What it was, was greatness (Updated)

Andy Griffith got his start with a comedy bit about college football. (CBS)

Andy Griffith got his start with a comedy bit about college football. (CBS)

Please pardon me if I depart from the usual subject here to reminisce a little bit about Andy Griffith, who died today at 86.

He was one of my all-time favorite actors, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him several times over the years and spending a few hours with him. He was a very nice man and a smart man and a great storyteller.

Ironically, the last time I saw him, I was riding an elevator in New York City with him and his wife Cindy, and since she was a Florida Gator and this was the mid-1980s, the subject of the 1980 Georgia-Florida game happened to come up. I got a real kick out of the fact that Andy, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a big booster of that school, teased his wife about how Georgia came from behind to take the win over Florida.

Of course, Griffith’s first big break in show business was with a comedy recording that provided a hillbilly satire on college football, “What It Was, Was Football.”

Update: My brother Jon heard from his friend Jack Murray, grandson of former UGA head coach Wally Butts, who remembers around 1954 Griffith came to Athens, stayed at Butts’ house and performed “What It Was, Was Football” at halftime of a UGA football game at Sanford Stadium. The crowd loved it, he says.

Griffith went on to star in “The Andy Griffith Show,” definitely one of the most popular TV comedies of all time, and later in the “Matlock” series. Here’s a piece I wrote a couple of years ago when the Griffith show marked its 50th anniversary:

I couldn’t begin to count the hundreds of times I’ve watched most of the eight seasons of episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” over the years. It’s my all-time favorite TV show.

And my love for Andy, Barney and Opie is something I share with my family. My brothers and I have incorporated treasured lines from the show into our everyday conversations for decades, and that tradition is now being carried on by another generation. Recently at a Grandparents Day luncheon at the assisted living place where my Dad lives, my daughter Olivia turned down another serving by echoing Griffith show character Briscoe Darling, who once declined a piece of pie by noting that three was his “high water mark.” After the server had turned away, my brother Tim shook his head in amusement, noting that Olivia was “talking Mayberry to a complete stranger.”

That’s how it is in our family. And yet when “The Andy Griffith Show” premiered on CBS at 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 3, 1960, I wasn’t watching.

I was only 8 years old, and it was past my bedtime!

I clearly remember, though, the next morning at breakfast, my Mom told us about this new show that had been on the previous night and how cute the little boy was, and my Southern born-and-bred Dad proceeded to tell us about the episode, much in the style of Griffith’s own storytelling.

I’m not sure when I finally got to see the Griffith show that first season, but I imagine it was over the holidays when there was no school and bedtime rules were relaxed somewhat. I’m pretty sure I was watching regularly by the time summer reruns arrived. And I’ve been enjoying the show ever since, throughout its prime time run, the “Andy of Mayberry” daytime repeats in the mid- to late ’60s that made a day off from school such a treat (paired with another favorite, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”), and on through many years of continuous syndicated reshowings on various TV outlets, including Ted Turner’s old Superstation and now TV Land (where the Griffith show is the only remaining reason to tune in to that devolving cable channel).

In the never-never land of reruns, folks are still dancing to Freddy Fleet and His Band With a Beat. Ernest T. Bass is chunking rocks through the town’s windows. Charlene Darling says, “That’n makes me cry” whenever Andy and her Pa and brothers crank up “Salty Dog.” Barney takes Thelma Lou up to the duck pond and gets his face slapped. Andy and Barney get accidentally locked in their own cells. Sarah the unseen operator handles all calls, no matter what time of day or night. Barn keeps that single bullet in his breast pocket because of what Andy calls his “greasy” trigger finger. Andy and Opie start many a day down at Myers’ Lake, the ole fishin’ hole. And for only 80 cents you can still get three Vienna sausages, heavy on the tomatoe puree, a slice of bread buttered on both sides and an ample serving of succotash at the Mayberry diner. Be sure to leave a tip for Olive the waitress. She’s a poor widow, you know.

Fans of the show continue to watch episodes of the Griffith show over and over long after they’ve practically memorized them (hence my family’s Mayberryspeak) in the same way lovers of great books like to re-read them. Walking down the hall a couple of weeks ago on my way to my Dad’s room, I heard him and Tim laughing out loud. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find them watching one of TV Land’s Mayberry marathons.

