith Show” itself, though nominated three times, also never won an Emmy, but Mr. Knotts did — five times — for his performance as Deputy Fife, and so did Ms. Bavier, once, as Andy’s aunt.

Andy Samuel Griffith was born in Mount Airy on June 1, 1926, the only child of Carl Lee Griffith and the former Geneva Nann Nunn. His father was a foreman at a furniture factory. Mr. Griffith described his childhood as happy, but said he never forgot the pain he felt when someone called him “white trash.”

After seeing the trombonist Jack Teagarden in the 1941 film “Birth of the Blues,” he bought a trombone from Sears, Roebuck & Company, then wheedled lessons out of a local pastor, who later recommended him to the University of North Carolina, where he won a music degree and married Barbara Edwards.

He moved on to singing, and for a while hoped to be an opera singer. He tried teaching music and phonetics in a high school but left after three frustrating years. “First day, I’d tell the class all I knew,” he told The Saturday Evening Post in 1964, “and there was nothin’ left to say for the rest o’ the semester.”

In spare moments Mr. Griffith and his wife put together an act in which he posed as a country preacher and told jokes (one was about putting frogs in the baptismal water) while she danced. They played local civic clubs.

In 1953, performing for an insurance convention, Mr. Griffith, in his bumpkin preacher persona, told a comic first-person tale about attending a college football game and trying to figure out what was going on. Some 500 discs of the monologue were pressed under the title “What It Was, Was Football,” and it became a hit on local radio. Mr. Linke, then with Capitol Records, scurried to North Carolina to acquire the rights and sign Mr. Griffith.

Mr. Linke was soon guiding him onto television and nightclub stages. But Mr. Griffith’s big break came on Broadway, in 1955, when he was cast in “No Time for Sergeants” as a mountain yokel drafted into the Air Force — a role he had played on television, on “The United States Steel Hour.” The play was a hit, running for almost two years, and he reprised the role for the 1958 film version.

His first movie role, in “A Face in the Crowd,” was far more complicated. The character, Larry Rhodes, known as Lonesome, is a vagrant who is discovered playing the guitar in an Arkansas jail and then groomed to become a beloved television star, only to be undone by his dark side. Mr. Griffith told The New York Times Magazine that he was so consumed by the stormy character that it affected his marriage.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “You play an egomaniac and paranoid all day and it’s hard to turn it off at bedtime. We went through a nightmare.”

In 1959, Mr. Griffith returned to Broadway in the musical comedy “Destry Rides Again,” in a role that had been played in films by Tom Mix, James Stewart, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy. Though reviews were mixed, Newsday declared, “There isn’t a more likable personality around than Andy Griffith.”

The pilot of “The Andy Griffith Show,” in February 1960, was actually an episode of “The Danny Thomas Show” in which Mr. Thomas, as Danny Williams, is arrested by a sheriff for running through a stop sign while driving through Mayberry.

Danny baits the sheriff, calling him “hayseed” and “Clem.”

“The name ain’t Clem, it’s Andy, Sheriff Andy Taylor!” he responds.

Sheldon Leonard, producer of Mr. Thomas’s show, had decided to build a sitcom around Mr. Griffith after seeing him in “Destry.” Mr. Griffith negotiated for 50 percent ownership, which gave him a large say in the show’s development.

Critical to the show’s success was the casting of Mr. Knotts as the inept but lovable Barney Fife. So was the simple but appealing formula: characters would confront a problem, then resolve it by exercising honesty or some other virtue.

When Mr. Knotts left the show in 1965, a year after Mr. Nabors, Mr. Griffith became “nervous” about its future, he said. But though some critics and viewers said the show in its later years lacked the sparkle it had once possessed, its ratings never tottered.

Still, after the 1967-68 season, Mr. Griffith had had enough and left the show. But he did produce a kind of sequel series for the following season, “Mayberry R.F.D.,” with Ken Berry starring as a widowed farmer alongside many of the regular characters from “Andy Griffith.” It ran three seasons.

Mr. Griffith’s acting career stalled afterward, despite a five-year deal with Universal Pictures. He said he was not offered roles he wanted to play. Returning to television in 1970, he starred in two short-lived shows, “The Headmaster” and “The New Andy Griffith Show.”

Then came a raft of made-for-TV movies. One, “Diary of a Perfect Murder,” served as the pilot for a new series, “Matlock,” in which Mr. Griffith played a rumpled but cagey defense lawyer. The show’s run, from 1986 to 1995, exceeded that of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Mr. Griffith continued to play occasional movie and television parts, including that of an 80-something widower who rediscovers romance, and sex, in a nursing home in “Play the Game.”

He never lost his singing voice. In 1996 he recorded a gospel album, “I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns,” which won a Grammy.

In 2010 he showed a political side when he extolled President Obama’s health care legislation in a television commercial for it. Republican politicians and conservative talk show hosts leapt on him, and Jon Stewart made boisterous fun of the brouhaha on “The Daily Show.”

Mr. Griffith’s marriage to Barbara Edwards, in 1949, ended in divorce in 1972. An eight-year marriage to the Greek actress Solica Cassuto ended in divorce in 1981. In 1983, he married Cindi Knight, who survives him, as does a daughter from his first marriage, Dixie Griffith. A son from his first marriage, Andy Jr., known as Sam, died in 1996.

To viewers, Mr. Griffith’s portrayal of the sheriff seemed so effortless, they presumed he was just playing himself. He wasn’t, he insisted; he was always acting. But he took that misimpression as a compliment to his artistry.

“You’re supposed to believe in the character,” he said. “You’re not supposed to think, ‘Gee, Andy’s acting up a storm.’ “

Continue reading the main storyFrom the 1970s to the 1990s, Mr. Griffith starred in no fewer than six movies with the words “murder” or “kill” in their titles. In 1983, in “Murder in Coweta County,” he played a chillingly wicked man who remains stone cold even as he is strapped into the electric cha

"The Fishing Hole" by Andy Griffith 

Rest well, Sheriff Andy.

Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares"
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

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