• 34°

Griffith created an ideal place in the hearts of many

By Martha Waggoner
Associated Press
RALEIGH (AP) — Andy Griffith’s gift to the show that bore his name wasn’t just the homespun wisdom of the plain-spoken sheriff he played. It was the place he created: a small town where all foibles are forgiven and friendships are forever, full of characters who felt like family.
Mayberry, a fictional North Carolina village said to be modeled on Griffith’s own hometown of Mount Airy, was so beloved that it practically became a synonym for any community that was too innocent and trusting for real life. After all, Griffith’s Mayberry was a place where the sheriff didn’t carry a gun, the local drunk locked himself in jail and even the villains who passed through were changed by their stay.
On “The Andy Griffith Show,” he created an endearing portrait of a place where few people grew up but many wished they did.
Griffith, who died Tuesday at 86 at his North Carolina home, played a sage widower named Andy Taylor who offered gentle guidance to son Opie, played by little Ron Howard, who grew up to become an Oscar-winning director. Griffith inhabited the sheriff’s “aw, shucks” persona so completely that viewers easily believed the character and the man were one.
“What made ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ work was Andy Griffith himself — the fact that he was of this dirt and had such deep respect for the people and places of his childhood,” said Craig Fincannon, who runs a casting agency in Wilmington and met Griffith in 1974.
A character on the show “might be broadly eccentric, but the character had an ethical and moral base that allowed us to laugh with them and not at them,” he said. “And Andy Griffith’s the reason for that.”
Don Knotts, who died in 2006, was the goofy Deputy Barney Fife, while Jim Nabors joined the show as Gomer Pyle, the cornpone gas pumper. George Lindsey, who died in May, was the beanie-wearing Goober. The sheriff’s loving Aunt Bee was played by the late Frances Bavier.
The show initially aired from 1960 to 1968 and never really left television, living on for decades in reruns. Almost 20 years later, a reunion movie titled “Return to Mayberry” was the top-rated TV movie of the 1985-86 season.
The series became one of only three in TV history to bow out at the top of the ratings (The others were “I Love Lucy” and “Seinfeld.”). Griffith said he decided to end it “because I thought it was slipping, and I didn’t want it to go down further.”
In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Griffith said he wasn’t as wise as the sheriff or as nice. He described himself as having the qualities of one of his last roles, that of the cranky diner owner in “Waitress,” and also of his most manipulative character, from the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd.”
“But I guess you could say I created Andy Taylor,” he said. “Andy Taylor’s the best part of my mind. The best part of me.”
Getting his start
Griffith’s skill at playing a lovable rube was first established on a comedic monologue titled “What It Was, Was Football,” about a bumpkin attending a college football game.
That led to his first national television exposure on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1954 and the stage and screen versions of “No Time for Sergeants,” a production that cast Griffith as Will Stockdale, an over-eager young hillbilly who, as a draftee in the Air Force, overwhelms the military with his rosy attitude.
His television career slowed down in the 1970s but resumed in 1986 with “Matlock,” a light-hearted legal drama in which Griffith played a cagey Harvard-educated, Southern-bred attorney with a leisurely law practice in Atlanta.
Decked out in his seersucker suit in a steamy courtroom (air conditioning would have spoiled the mood), Matlock could toy with a witness and tease out a confession like a folksy Perry Mason.
This new character — law-abiding, fatherly and lovable — was like a latter-day homage to Sheriff Andy Taylor, updated with silver hair. The show aired though 1995.
Griffith was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts Hall of Fame in 1992.
He won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music “I Love to Tell the Story — 25 Timeless Hymns.”
Presidential honor
In 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honors.
In a statement Tuesday, President Barack Obama said Griffith’s characters “warmed the hearts of Americans everywhere.”
Griffith was born June 1, 1926, and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.
He and his first wife, Barbara Edwards, had two children: Sam, who died in 1996, and Dixie. His second wife was Solica Cassuto. Both marriages ended in divorce. He married third wife Cindi Knight Griffith in 1983.
Griffith also suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can cause sudden paralysis. He suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.

Comments

Comments closed.

Business

‘Believe me, they’ll be fresh’: Patterson Farm welcomes strawberry crop

Local

City appoints more members to boards, commissions, with 9 seats left to be filled

News

Virtual play groups the new norm at Smart Start

Local

City meets in closed session to consult with attorney on two ongoing litigation cases

Education

Summit takes art out of the classroom, into the student’s home

Education

Education briefs: Gene Haas Foundation donates $12,500 to RCCC

Business

County’s restaurant grant program dishes out funding to eight local eateries

High School

High school football: Yow out as South head coach

Education

Shoutouts

Local

City moves forward on greenway extension, traffic signal upgrades

Business

State broadband survey could help fund local infrastructure

Education

Happy Roots adds to programming with Bic recycling program

Education

RCCC small business center partners 53 Ideas Pitch Competition

Nation/World

Sheriff: Deputy fatally shot Black man while serving warrant

Nation/World

Garland announces sweeping police probe after Floyd verdict

Crime

District attorney won’t bring charges against former Salisbury officer depicted in K-9 video

Coronavirus

Cooper plans to lift gathering, distancing limits by June 1

Crime

Convicted sex offender charged with having child pornography

Crime

Rowan County woman faces drug crimes for gas station incident

Crime

Blotter: Thousands of dollars in lumber taken from Newsome Road house

Local

Locals react to Chauvin verdict, reflect on work still to do

Business

With remote expansion, outsource provider FCR looks to become an ‘exceptional part’ of Rowan community

Local

City expects $1.5 million surplus in current budget, ability to raise some wages for police, public works

Education

Enochville Elementary to host farewell event May 1