Mayberry, USA: ‘Simpler time, sweeter place’
Maybe you can go home again.
Tonight’s The Andy Griffith Show Reunion: Back to Mayberry will take viewers back to the sleepy North Carolina town at the center of the 1960s comedy. “It’s a place people want to return to,” says Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor for eight years.
“The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry represented this kind of idealized view of what America was. It contains such a heart, such a sense of community.”
Characters, not jokes, made it such a good series, Griffith says in the special. There was the father-son relationship of Andy and Opie (Ron Howard), deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) playing off straight-man Andy and the personification of Southern hospitality, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier).
The town was rounded out by Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors); barber Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear); town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith); Andy’s girlfriend, Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut); Barney’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn); Goober Pyle (George Lindsey); straight-arrow Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson); and fix-it man Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman).
At Griffith’s request, the special features only clips from the episodes of the first five years. Executive producer John Watkin says that reflects Griffith’s respect for Knotts, who left the show after five seasons.
“He left a hole in the show that could not be filled,” Griffith says.
Mayberry in some ways is a mythic place, imagined by Griffith, producers Sheldon Leonard and Aaron Ruben and the show’s writers. But the town also has strong ties to Griffith’s boyhood hometown, Mount Airy, N.C., with mentions of real people, such as Earlie Gilley, and real places, such as Snappy Lunch.
“The people in Mount Airy got to saying, ‘Well, it was based on Mount Airy,’ and that’s gone on so long that I guess it just was based on Mount Airy,” Griffith says.
TV make-believe conjured other landmarks. Griffith and Howard retrace their steps from the show’s opening at the watering hole, which is actually in Los Angeles’ Franklin Canyon. “It was a little more overgrown, but it’s pretty much the same place,” says Watkin, who co-produced with Eamon Harrington.
Watkin was hesitant about asking Howard, an Oscar-winning director, to toss a rock into the water, as young Opie had. “Sure enough, he looked at me with a little twinkle in his eye and said, ‘So, I guess you want me to throw the rock,'” Watkin remembers.
The courthouse was re-created just “an Opie rock throw” from where exteriors were filmed in the ’60s.
The Andy Griffith Show premiered in October 1960 and switched to color in 1965. Watkin says Mayberry seems more in tune with the 1950s. Jim Clark, who co-wrote Mayberry Memories, says the community, the values and even the props, such as the old-style telephone, reflect earlier times.
In any case, the series seemed far removed from much of the tumult of the ’60s, Watkin says.
“It was at a point where America was really in turmoil,” he says. “The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry represented in some sense this kind of idealized view of what America was. It contains such a heart, such a sense of community.”
In the special, Howard says the show had a strong message of accepting people, such as Otis the drunk, despite their frailties. Speaking of Otis, shifting sensibilities make it unlikely a show would feature a town drunk these days. In a 1980s Mayberry movie, Otis was sober. That was less a sop to political correctness than an acknowledgment that “you couldn’t have him be drunk all those years,” says Clark, who has written Griffith books and cookbooks with Ken Beck.
Another element that stands out is the absence of black characters in the Southern town. Griffith says he regrets the lack of representation: “We tried in every way to get that to happen, but we were unable to do it.”
The Andy Griffith Show still sparkles in the TV firmament. Paramount syndicates it in 97 U.S. TV markets, and the show is a viewer favorite on cable’s TV Land.
Each month, an average of 27 million people tune into one of TV Land’s Griffith shows. The “Lawman Barney” episode, broadcast on March 25, 2000, remains the cable network’s most-watched telecast ever among viewers 25 to 54, drawing 1.65 million.
Devotion is apparent off-screen, too. Last week, fans gathered for the unveiling of a statue of Andy and Opie in Raleigh, N.C. Mayberry Days is an annual event in Mount Airy. Episodes are used in Sunday school. And The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club has 1,250 chapters and 20,000 members, Clark says.
Griffith remains busy. He has a new album, The Christmas Guest, and says there’s a possibility he and Dick Van Dyke might make a TV movie mystery.
Griffith says the Raleigh statue’s plaque encapsulates the appeal: “A simpler time, a sweeter place, a lesson, a laugh, a father and a son.”
Mayberry, USA: ‘Simpler time, sweeter place’