Sunday, November 6, 2016

Andy Griffith, Homespun Legend

Sheriff Andy Taylor At Your Service!

Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor.
Andy Griffith is one of those guys that you just can't quite figure out. He wasn't the funniest guy on earth, though he was quite funny; he wasn't the most handsome man on earth, though he was quite handsome; he wasn't the best singer, though he sang quite well. However, with his blend of talents, Andy Griffith created a bond with his fans that was tighter than just about any other star in Hollywood. How did he do this? He just did... and that is the magic of Andy Griffith.

Let's take a look at the Sheriff, Andy Griffith, and see what we can learn.

Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith in high school, around 1940.
Andy Samuel Griffith was born on 1 June 1926 in Mount Airy, North Carolina. His father was a carpenter, and they lived in the working-class section of town.

Andy Griffith

Andy loved music, and he also was a religious Baptist. His parish minister, Ed Mickey, nurtured both interests. Upon graduation from high school, Griffith attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in music. He taught drama and music at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, North Carolina for a few years. He began giving comic monologues, such as one about a football game that he gave "at an insurance convention" in 1953. It was a surprise hit, reaching #9 on the charts in 1954.

Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith in "No Time for Sergeants."
The hit recording got Andy noticed, and he was cast in Ira Levin's "No Time for Sergeants" on television's "The United States Steel Hour." The public liked the show, and, reversing the normal pattern, it was adapted to become a Broadway Play in 1955. Then, the play was turned into a 1958 film. Also starring in the film version was an actor playing a "nervous guy" role, Don Knotts.

Andy Griffith No Time for Sergeants Don Knotts
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts early in their careers on Broadway.
Andy followed his Broadway role with another, "Destry Rides Again." It was another hit. Griffith was nominated for two Tony Awards for his Broadway work but won neither.

Andy Griffith Fritz Hollings Destry Rides Again
With Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, then Governor of South Carolina, following a performance of "Destry Rides Again" at the Imperial Theater on Broadway, 1959 (AP Photo).
In between his other projects, Andy starred in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" (1957). A meditation on the corrupting power of stardom, it opens with Andy's character, Lonesome Rhodes, in prison, charming a lady reporter with his singing and guitar strumming. Playing against type as a raging egomaniac, Griffith turns in what many consider to be his best performance. Any Andy Griffith fan who hasn't seen it should find a copy.

Andy Griffith Lonesome Rhodes
Andy Griffith as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes.
Wishing to move beyond Broadway, Andy took a guest appearance on "Make Room For Daddy." He played a caricature of a small-town hick who actually runs just about everything of importance. The episode was well-received, and producer Sheldon Leonard offered Griffith the chance to star in a spin-off. Andy had dreams of a film career but agreed to do it if the show featured his name and he owned 50% of it. Probably to his shock, everyone agreed and the show got on the schedule.

Andy Griffith
1958, at the Azalea Festival in Wilmington, NC (Photo by Bones Strickland).
The premise for the new series was pretty simple. Andy would play a small-town sheriff named Andy Taylor. As in the "Make Room For Daddy" episode, he would be a widower with a young boy, played again by Ron Howard.

Andy Griffith Ron Howard

The original idea for the show was for Andy to be the "wise guy" character while everyone else played it straight. Others would do small-town things, and he would make wry asides and pull faces. As part of the ensemble cast, the show had Don Knotts, Andy's old Broadway colleague, as his nervous deputy.

Andy Griffith The Andy Griffith Show

Knotts appeared without a contract - it was a one-shot deal. If he caught on, he might stick around, but otherwise, there were no guarantees. Griffith realized instantly that Knotts was better in the comic role than he could be, so he signed Knotts to a one-year contract (later extended to five years).

Andy Griffith Don Knotts

"The Andy Griffith Show" was a huge hit from the very first episode. It was one of only three shows to end while still No. 1 in the ratings (the others were "Seinfeld" and "I Love Lucy"). Don Knotts created an iconic character which ultimately won him five Emmy Awards. Griffith never even got nominated for an Emmy.

Andy Griffith Elinor Donahue

One of the show's themes was whether Andy's character would find another wife. Elinor Donahue, who had starred throughout the '50s on "Father Knows Best," was the first candidate. While a stunning beauty, Elinor did not get along with Andy and left after only one season.

Andy Griffith Aneta Corsaut

The next candidate was Aneta Corsaut, who played Helen Crump. The Crump character wasn't expected to last, hence they gave her a decidedly uncool name. However, the audience liked her character, and she became a semi-regular for the remainder of the show.

Andy Griffith Aneta Corsaut
In the show's final episode (the first of the spin-off), Helen marries Andy.
The show created a number of other iconic characters. Howard McNear played Floyd the Barber, the grounded center of the town's male social circle. Griffith helped write virtually all the episodes, but he never took credit for that.