Mention the Griffith show to a fan and they’re sure to recount a favorite bit. Like the time Barney was pretending to talk to another girl on the phone to make Thelma Lou jealous and the phone suddenly rang. “You wanna get that Barn,” Andy said with a grin, “you’re closer.” Or when the new kid in town who’s taught Opie about throwing tantrums to get your way is shown up as a hopeless brat in the end. “Is Arnold gonna get spanked?” Opie asks his dad. “Don’t you think he deserves it?” Andy replies. “I don’t wanna say,” the boy answers. “After all, he is one of my own kind.”

When you still laugh even though you know what’s coming, that’s the true mark of a comedy classic.

I think “TAGS” ranks as one of the top TV series ever. The writing was superb. The characters so fully developed that viewers knew them as well as they did their own friends. Don Knotts drew most of the plaudits for his unforgettable creation, Barney Fife, but I believe Griffith deserves the lion’s share of the credit. He not only was the personable “face” of the show, he was its guiding hand behind the scenes. Although he didn’t take a writing credit, he was involved in shaping almost every episode.

As laugh-out-loud funny as many episodes are, what really sets the Griffith show apart from most sitcoms of its era are the relationships, particularly that between Andy and Opie, which to my mind is still the BEST father-son portrayal I’ve ever seen. Andy wasn’t the typical bumbling father of ’60s sitcoms and Opie was far from the typical sitcom brat.

Those characters felt real and the love between them was undeniable. I know grown men who still choke up (and, yes, I’m one of them) whenever they see the scene where Andy tries to prepare Opie for a confrontation with a bully. Words fail him. So he just lifts his son up and hugs him close.

There used to be a bumper sticker you could buy that summed up part of the appeal of the show for many folks who revel in the loving respite from the hassles of daily life that they find in the idealized little North Carolina town created by Griffiith and company. “I’d rather be in Mayberry,” it declared.

My friend Jeff Cochran, who writes for the Like the Dew online magazine, sent me some questions recently for a piece he’s doing on the Griffith show and its place in the 1960s. He asked if I thought it was the producers’ intent from the beginning to make Mayberry “a pleasant isolated spot” away from the tumult of that decade.

I told him I don’t think Griffith and producer Sheldon Leonard set out to make Mayberry a place apart from contemporary life — just a place apart from big city America, as personified by New York City. Thus the fish-out-of-water pilot episode that aired on “The Danny Thomas Show” in which Danny gets pulled over by Andy for speeding in Mayberry and is amazed by how different everything is there. Especially at the start, Mayberry was drawn very broadly, as was Andy’s character. Both moderated as the years went past.

I do believe it was intentional, however, for the comedy to be timeless. Andy has said as much over the years. Just as he didn’t want the show to be about “jokes” so much as it was “characters,” he didn’t want it to be particularly topical. A wise decision. Topical shows don’t age that well.

Mayberry, on the other hand, is forever.

Feel free to share your own memories of Andy Griffth.

177 comments Add your comment

MIchaelP

July 3rd, 2012
1:39 pm

Raised In Chapel Hill with family in Mt Airy , NC the prototype of Mayberry, RFD. Great show growing up.

GO DAWGS

Big Al

July 3rd, 2012
1:39 pm

Sadly, in the span of 2 months we’ve lost Andy, Goober, and Sam Drucker.

Jacket99

July 3rd, 2012
1:40 pm

Spanky

July 3rd, 2012
1:35 pm
RIP, Andy! No Time for Seargants is also a pretty funny movie! When he snaps to attention in the latrine and the toilet seats fly up,…priceless!!
——————————–
That was hilarious! Truly priceless!

GAFan

July 3rd, 2012
1:43 pm

The opening along with most of the outdoor woodsy scenes were filmed were filmed north of Beverly Hills at Franklin Canyon

Stiffneck

July 3rd, 2012
1:45 pm

Really, the Andy Griffith show was one of the best shows of all time. Very wholesome good clean entertainment that was very funny. Good stories and a great cast. Never will forget Barney saying “We have two rules here at the rock”. Of course he was talking about the the tiny jail cells they had.

Wish all inmates were forced to watch this show opposed to the crap that’s on now.

RIP Andy.

Legend of Len Barker

July 3rd, 2012
1:46 pm

Yes, Griffith performed at UGA.

Just a week or two ago, I was browsing some microfilm and came across an article in one of the state’s little weekly newspapers promoting it.

