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

This is Mrs. Norman Maine

July 3rd, 2012
4:51 pm

When I went to college back in the late 80s, I took my tradition of watching TAGS with me back when they still showed it on the Superstation. Well my new friends from up North teased me, called me country, said they couldn’t understand why I watched that show. Lo and behold, one of them accidentally watched an eipsode. All of a sudden, we couldn’t go to dinner until she watched “Andy”, Andy was her boy, Andy said this and Andy said that. It was funny then and it’s funny now that I remember it. His humor transcended generations and race if you only gave it a chance. Those of us who did were the lucky ones.

Bo in North Carolina

July 3rd, 2012
5:02 pm

Bill, thanks for the great article and to all the post that’s taken us down memory lane.

Beast from the East

July 3rd, 2012
5:24 pm

Lost a great one. Millions of us grew up watching Andy, Opie, Barney and the rest of the gang. No Time for Sergeants is still one of my all time favorite comedies. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing a classic.

AltamahaDawg

July 3rd, 2012
5:27 pm

Let me help some of you out, and make your life a lot more pleasant. IF you do watch a rerun of the Andy Griffith Show, taped 25 yrs ago..you are not actually contributing to the re-elect Obama fund. So, its fine.

In fact, considering that anything new on TV or in the theaters is no doubt filled with flaming liberal direct supporters of Obama, (not to mention the current pop culture messages in them) you are probably worse off to watch anything BUT reruns of the Andy Griffith Show.

Bright Idea

July 3rd, 2012
5:45 pm

Far from an Obama supporter here but the fact that so many comments about Andy Griffith drift into politics tells you what a mess our country has become. Watching that show provides a brief break from the insanity but we are so preoccupied with the two party nightmare we won’t let ourselves enjoy it. “Mayor, you beat everthing, you know that, you beat everthing!” Sheriff Andy Taylor while in a tree with a meddling mayor hiding from a bear.

Tommy Tarheel

July 3rd, 2012
6:05 pm

Well said Bill. Loved those Darlings.

Michael

July 3rd, 2012
6:08 pm

America would be a better place if it were run by Sheriff Andy Taylor

UGADawg83

July 3rd, 2012
6:14 pm

A batch of Aunt Bea’s kerosene pickles could ruin any good tailgate and folks like 909 and SSIGator can ruin any blog.

long-time dawg

July 3rd, 2012
6:18 pm

He was-and is-one of the unforgettable characters of my life. I loved him and will miss him.

GATiger

July 3rd, 2012
6:50 pm

Wow! Thanks for reminding us of that record “What it was was football”. My dad used to play that old 45 over and over and we laughed every time like it was the first time we heard it.

Big time??? Not

July 3rd, 2012
7:00 pm

For all you bumblers who can’t seem to stay off dog sites, I just noticed your sale pitch for 2012. “a season of fun. $99″.

Does it beat four tickets, four hot dogs, four cokes? Losers.

SEC Fan

July 3rd, 2012
7:40 pm

The world will continue to revolve about its axis. No big deal.

It's me, it's me - Earnest T...

July 3rd, 2012
7:46 pm

…the best rock thrower in 3 counties. And then he graduated from the 6th grade and Helen couldn’t find words to express what he had learned, so she just said “for learnin”…

Anyone remember when Earnest T was trying to marry Charlene Darlin, and he “stole” her during the ceremony – he’s telling her his virtues and he asks her “how about it”? And under the veil is Barney who says “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last person on earth!” – great classic stuff -

And DawginLex is correct – Earnest T was only in 4 episodes but it seemed like he was a regular.

Thanks for the memories, Andy, and you, Bill, for providing a walk down memory lane…

Dirty Dawg

July 3rd, 2012
8:00 pm

Have to correct myself, As it turns out, Face In The Crowd was his first movie. He did No Time For Sergeants on Broadway and, as it turns out, TV, before the movie was made. An interesting change, at least to me, in the movie (NTFS) from he book was that in the movie the Officer that Will Stockdale couldn’t believe, didnt salute, was a female, whereas in the book it was a black man. Guess we weren’t ready for Southern views of life back then.