Andy Griffith Howard McNear

Frances Bavier played Aunt Bee Taylor, Andy Taylor's mother. She played the role for ten years, but never really liked the role. Bavier was a top television actress during the 1950s who also had a reputation not going that extra mile to get along with her fellow cast-mates. Bavier played the Aunt Bee role perfectly, however.

Andy Griffith Ron Howard Frances Bavier Don Knotts

Griffith often grumbled that he would only continue the show for five years. Don Knotts scored a major film success in 1964 with "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" and decided to parlay that into a film career now that the five years were up. When Griffith decided to continue the show for a few more years, Knotts left anyway. He did, however, come back a bunch of times to reprise his role, though now as a state trooper.

Andy Griffith Don Knotts Ron Howard

Andy finally decided to end the series in 1968. The last episode also was the first episode of the spinoff, "Mayberry R.F.D." which essentially replaced him with Ken Berry. That show lasted a few seasons, and finally got axed when the network decided to do shows set in more sophisticated settings.

Andy Griffith

Griffith was not done with the role of Andy Taylor, however. In fact, he appeared as that character in six different series (seven if you count a ghostly appearance on "Saturday Night Live."

Andy Griffith Don Knotts Jim Nabors

The '70s saw Griffith try a couple of series that did not succeed. He also turned in some memorable performances in "Movies of the Week" that drew great ratings, such as "Savages" and "Pray for the Wildcats." It was a fairly lean period for him.

Andy Griffith

Among the series that he tried were "Salvage 1," "The Yeagers," "The New Andy Griffith Show," "Headmaster," and "Adams of Eagle Lake." Nothing really caught on.

Andy Griffith

Reunion movies became popular in the '80s. Andy got much of the old cast back together for "Return to Mayberry" in 1986. Don Knotts looked exactly like his original character - it was uncanny. The one-shot deal was a success (and led to other reunion shows in 1993 and 2003).

Andy Griffith Ron Howard

The reunion film may have contributed to Griffith getting one last shot at a new series of his own. And it was an opportunity that Andy Griffith took full advantage of in a typical Andy Griffith way.

Andy Griffith Howard NcNear
Andy with Howard McNear as Floyd the Barber.
The new series was called "Matlock" and began in 1986. It was the first series in which Griffith appeared as a regular since the '70s. "Matlock" was a monster hit. Who knew? Television is a funny business.

Andy Griffith Don Knotts

Andy played a sharp country lawyer. Wise elders were "in" as leads at the time in series like "Murder, She Wrote."

Andy Griffith Ken Berry
Andy Griffith with Ken Berry, who was the lead in the sequel to "The Andy Griffith Show."
Once again, Griffith's "Matlock" series reunited him with Don Knotts, who played his nosy neighbor in a recurring role.

Andy Griffith Don Knotts
Andy and friend on the set of their 1986 reunion movie (AP Photo).
Griffith's series also had a relationship with another successful series, "Diagnosis Murder." That series began during "Matlock's" lengthy run, being a spin-off from "Matlock's" first episode. "Diagnosis Murder" actually ran almost as long as "Matlock" did, eight seasons versus nine. The star of "Diagnosis Murder" and Andy Griffith were life-long friends, and aside from this, they also had another happy coincidence: both had reached their peak stardom in Danny Thomas-produced series that began within a year of each other in the early 1960s. The association between the two series continued, and Andy Griffith's last role was as Ben Matlock in a two-part episode of "Diagnosis: Murder."

Andy Griffith Don Knotts

After "Matlock," Griffith did occasional guest-starring roles and small film roles, but he was set for life due to owning such a big chunk of his first series. At this point, he could pretty much do whatever he wanted.

Andy Griffith

As he put it in 1996, after "Matlock" had ended:
I'll be 70 on June 1. I don't want to make a living - I mean, I do. I really don't have to. But I want to work for my mind and my spirit. I know how to do a couple of things, and I can sing a little, and I can act, and I can write a little, so I wanna try that.
That's a great attitude!

Andy Griffith

One of Griffith's final appearances was in the Brad Paisley song "Waitin' on a Woman." He gives some homespun advice about women and appeared in the accompanying video.

Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, November 2005.

Andy Griffith Hollywood Walk of Fame

I was baptized alongside my mother when I was 8 years old. Since then I have tried to walk a Christian life. And now that I'm getting older I realize that I'm walking even closer with my God.
Andy Griffith Mayberry Statue
This Mayberry Statue is in Mount Airy, North Carolina. There also is an identical statue in Raleigh because, hey, he's Andy Griffith and one just isn't enough.
You know when you're young you think you will always be. As you become more fragile, you reflect and you realize how much comfort can come from the past. Hymns can carry you into the future.

Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith was married three times and had a son, Sam Griffith, and daughter, Dixie Nann. He passed away on 3 July 2012 at his long-time coastal home in Manteo, Roanoke Island, Dare County, North Carolina, where he is buried.


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