I think it was for homecoming as Griffith also had to put in an appearance at a dance associated with whatever was happening that weekend.

909

July 3rd, 2012
1:48 pm

Well, it’s Tuesday.

Which UGA player(s) have been

1. Arrested
2. Suspended from the team
3. Kicked out of school
4. Failed out of school
5. Failed to academically qualify for their scholarship

UGA1976

July 3rd, 2012
1:51 pm

Ernest T was trying to make a hit at Mrs. Wiley’s Tea Party–

ERNEST T: (practicing his speech pattern with Andy): How…do…you…do…Mrs. Wiley?
ANDY: Now that’s comin’ along pretty good. Now try talkin’ through your mouth more.
You’re twangin’. You seem to be talkin’ through your nose.
ERNEST T: Uh, well, I do that so’s I can talk whilst I eat.
ANDY: Let’s just keep workin’ on it!

After the Tea Party, Mrs. Wiley describes to Andy her encounter with a “creature” named
Ernest T. Bass–

MRS. WILEY: And then he burst into the house uninvited and started behaving in the most peculiar manner.
ANDY: Like what, Mrs. Wiley?
MRS. WILEY: Oh, uh, well, he stuck his hand in the punch bowl, and he ate every bit of the watermelon rind. And if that wasn’t enough, he soaked the paper napkins in the punch, and then he threw them at the ceiling.
ANDY: Well, didn’t anybody try to stop him?
MRS. WILEY: Mr. Schwump–tried to pinch him, but he just giggled and jumped away.

GAFan

July 3rd, 2012
1:51 pm

909, I agree with you on the UGA stuff, but this is about Andy Griffith, not the football team. Although it would do Richt well, along with most families out there today to make their kids sit down and watch Andy Griffith. As opposed to the corrupt crap on television today!

GAFan

July 3rd, 2012
1:54 pm

Also make all the thugs down robbing and assaulting all the students at Tech watch it too!

atl

July 3rd, 2012
1:54 pm

I loved Andy Griffith… I have several tapes and dvd’s of Andy and watch him everyday!!! R.I.P. Andy once again you and Barney are together again….best show ever!!!!!!

suwanne dawg

July 3rd, 2012
2:01 pm

Best show ever in the early years when Opie was young. The Andy / Opie scene before contronting the bully still moves me.

Jacket99

July 3rd, 2012
2:07 pm

Where is buLLdawg to give us some statistics showing that Andy Griffith is not as funny as we thought?

BC

July 3rd, 2012
2:09 pm

I loved the Romeo and Juliet story at the kitchen table with Opie and Aunt Bee. “Hark, they said hark alot in those days”. Priceless stuff that you wont see anymore. We all knew this day was coming!

Nick

July 3rd, 2012
2:10 pm

The world definitely lost a good man and a friend to everyone that watched him, even though we didn’t ever have the priviledge of meeting him. There are fewer and fewer quality people in show business these days, so even though you knew it had to happen, we’ve all lost another piece of GOOD in this world. He will be remebered fondly and missed very much.

Classy piece, by the way, Bill. Thanks.

The Rev Al

July 3rd, 2012
2:16 pm

Having grown up watching The Andy Griffith Show I feel a true sense of loss as though I am saying goodbye to a wonderful friend. His signature show offered many invaluable ‘life’s lessons’ through its simple humor and small town values of friendship, caring about others and most of all….doing the right thing. May God Bless he and his family. Somewhere, I know he and Deputy Fife will all join together again at Floyd’s Barbershop for a reunion.

Spanky

July 3rd, 2012
2:17 pm

UGA1976, LMAO!! Yeah, and how ’bout the times Andy played guitar with the Darlins, with Paw (Uncle Jesse Duke) getting the hots for Aunt Bee!….TATERRRS!!

hadleyferrydawg

July 3rd, 2012
2:20 pm

My favorite episode was of the stranger who came through town and spoke to everyone, but no one recognized him. They were about to run him out of town until he explained he had read the Mayberry newspaper that his friend received each week. He began to feel that those he read about were his own neighbors and adopted Mayberry. I was fortunate to marry into my own little “Mayberry”.

hws

July 3rd, 2012
2:20 pm

Great article about the best show ever filmed. To many good lines to list. All families need to watch and take notes. Good job Bill. God Bless and “NIP IT! NIP IT IN THE BUD!”