Mike

July 3rd, 2012
8:03 pm

The great thing about TAGS for me: I watched it with my mom and dad, my daughter watched it with me and her mother, and I’m sure my gdaughter will watch it with her mom and dad, and gma and gpa. The show willnever lose its appeal. Surely heaven would be stopping in at Floyds bshop visiting withFloyd, Goober, Barney,Andy and Opie. Then somehow pass thru time and wind up at the Longbranch with Matt, Kitty, Festus, and Doc.

Dirty Dawg

July 3rd, 2012
8:07 pm

And one more thing, couldn’t let this go by without mentioning my all-time favorite AGS episode…the one where Barney thought he could sing and was all set to perform in the church, or Mayberry, choir. Fact is he was terrible and they convinced him that the mic was so sensitive that he should only whisper – actually mouth – the words, while unknown to Barn they had someone else singing off stage…well perhaps you had to actually see it to appreciate it, but trust me it was great.

Tallcarl

July 3rd, 2012
8:26 pm

Two things Bill, No one has mentioned ”No time for sergeants”. Also I teach English in Colombia (long way from Warner Robins) at a small private school and often reward the kids on Friday after a good week of work. This year I began letting them watch ”The Andy Griffin Show” and they fell in love with it because it has a simple plot, good moral and includesa family sticking together. .. Keep up the great work from a alum that never gives up on our teams. Go Dogs

Tony Clifton

July 3rd, 2012
8:32 pm

What is this article, some kind of redneck joke? Andy Griffin was a good singer, almost as good as me. My favorite Andy Griffin song was Midnight Special.

WELLLLLLLL, IT’S THE MIDNIGHT SPAY-SHULL, SHINE YOUR LIGHT ON MEEEEEEEE, THE FREAKIN MIDNIGHT SPAAAAYY-SHULLLLL, SHINE YOUR EVER LUVIN LIGHT ON MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!

Tater in AFG

July 3rd, 2012
9:07 pm

Hearing AG tell the stories of Romeo & Juliet, Carman (the opera), How Christopher Columbus discovered America, and Hamlet will make you wet your pants laughing.

Joseph

July 3rd, 2012
9:19 pm

“Us town drunks have a code we live by!”. What a line. RIP Ange!

bardawg

July 3rd, 2012
10:14 pm

I think that there are soo many wonderful memories of Andy Griffith,I certainly loved the show (until they began broadcasting in color,about the time Don Knotts left the program). I’d have to say the episode when Otis came riding into town on Flossie the cow was priceless,as was the episode when they were building a new underpass and had to corale the “loaded goat”. Nobody will ever come close to recreating the timeless humor we all enjoyed in Andy. May he rest in peace.

Bogey

July 3rd, 2012
10:27 pm

“There once was a deputy named Fife,
He carried a gun and a knife,
The gun was all dusty, the knife was all rusty,
cause he never caught a crook in his life.”

I’ve seen all episodes many times and now look forward to watching them again. RIP, Andy

duronimo

July 3rd, 2012
10:27 pm

Well written piece Bill, and a wonderful break from the usual sports banter. That show offered comedy attached to a moral lesson. Andy’s solutions to life’s problems continue to resonate in the lives of average Americans. It’s great to see every new generaton discovering what America we grew up with.

PLO

July 3rd, 2012
11:03 pm

Yessar, “Permanent Latrine Orderlie”

William

July 3rd, 2012
11:23 pm

RIP, Andy. My all time favorite show. You will be missed. You were like a second father to me growing up. I’m so sad right now.

