Locals remember Andy Griffith
SALISBURY — On this July Fourth, most of us can’t recite the opening line to the Declaration of Independence, but we can whistle the tune from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
I heard people whistling that song a lot Tuesday, as word spread of actor Andy Griffith’s death at his home near Manteo.
The news came so quickly over our laptops, smartphones and televisions — as reports do these days — that it made me think of many people’s favorite episode from the show: “Man in a Hurry.”
The people of Mayberry, as an impatient businessman found out, were never in a hurry, especially on a Sunday.
And that’s what the eight seasons and 249 episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” gave us: a template of small-town life in North Carolina with characters whose eccentricities made them endearing.
“Mayberry is something we all buy into, but we never quite live it,” says Dr. Gary Freeze, a history professor at Catawba College.
It’s hard to forget these people from Mayberry:
• Deputy Barney Fife and his one bullet. “Nip it!”
• Aunt Bea and her pickles.
• Opie and his bedside prayers.
• Otis, the town drunk, walking into the courthouse and putting himself into jail.
• Gomer, the mechanic who could sing like Pavarotti.
• Goober and his Cary Grant impersonation: “Judy, Judy, Judy.”
• Floyd, the barber — maybe my favorite.
• Clara, the know-it-all friend of Aunt Bea.
• Ernest T. Bass, the rock-thowing maniac. “Andy, he’s a nut.”
• Thelma Lou and Helen Crump, the ever-patient girlfriends.
• The Fun Girls. The Darlings. Howard Sprague. Rafe Hollister.
On screen and apparently behind the scenes, Andy Griffith was the man who tied them all together.
With Griffith’s death, we have this collective sense that a friend is gone, though people who actually met Griffith often said he was nothing like Andy Taylor.
He could be cold and reluctant to sign autographs. He conspicuously stayed away from his hometown of Mount Airy, except for the dedication of a highway and a statue in his honor.
One of the best movies you’ll ever see is Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd.” And I can’t think of Griffith without thinking of his comedic monologue, “What It Was, Was Football.”
Freeze, the Catawba College professor, is spending the summer writing a book on fictious Mayberry. He’s pretending all those characters I mentioned earlier are real, and he’s dreaming up the histories behind their ancestors.
It should be good, explaining things such as why Andy Taylor didn’t wear a gun.
Freeze says Andy Griffith represents the passing of a generation that gave many North Carolinians their voice.
Author Doris Betts wrote short stories for that generation, he says. Doc Watson sang songs for it, and Andy Griffith told its folk tales.
All are gone now, reflecting how things are changing.
Freeze says Griffith was truly an artist, a genius who knew what North Carolinians were like.
The Rev. Neil Brower, pastor at Jackson Park United Methodist Church in Kannapolis, used to teach a 10-week, scholarly course at community colleges on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Brower wrote the book “Mayberry 101.” He put together Mayberry reunions of the cast in 1990 in Charlotte and 1995 in Winston-Salem. Every fall, he still gives lectures on the show at Mayberry days in Mount Airy.
“It makes you feel sad,” Brower says of Griffith’s death. “We feel like we know him because he has been part of our TV lives for so many years.”
But the great thing, Brower says, is that “we can still see him as we still remember him.” On DVD sets. On classic TV station reruns.
Many people, like Brower, taped episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” years ago on their VCR.
“He knew what North Carolinas felt like and the Southern culture,” Brower says. “He was a great script editor. He knew what sounded right. People don’t realize how much they see was a result of his input.”
Brower had just written Griffith a letter last week, inviting him to be his guest at this year’s Mayberry Days.
“I heard him say once that ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ worked so well because they never told a joke or used one-line humor,” says Kent Bernhardt, the morning man on WSTP Radio.
“They just created funny characters and let us watch them live their lives. So much of today’s TV comedies are quick one-liners delivered by unfunny people. Is it any wonder we’re glued to reruns of Griffith when they’re on?”
Bernhardt met Griffith in 1978 when Griffith appeared at the annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association’s awards program in Salisbury.
He says reporters from WSTP and the Post spent much of the day leading up to the program trying to track Griffith down.
They finally heard from Griffith’s manager that the actor would meet them in his hotel suite about 4 p.m.
Bernhardt remembers Griffith’s seeming a bit tired and “out of it,” but gracious, too. At one point, Bernhardt asked, if he had a chance to reassemble “The Andy Griffith Show” cast, would he?
“He said, ‘A little show like ours wouldn’t stand a chance on TV today.’” Bernhardt recalls. Griffith added that times had changed too much, and television was “more about sex today than Mayberry was.”
Remember, this was 1978.
Bernhardt is pretty sure he has seen every episode of the old show, which ran on CBS from 1960-68. “Naturally, the black-and-white ones are the best,” he says.
Mike Cline of Salisbury is an expert when it comes to old television shows and movies. In syndication terms, “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show” were the giants of all time, and they still hold up, Cline says.
“Lucy” relied, of course, on the antics of Lucille Ball. But with the Griffith show, the hometown characters were the thing — along with family values that struck a universal chord.
“Andy was very smart,” Cline says. “He pretty much stepped back and let them have the spotlight. He became everybody’s straight man — Barney’s, Gomer’s. ... He knew what the public would like, and, boy, did they ever.”
It’s hard to believe now, Cline notes, but when Griffith left after the 1968 season, “The Andy Griffith Show” was CBS’ top program.
Cline later watched Griffith’s next big series, “Matlock,” and loved it, too. Another surprising thing is that “Matlock” had a longer run than the Griffith show.
Cline also met Griffith as part of NSSA in 1978, when Cline was working the awards program.
Near the end of the night backstage, Cline secured the autographs of both Tennessee Ernie Ford and Griffith, though it took Ford’s grabbing of Griffith’s arm and cajoling him into signing Cline’s program.
I grew up watching “The Andy Griffith Show” in Pennsylvania — a small town in Pennsylvania that had a host of characters I’ll never forget.
Even as kids and now as adults, I think we like to consider ourselves — no matter where we live in the United States — as Andy Taylors with all these crazy friends around us.
You see, North Carolina’s Mayberry easily translated for everyone. We can thank Andy Griffith for that.
And as for the tune at the beginning and end of the show:
It was a new way — a great way — of whistling Dixie.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.
“Man in a Hurry,” featuring a businessman stranded in Mayberry when his car broke down, is considered one of the most popular episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show.”?
Here’s a list of the top 20 episodes, compiled by “The Andy Griffith Show” Rerun Watchers Club as the show neared its 40th anniversary:
1. “Man in a Hurry”
2. “The Pickle Story”
4. “Opie the Birdman”
5. “Barney’s Sidecar”
6. “Mountain Wedding”
7. “Three Wishes for Opie”
8. “Opie’s Charity”
9. “Christmas Story”
10. “The Haunted House”
11. “Barney’s First Car”
12. “Citizen’s Arrest”
13. “Mr. McBeevee”
14. “The Manicurist”
15. “Barney and the Choir”
16. “The Sermon for
17. “The Fun Girls”
18. “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs”
19. “A Date for Gomer”
20. “The New
— from “Mayberry Memories,” by Ken Beck and Jim Clark