Bama in Atlanta

July 3rd, 2012
2:28 pm

Barney Fife:

Now here at the Rock we have two rules. Memorize them until you can say them in your sleep.

Rule number one: obey all rules.

Rule number two: no writing on the walls.

Tech Man

July 3rd, 2012
2:29 pm

Hey Andy, say hey to Barney!

Cari

July 3rd, 2012
2:34 pm

Many of my childhood summer morning started with a whistle and a trip to the fishin hole with Opie and Andy.

But what really up’d Mr. Griffith’s street cred IMO was his appearance on Arrested Development. What it was, was genius.

Wish him a nice fishin hole up in the sky.

DawginLex

July 3rd, 2012
2:36 pm

1976

Remember when Andy asked if Barney was going to Mrs wiley’s to find a girl?

Barney said: “Nah. Dogs, all dogs. If you flew a quail through there every single one of them would point!”

DP

July 3rd, 2012
2:43 pm

I haven’t seen anybody mention one of Andy’s last movie roles, in the independent film Waitress from 2007 or so. The young woman who wrote the script and played one of the main characters was tragically murdered not too long after the movie was released. It is a wonderful film and Andy is very good as an old curmudgeon who is a regular at the diner.

Al

July 3rd, 2012
2:43 pm

One of the all-time great shows. RIP Andy!
Tell Barney & Goober, Al says hey

dbc

July 3rd, 2012
2:46 pm

RIP Andy. Some of my fondest childhood memories were rushing home from school, grabbing the Charles Chips can, and watching Andy Griffith on the old WTCG. My favs were The Pickle Story and Barney’s First Car. And of course, old Earnest T.

ole dawg

July 3rd, 2012
2:49 pm

Great line Dawgin! Andy Griffith and Billy Graham are two men that I hold the utmost respect for. A rare combination of class and character that has rarely been seen. They damn sure don’t make em like those two anymore. A look at some of the idiotic comments on here that display a lack of respect for Andy creates a huge question as to whether any more like them will come along. Greatly pleased that my 20 year old son texted me the news that we had lost Andy and he said, “Daddy, we lost a good one!”

Dontsufferfools

July 3rd, 2012
2:50 pm

“Why you shootin’ at each other?” “Cause we a feudin’.” Why you a feudin’?” “Cause we a shootin’ at each other!”

Marty

July 3rd, 2012
2:52 pm

One of my all time favorites is when Aunt Bee is on jury duty. Everyone wants to convict Jack Nicholson (yes, the academy award winning great actor) except for Aunt Bee. She doesn’t have any real evidence but “He just has an honest face”. After he is set free, Jack thanks Aunt Bee. When one of the other jurists states: “thank her, you ought to pay her”. Goober threatens “Mister, don’t make me use my fists on you!” It turns out Aunt Bee was correct and all the jurists tell her what a pleasure it was to have served on the jury with her.

Bama Dawg

July 3rd, 2012
2:52 pm

Great article Bill. My mom grew up in Mount Airy, right behind the Rockford Stree School – now the Andy Griffith Theater. Granddaddy managed the granite quary where Andy’s father worked and Uncle Harry and Andy were good friends who managed to get into trouble every now and then while growing up. I remember some of the stories of their escapades and can see how Andy intertwined some of them into the show. Good memories! Thanks

Al

July 3rd, 2012
2:54 pm

“Do you know what your sheriff carries in the trunk of the squad car?”
“A SHOVEL AND A RAKE!!”
Then Goober says “Ain’t you gotta a jack?” Classic!!

daslicksta

July 3rd, 2012
2:57 pm

Hey 909,
You are a fine example of why that crowd of North Ave. Nerds are so loved in Athens; no class, no values, no common sense…
R.I.P. Sheriff Taylor/Ang/Paw…

Dawg_Mike

July 3rd, 2012
3:02 pm

Thanks for the diversion from the norm, Bill.
I grew up in the 60’s, so my memories of the AG show are still fresh. Good old fashioned wholesome entertainment. Often imitated, never duplicated.

America lost an Icon today. Andy, go find Ol “Barn” and sit on the porch for a spell. You earned it.

Taylor Maxwell

July 3rd, 2012
3:02 pm

Bill, I don’t think I could have possibly said it any better. You really hit home with this one.I am 57 years old and I remember the same way you do.Igrew up with this and the Dick Van Dyke show when I could beg to stay up late enough. I most appreciate your memories of old Andy just as I have. Bless you Bill ; we are a dying breed .