RED DOG 77

July 4th, 2012
12:19 am

I grew-up watching Andy and loved every minute of his shows………..Now is the time to mourn, my friends…………..But remember on the 4th and past, Andy made a grave mistake by backing the Socialist Obama……………We ARE losing our country, and that is far more important than any football game or team…………..God Bless America…………Now is the time to fight for your country my friends…………Make your voices heard this November………….RED

bill

July 4th, 2012
12:32 am

No Time for Sergeants is an excellent movie-check it out. Also, AG could play some very evil characters. A very good villian. An excellent actor all around. A lot of well known actors came out of the old Mayberry show.

ccb

July 4th, 2012
2:14 am

REDDOG77. Please go Tea Bag yourself. People like you are the reason Andy was so special. Go live in a redneck cult and wait for Machete. Peace…

Red Dawn

July 4th, 2012
3:51 am

Andy Griffith Show is my favorite TV program of all
time!! In Nashville, Tn I watch back to back esp’s
that come on at 10:00 pm and 10:30 pm and sleep
like at baby after ti goes off!!

Columbus Dawg

July 4th, 2012
5:46 am

Andy Griffith trivia, While it is true that Earnest T was only in four episodes, Howard Morris also played the part of “George” the TV Repair Man in one episode.

RED, you are so right, and ccb, you are a blithering idiot.

legionaire

July 4th, 2012
6:21 am

I was in high school when he die the “what it was was football” , Enjoyed his series over the years because the whole family could watch. It made me sick when he decided to shill for AARP and their backing of Obamacare. I lost respect in him as a man but not his acting ability.

65dawg

July 4th, 2012
7:54 am

As a skinny college kid in the early sixties, I worked in the summers for a Georgia Power construction crew, working for the same foreman every summer for four years. He thought I looked like Barney Fife, so naturally that became his nickname for me. Until his death, just a few years ago, he called me Barney every time I saw him. What an honor to be linked to the greatest TV show ever!!!!

Columbus Dawg

July 4th, 2012
8:03 am

Hey Bill, hate to change subject but chatter on another blog concerning academic eligibility problems for Big John Jenkins. Can you try to find info on this?

Neutral

July 4th, 2012
8:59 am

Goodness sakes Mr 909…….this is not about UGa issues or about GT rapist coaches, GT players arrested in Athens or even GT’s probation or even GT murderous former basketball player. let it go dude and quit throwing stones in your glass house. P.S. Great article about a great man….thanks Bill.

AltamahaDawg

July 4th, 2012
10:21 am

Sure I can sing acapella. Aaaa Ca pellaaaa.

Dirty Dawg

July 4th, 2012
10:25 am

ccb…if you haven’t figured it out by now, folks like red dog and columbus will never admit they’re wrong so what’s the use in trying to convince em? They’ve become part of a ‘movement’ that has given themselves over to hate, greed and bigotry. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been with us only that at one time we shrugged, or laughed, em off – you know the J.B. Stoners of our past – a past that sadly, is revisiting us…in spades. Andy Griffith was a good man, with wonderful values…and what’s up with these folks that have a problem with the US attempting to improve its healthcare ’system’, or at least make it available to even ‘the least of us’?

441North

July 4th, 2012
1:34 pm

Wrong or right, I’m her to fight…………………..

441North

July 4th, 2012
1:35 pm

Uhhh……here

Mr. Dawg

July 4th, 2012
4:06 pm

Great article Bill. The day of Andy’s passing coincided with the birthday of my Grandpa who passed away 8 years ago. Grandpa was a man who valued American history and had a great sense of humor. I believe I inherited both. TAGS is my favorite TV show of all time. In a tribute to both men and in recognition of the July 4 holiday which we celebrated with Grandpa along side his birthday every year when I was growing up, I posted a YouTube video on my Facebook Page. The video is lifted from a TAGS episode where Barney brags to Andy that he still has memorized the Preamble to the US Constitution as written in his eighth grade high school history book which he had dug up. I’m sure you know the scene. Barney as it turns out can’t recall a single word of it and Andy with book in hand ultimately guides him through it from begining to end even breaking up words by syllable. Like you said, No jokes or punchlines. Just two of the great characters in TV history in on of their many, many great and hilarious scenes together

BiggDawgK

July 4th, 2012
4:08 pm

If you want to see an example of how great a dramatic actor Andy was as well check out A Face In The Crowd. It’s a role unlike anything else he ever did and it is more relevant today than ever.

