The late Andy Griffith, one of my personal heroes, always went by the heart. He was an accomplished actor and a truly fine American and with his passing, yet another part of my childhood is gone.
My love for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is well known to any and all who know me. I have seasons 2-5 on DVD (still need to get Season 1), I have framed photographs of the cast and tin signs from the show. I have more than a dozen books on my shelf pertaining to the show and various cast members. Heck, Judy and I once owned a genuine Mayberry squad car (a 1963 Ford Galaxy 500 painted to resemble the sheriff's car). Remind me to tell you that story some time. Over the years, I've taught Sunday School classes based on the life lessons learned in episodes from the show. Judy and I often quote dialogue from the show in our daily routines and I even once had two cats named Andy and Barney.
Andy Griffith was a man of many talents. He could play both comedy and drama and he was a terrific gospel singer. If you only know him from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and MATLOCK, I strongly recommend that you watch A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957), director Elia Kazan's scathing indictment of the power of mass media in which Griffith plays a good-ol-boy television huckster with an evil streak a mile wide. It's an astonishing performance and Griffith's naked avarice, greed and lust for power will astound you. It's a film that we've never shown at the Paramount but one that we certainly should as it deserves as wide an audience as possible.
But Griffith's role as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the long-running THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is the part that he will be forever associated with. The first season of the show found Griffith playing his part a bit too broadly. He played Taylor as a "hick" and didn't really allow co-star Don Knotts a chance to do his stuff.
That changed in the second season and in all subsequent seasons of the series. Griffith was smart enough to realize that playing straight-man to Don Knotts' brilliant portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife was the better way to go. Griffith, the titular star of the show, had enormous input into the creative process and had a hand in developing the scripts and the characters. But he was gracious enough to give each supporting player their own turns in the spotlight. Very few episodes center just on Sheriff Taylor. Instead the series focused on the various citizens of Mayberry and their relationships to the good, kind, gentle and compassionate man who was always there to help.
There are many episodes that focus on Taylor's family, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) and his young son, Opie (Ron Howard). Other episodes give us stories involving the rich and varied population of Mayberry, a mythic place where our better angels are realized. The list includes barber Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear), gas station attendant Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), his cousin Goober (George Lindsay), rock throwing Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris), town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), hillbilly patriarch Briscoe Darling (Denver Pyle), school teacher Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut) and Barney's girlfriend, Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn). Who wouldn't want to spend time with such vividly realized and colorful characters as these?
Sadly, with the death of Griffith, there are now only three members of the original cast still with us: Ron Howard, Jim Nabors and Betty Lynn.
Andy Taylor, as portrayed by Andy Griffith, was a kind and gentle man. He had enormous patience, wisdom, compassion and courage. But he was only human and occasionally made mistakes, as do we all. When that happened, he recognized his shortcomings with grace and humility, sought forgiveness and moved on. There's a lesson there for everyone.
An episode that traditionally ranks as one of the series best is OPIE THE BIRDMAN, originally broadcast in September 1963. Young Opie inadvertently kills a mother bird with his slingshot and has to tend to some orphaned baby birds until they are big enough to fend for themselves. It's a classic "Opie learns a lesson" episode and watching it always brings a slight tear to my eye.
At the end of the episode, when Opie has released the young birds from their cage to fly free he remarks that the cage seems empty. Andy agrees and then adds: "But don't the trees seem nice and full?"
The streets of Mayberry are almost entirely empty now but don't our hearts seem nice and full?
Thanks Andy. Thanks for everything.