Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Andy Griffith--The Fishin' Hole (1960)

     For several generations the character of Andy Taylor and the actor who played him (for many of us one in the same) presented a vision for many of what life could be. Played in the fictitious Mayberry, North Carolina, it was as close to utopia as television would ever get. But I've often thought, "Why?". Well, there are those who will take a deeper look into the sociological aspects to the show, and this isn't the venue for that kind of let's take a look at the man.
     Andy Griffith was born North Carolina and from his earliest years was immersed in music. He learned to play the trombone, and also acted some in high school. After pondering becoming a minister, he switched his major to music and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1949. His first job out of school was teaching music and drama at a high school in Goldsboro.
     He started his career as a stand up comedian, but not like we think of one today. He was a monologist, one who would tell long stories. This was where he first made a name for himself with, "What It Was, Was Football", which 60 years later, his country/rural character still makes me laugh. This led him to the opportunity to play his first major role in the teleplay, "No Time For Sergeants" on the United States Steel Hour. He broadened out the play to a full length Broadway production in late 1955 which became quite successful. It was also made into a movie in 1958 with another young actor Don Knotts. This would be the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between the two. Those who are old enough to remember won't be surprised to know that the television show Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C was pretty much a modern copy of this movie.
     Producer Sheldon Leonard and actor Danny Thomas wanted to get Griffith on TV and began to develop a show for him. On Feb 15, 1960, we see Andy Taylor (and Opie) on The Danny Thomas Show, where Andy plays the justice of the peace on an episode where Thomas gets arrested for running a stop sign This lead up to the debut of the Andy Griffith show in October of that year.
     For the next eight years, The Andy Griffith show was to be one of the top programs on CBS. Looking back at it now, it was (as many of television's best shows are) a cast of people who are perfectly suited for that role. Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Frances Bavier, and all of the others became so set in their performances, that none of them, were able to break out of the characters they developed in future years. For as well as Griffith, Knotts, Howard, and Nabors did after the show ended, over 50 years later we still seem them in citizens of Mayberry.
     Griffith did well post-Mayberry, starting his own production company, doing guest spots, and working on several made for TV movies, although he was never able to find success on a weekly show again until Matlock which ran from 1986-1995 on NBC and ABC. Although he continued to work on TV and film up to 2009, the last 15 years or so he returned to his love of music. From his first dramatic role in the 1957 movie, "A Face in the Crowd" through the Andy Griffith Show, he would find a time and a place to sing. He started recording albums of religious music in 1995 and had a great deal of success in that arena as well.
     To return to the question at the beginning of this blog. The Andy Griffith show and it's characters are by far the most celebrated and beloved in TV history. It came along at a time in which one could argue that the country was going through it's biggest upheaval since the Civil War. Despite what was going on socially, politically, and culturally, one could turn on CBS and see a 30 minute slice of what we wished for America to be, with the benevolent Sheriff/Dad Andy Taylor making sure all was ok with his world...and ours too. One might think that so many years later that sentiment like that would be passe, but we find that generations later, the lessons Mayberry taught has not lost it's importance. Although naive at certain level, at it's core we are drawn by the warmth of a town that was built on respect, kindness, and love. For some that reminds us of our own families. For others, it brings us closer to a family we never had. Let's face it, we still want to come home to a place in our hearts that is safe, warm, and protected by those who love us. That was the genus of The Andy Griffith Show, and in the death of it's star, we feel as if we have lost more than just an actor, we lost a friend.


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