Floyd

July 3rd, 2012
3:04 pm

The Mount Pilot girls. nuff said.

J.T. Keene

July 3rd, 2012
3:05 pm

Great memories Bill. I think I know almost every line. In the Mississippi Delta a radio station carried Maberry and it was fun listening to it and knowing exactly what was going to be said next and remembering the expressions on the faces. You didn’t mention that Andy’s first picture ( I think) was a “Face in a crowd” with Patricia Neal. He was a con man that turned politician. I too wish he had never made that “care” commercial.

Al

July 3rd, 2012
3:08 pm

The “Fun Girls” Skippy & Daphne “Hello doll”

Legend of Len Barker

July 3rd, 2012
3:11 pm

Griffith: It’s a major step.
Knotts: The last big thing I bought was my mom’s and dad’s anniversary present.
Griffith: What’d you get ‘em?
Knotts: Septic tank.
Griffith: For their anniversary?
Knotts: Well, they’re really hard to buy for. Besides, it was something they could use. They were really thrilled. Two tons of concrete, all steel-reinforced.
Griffith: You’re a fine son, Barn.

Linda Rushing

July 3rd, 2012
3:19 pm

I loved Andy, Opie, Aunt Bee, Barnie and all of the characters on the show. I used to dream of living in Mayberry. It was like Heaven on Earth. I still dream of it from time to time.

Aaron Murray

July 3rd, 2012
3:42 pm

Jeez……..give it a rest.

66DAWGnNC

July 3rd, 2012
3:43 pm

Thanks for the memories Bill. The Andy Griffith show is my all time favorite. My favorite episode is “The Loaded Goat” episode. Otis states, “That’s the first time I ever fell off the bed onto the wall.” I still think that is hilarious.

Met Goober (George Lindsay) about 15 years ago at a resort in NE Florida. He had some funny stories about the show he shared with us that day. One thing he said that really surprised me was that every regular on the show (excluding Opie), had a college degree. I thought that to be very interesting.

For DawgnLex who posted much earlier, he stated that Earnest T. was only in 4 episodes and was not a regular. Not arguing with you here, but if you will notice the credits, Howard Morris (aka Earnest T. Bass), directed many episodes. Thus, he was an integral part of the show both on and off camera. Just FYI there friend, not trying to dis you or anything.

Keep up the good work Bill. It is nice to read an article about a wonderful time in American TV history. May the dimwits who still insist on posting nonsense to a serious blog get a life.

Go DAWGS!!!

bigdee

July 3rd, 2012
3:43 pm

Well, now Andy will have his first vacation in a while and a chance to catch up on his National Geographics.

rotomeister

July 3rd, 2012
3:44 pm

As Andy once sang in an attempt to stop town drunk Otis from learning to drive: “We shall meet, but we shall miss him.”

kingdaddy

July 3rd, 2012
3:56 pm

Nice story Bill.
Everytime Bitter post, I think about Earnest T. Bass and a pocket full of rocks…

Dirty Dawg

July 3rd, 2012
4:02 pm

Tell ya what, if you don’t like the idea that Andy Griffith would endorse health-care for all – or at least for a lot more – then you can’t appreciate who he was and certainly not the character he almost always played. The Lonesome Rhoades character in Face In The Crowd was ‘against type’ almost before we knew who Andy was and what he was to become. By the way, I believe No Time For Sergeants was his first movie.

3rd Thompson Twin

July 3rd, 2012
4:03 pm

A UGA fan talking about the 1980 season?

As much as things change, they still stay the same…

Ghost

July 3rd, 2012
4:11 pm

909, Did you wake up on the wrong side of probation? Or just sick of being dominated by Georgia for the past 55 years?

Whiskey Breath

July 3rd, 2012
4:38 pm

Years ago a reporter asked Andy if he felt like Opie’s real father. He nicely stated that was not the case, they had strickly a professional relationship. Andy could have easily talked about their close relationship, which was very true. But rather than hurt Ron Howard and his father, Andy took the high road. I think everyone learned a little about class that day. Andy was the ultimate southern gentleman, on TV and real life.

909

July 3rd, 2012
4:45 pm

U – You

G – Get

A – Arrested

ROTFLMAO !!

cb

July 3rd, 2012
4:49 pm

Loved some Matlock. That blaring trumpet from its theme song is in my head now. Travel well, Andy.