As we slide out of a Tuesday and prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, that quintessential American holiday, we also say goodbye to a quintessential American in Andy Griffith. The 86-year-old actor and national icon died today at his home in North Carolina, the state of his birth and the inspiration for much of his career.
As Andy Taylor, the wise and kindly sheriff of Mayberry, Griffith and his cast captured something about small-town America that even back in the ’60s had begun to fade, a fact that made audiences treasure it all more. TV at the time was dominated by cornpone comedies such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction,” “Green Acres” and “Hee Haw,” but Griffith’s show treated its characters and the community they shared with a respect that other shows never even tried to attain.
Anybody who ever watched more than two or three episodes, for example, will smile at the following exchange among Sheriff Andy, his hapless and overeager deputy Barney Fife and the town drunk Otis Campbell:
Barney Fife: Andy, I’ve this one dead to rights! Otis was drunk. I even gave him a test. I drew a line on the sidewalk and told him to walk it. You know what he said?
Andy Taylor: What?
Barney Fife: He asked me what line. I’ve got this one right, Andy. Otis was drunk!
Andy Taylor: That right, Otis? Did you ask Deputy Fife what line?
Otis Campbell: Yeah; but I didn’t have my specs on and drunk or sober, I can’t see much without my specs.
Andy Taylor: Otis, three hours ago when Deputy Fife arrested you were you drunk?
Otis Campbell: I don’t know; I wasn’t wearin’ my glasses.
Happy Fourth of July everyone, and to serenade us into the holiday, here’s Andy himself, singing a tune you might recognize:
– Jay Bookman