441North

July 4th, 2012
4:29 pm

Ol’ man Kelsey’s ocean ! ! !

Danny Wofford

July 4th, 2012
6:21 pm

Andy Griffith was the greatest! I loved the show and still watch it faithfully although I have seen all the episodes. I never tire of the special nature of that show. There was no violence, hatred, or bigotry…just good stories that captivated the sensibilities.

Rabid Dawg'84

July 5th, 2012
12:10 am

How about teh deep throaty voice, “Hello, Doll” and the high pitched, “Oh, Berney!” I surely hope that eh is with the Lord Jesus.

Rabid Dawg'84

July 5th, 2012
12:27 am

Bass:
“The only thing betwixt me and sweet love is a …uniform”

Rabid Dawg'84

July 5th, 2012
12:44 am

Turning 50 and got an AARP card and app in the mail. I wrote on it, “YOU SUPPORTED OBAMACARE, SO I WOULDN’T JOIN YOU’RE CRAPPY LIBERAL ORGANIZATION. STOP TRYING TO DESTROY OUR COUNTRY!’

RED DOG 77

July 5th, 2012
1:07 am

Dirty Dawg, and ccb……….Actually what is so very sad is people like yourselves fail to study history. History will prove without any doubt Socialism has never worked. Hate? you say hate?……Give me one example of Socialism working. Dirty Dawg, you implied perhaps you may be a member of the “least of us”…………..and that Obama was making healthcare available to you…………Nosereebobtail Dirty Dawg………..Columbus Dawg and I make or rather are forced to pay for your healthcare…………Yup, we work, you sit, eat pizza, drink beer collect food stamps, support a government who puts a gun to my head so you can have what you are not willing to work for…………And you say hate? I work and lazy losers like you take from me and you say hate?…………..Dirty Dawg I grew-up in the 60s and am one birthday away from being 60………I have always stood against racism, bigotry and the like…………..This has nothing to do with race, and you know it………….Perhaps you are the racist…………We know you are the thief………And you say hate?………………Read and study, the truth will set you free…………….RED

hws

July 5th, 2012
7:49 am

well said red dog

Festus dog

July 5th, 2012
8:16 am

Man it’s the best show ever. There are so many favorites and so many funny lines. One i haven’t heard mention is when Barney and Gomer were having to get Andy and Helen out of the cave. Barney was in charge and having to round everyone up. He told Gomer to go get his stupid cousin Goober, And Gomer says he aint stupid, Barney say’s what, Gomer say’s he aint stupid, He might be ugly but he aint stupid, LOL…… So Funny. Thanks Bill for letting us all remember. Love Andy and all the characters.

Old Dawg

July 5th, 2012
8:29 am

Andy Griffith’s character on the show reminds me of my father. He had rules, but he also had a brain and heart to help us through our problems.

I agree that the show’s the best depiction of a father-son relationship. If only more shows would work to heighten their presentation of those relationships. I think we’d all be better off than what we have now.

Very nice piece, Bill. Go Dawgs!!

Hatfieldgeoff

July 5th, 2012
9:23 am

Hey Holy Guacamole,

One of the basic problems with this country today is everyone forming their opinion of others on how they vote on election day. Andy Griffith was an American with the right to voice his political opinion, just like every other American. I don’t like John Wayne any less because he was a Republican. If you think less of anyone because of their political affiliation alone that is you shortcoming. And unfortunantly one you share with far too many Americans.