Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mayberry Mourns

You must understand.  There are classic television shows that will live forever, and deservedly so.  They have names such as I Love Lucy and Star Trek.  They all inspire fan clubs and conventions.  They are all wonderful.  Then, on a level just above them, there is The Andy Griffith Show.  This blog post is long overdue, but, sadly, I'm posting it now because Andy Griffith died this morning at the age of 86.  He was a native North Carolinian and still lived here.

Seldom does a group of writers, directors, actors and producers manage to capture the essence of a time and place as did the group who brought us this television show.  If you have ever wondered what the small-town South is really like, watch a couple of episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  Linger long enough and you will begin to understand. 

Mayberry, North Carolina doesn't live on a map by that name, but it is as real as they come.  I grew up in that town.  We had fillin' stations and Main Streets presided over by Floyd the Barber.  Gomer really was that goofy, and he really did have a singing voice to make an angel cry.  Our Sunday afternoons were actually spent on the porch with a glass of iced tea, unless we were out for one of the famous Sunday drives that lives forever in the episode about Barney's new car.  "Tell your Aunt Bea Gomer says hey" was basic courtesy.  Even the ill-mannered among us knew to send warm regards to Aunt Bea.  Drifters and shysters frequently passed through but never stayed for very long.  We could spot one a mile away.  If they were nice enough, we sent them on their way with a clean shirt and a sack of fried chicken - but they always knew not to come back and try again.
We walked to church, to school, to the grocery store and the movie theater.  Our pastors were all called "preacher" and we all knew that Clara Edwards was a nosy gossip, but we loved her anyway.  The Darling Family really did live just outside town and they really were just a tad strange.  We were not afraid to laugh at ourselves, but in spite of our human frailty, we possessed a full measure of kindness, decency and laid-back common sense that generally always won the day - having learned every bit of it at the feet of our elders.  

Save for this show, the world's only frame of reference for the small Southern town might simply be one of cruelty, inequity, ignorance, bigotry and buffoonery.  Thankfully, that group of lucky geniuses in the 1960's caught lightning in a bottle, told another version of the truth and preserved it for the ages - lest anyone wonder.
I once had the great good fortune to meet the actor/director, Howard Morris - long years after his iconic role as Ernest T Bass on the show.  Many people don't realize that Morris directed many of those famous episodes.  During our conversation, I asked him a question that had nagged at me for years.  "How did a bunch of guys from New York and Hollywood manage to get it right when no one else had been able to do that before?"  His face lit up with a big smile and he said "Oh - easy!  I can answer that in two words - Andy Griffith.  We never wrote or directed anything that we didn't run by him first.  If he said "guys, it's funny, but we wouldn't say it like that back home - or - we wouldn't do that where I came from", then we always had the good sense to listen to him. And that's how we got it right."
 The actor Billy Bob Thornton, who grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, says he still remembers the day as a kid when he first heard that Barney Fife would not be returning to the show the following season.  Director Ron Howard has said many times that Andy's respect for him as a child was the genesis of his life's calling as a director.

  My son is the one who called me with the news this morning, almost as if we had lost a family member.  Not that far from the truth, actually. He grew up on a daily dose of Andy reruns, and is a better man for having done so.

If you have never seen this show (maybe you have been living on Saturn, for instance), then do yourself a favor and get to know it now.  Try these 12 favorites - you can even watch them online:
Episode 52 - Barney and The Choir
Episode 66 - Mr. McBeevee
Episode 70 - The Cow Thief
Episode 74 - Convicts at Large
Episode 77 - Man in a Hurry
Episode 87 - Aunt Bea's Medicine Man
Episode 090 - Barney's First Car
Episode 94 - The Mountain Wedding
Episode 101 - Opie the Birdman
Episode 102 - A Black Day for Mayberry (my personal favorite)
Episode 120 - Bargain Day
Episode 123 - The Fun Girls

Rest in peace, Andy Griffith.  And thank you.


  1. Beth what a lovely tribute and thoughtful perspective. You've just given me yet another reason to feel strangely jealous that I'm not Southern!

  2. No worries, Beth Logan! We frequently bestow Honorary Southern Belle titles to deserving souls, and I nominate you! So there. Now you're Southern.

  3. What a sweet tribute to a wonderful man and a great show - no guns, drugs, car chases - just ordinary people. I'm from a small town in NH and we had people just like this too. Life was slower, kinder, more thoughtful. Now everything is centered around finding the fastest way and making the most money. I still remember the 5 mile walk via a "secret" path in the woods to the "center" of town (a cross road with a Baptist Church, a general store, a post office and the town hall (where the library and the police dept. were). It was the best part of Saturday.