DG Martin: Trying to answer who Andy Griffith was
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Who was Andy Griffith, really?
Today, almost 55 years after the last production of “The Andy Griffith Show” and 10 years after his death, people all over the world still tune into that program every day.
People think of Andy Griffith or Sheriff Andy Taylor as the wise, friendly, kind person we unreservedly admire.
We have Andy Griffith or Sheriff Taylor fixed in our minds so firmly that we do not ask what was Andy Griffith really like?
In his new book available May 9, “Andy Griffith’s Manteo: His Real Mayberry,” John Railey sets out to answer that question.
Railey, former editorial page editor for the Winston-Salem Journal, knows Manteo and its people well, having spent much of his life on the Outer Bamks and recently having written a book about an unsolved murder there.
As the book title indicates, Railey thinks that Griffith’s chosen home was in Manteo on the Outer Banks, where he lived for many years. Even though Griffith grew up in Mount Airy and that town is full of memorials and reminders of his connection, Railey argues that it is Manteo rather than Mount Airy that is the model for Sheriff Andy Taylor’s Mayberry.
Railey quotes Griffith to prove his point. “If Mayberry is anywhere, it is Manteo.”
As Railey sets out to show Griffith’s long and close connection to Manteo, he gives an inside look at his subject’s life and career.
He chronicles Andy’s first connection to the town when in 1946 he turned down a $25 a week acting job as a soldier in “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama in Manteo. Instead, he made more money working with his father in a factory in Mount Airy.
The next summer he took the $25 a week “Lost Colony” job and by 1949 worked up to playing a lead role as Sir Walter and marrying his first wife, Barbara Edwards. He took teaching jobs in Goldsboro and Chapel Hill, continued summers in Manteo at “The Lost Colony,” and worked with Barbara to develop traveling entertainment routines.
In 1952 Andy tried out his first comedic monologue, a country boy’s take on Hamlet. It begins “Now I went to see a play right here lately, it was one of them classical plays, and it was wrote by a fellow named William Shakespeare that lived over here in the old country a while back.”
But the next year, during the intermission at a play at the Raleigh Little Theatre, he tried a monologue that became a classic.
“And what I seen was this whole raft of people a-sittin’ on these two banks and a-lookin’ at one another across this pretty little green cow pasture. Somebody had took and drawed white lines all over it and drove posts in it, and I don’t know what all, and I looked down there and I seen five or six convicts a running up and down and a-blowing whistles. And then I looked down there and I seen these pretty girls wearin’ these little bitty short dresses and a-dancing around.”
“What it Was Was Football” was made into a best-selling record. Suddenly, Andy was a star, with agents who quickly got him lead roles in three movies and a Broadway production of “No Time for Sergeants,” where Andy met Don Knotts. Knotts became a good friend and a key to the success of Andy’s next venture, “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Railey chronicles Andy’s life, his successes and failures as a movie and TV star, marriages, children, friendships, church and religious experiences, and local and state politics.
Even fans from Mount Airy who will always claim Andy as their own will enjoy reading about his life in Manteo.
Andy had a trademark way of saying thank you: “Ppreciate it!”
If Andy were alive, that is what he would say to John Railey for this book.
D.G. Martin hosted “North Carolina Bookwatch,” for more than 20 years.