Arts » Casual Observer

In memoriam: Andy Griffith, 1926-2012

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The Indy asked many members of the North Carolina arts community if they'd like to share their thoughts about Andy Griffith, who died at home on Roanoke Island on Tuesday morning at age 86. Here's a selected gathering of their responses. —compiled by Peter Blackstock

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Like Minnie Pearl, Andy Griffith was a child of the middle class who specialized in playing lovable, wised-up hicks.

For me, Griffith's greatest performance is as the country singer with fascist intentions in Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd. That complex movie shows one sly drifter, Lonesome Rhodes, using his cornpone charm to sway public opinion toward a right-wing coup. Kazan goaded the young Griffith into revealing the ambition and irritation and cruelty just behind a star's aw-shucks facade.

Creating a TV vehicle for himself, Griffith opted to stay nice. He farmed out the appealing lunacy to the town drunk, the town barber and one true comic genius as that trembling macho vigilante, Don Knotts. Presiding over the show, Griffith proved himself an able manager and a durable peacekeeper. But his role there lacked the cracked wildness of his football monologue or his rumpled honest turn in Kazan's film. And yet, looking back, we can only celebrate his seeming mildness. Every week Andy saw all sides of each issue; he spelled it all out for Opie in the show's last minutes.

Our beloved state prides itself as a great judge of character. Lately we have made a few slips. But we finally compensated the world for its suffering through more than 30 years of Jesse Helms. In Helms' place, we sent a young man of absolute integrity: John Edwards.

Andy Griffith never fell from grace. He stayed married to one woman. He retired to his native state. His long-running show continued to whistle itself open, then closed. No passing counterfeiter, stiffing Mayberry, ever actually alarms Sheriff Andy Taylor.

And in our world of shock-jock grief, his unsurpriseable mildness, the sweetness of his even temper on-air, now seem the rarest sort of legacy. It gives a far better sample of our state's true heart than either of our recent U.S. Senators ever did.

Our wish for a small town of friends (was it white-only?) might be a fantasy; but like Andy, it will live in reruns forever.

Allan Gurganus, Hillsborough, author of Falls, N.C., to be published next year by Liveright-Norton


It was sad news to hear of Mr. Griffith's passing. My parents were both from Mount Airy, I was a great fan of the show, and later on Frances Bavier was a neighbor of ours in Siler City. But as a bluegrass musician and fan, I feel that featuring bluegrass music on an extremely popular network television show (first The Kentucky Colonels with Roland and Clarence White, and then The Dillards in the recurring role as the Darling family) greatly increased the general public's knowledge of and appreciation for the genre. And Rodney Dillard continues to refer to his role on the program in his music and in his ministry that preaches "Mayberry values."

Tommy Edwards, Pittsboro, co-founder of The Bluegrass Experience


I remember being in the fourth grade knowing that stuff in church was not all that funny, that my one year of TV had brought me something occasionally kind of funny through Howdy Doody or a Mickey Mouse cartoon. All this from animals and puppets. And then one day on the radio I heard a man talking about seeing his first football game and trying to understand what was happening. What a discovery. Human talk can be very funny. It was Andy's recording of "What It Was, Was Football." It gave me a new handle on life, on stories.

Clyde Edgerton, Wilmington, author of 10 novels including last year's Night Train


I grew up on The Andy Griffith Show along with millions of other baby boomers. I lived in Houston during those years, though my dad was from Greensboro and we had often visited North Carolina. He, of course, owned a 45 RPM record of Andy's classic comedy bits "What It Was, Was Football" and "Romeo and Juliet," which we'd quote for years in our best Andy Griffith voices.

Flash forward to the late 1970s. I'd just established the Office of Folklife Programs within the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. Wayne and Margaret Martin were coordinating our Folk Arts in North Carolina Schools program at the time. We were producing a slide show to go with it, and it occurred to us that Andy Griffith would be the perfect narrator. We wrote a script and submitted it to Andy's longtime manager, Richard Linke. Within a few weeks we had a tape in hand with our words and his iconic voice. It seemed amazing to us, and very generous on Andy's part. The line I remember is "Pass the biscuits, please!"

A few years later, I was working on a major festival production at Duke in association with the state's celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Lost Colony. Andy served on the planning commission and was helpful with the project. I saw then what a fiercely intelligent talent he was.

George Holt, Raleigh, director of performing arts and film programs at the N.C. Museum of Art


My dad painted [Andy's] house at least a couple times over the years. I didn't know how famous he was, because I just knew him from the neighborhood. As I got older, I began to understand the scope of what he meant to the town and the state.

Mike Dillon, Chapel Hill, member of the bands Gross Ghost and Motor Skillswho grew up in Manteo with Andy Griffith as a neighbor


About 20 years ago, some friends and I were on a whitewater rafting trip. After dinner one evening, a couple of other North Carolina natives and I were talking at length about favorite moments from The Andy Griffith Show. A friend from New York state said, "Wait a minute—this is your folklore, isn't it?" Pretty much, yeah. R.I.P. Andy Griffith, virtual father to millions, comic genius, creator and star of one of the greatest TV shows in history, and brilliantly monomaniacal as Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd. (Even if, as he later said, "That drama—it ain't no fun.")

Eddie Huffman, Burlington, journalist


I didn't really know Andy Griffith, although he cut a public service announcement or some such thing for N.C. Historic Sites when I worked there more than 30 years ago. Yet Andy Griffith hovered over my life in so many ways that went far beyond the ubiquitous TV show. Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs (whom we lost this year too), Bill Friday, the late expat Charles Kuralt, the Midwestern import Dean Smith, and Andy Griffith did so much to define what it meant to be a North Carolinian during the second half of the 20th century. He was intelligent, gracious, funny—and not Jesse Helms.

I didn't really know Andy, but in the character of Andy Taylor, he showed me a way to be that stayed true to North Carolina traditions in the face of a rapidly changing state. He reminded me to take the time to be decent.

I didn't really know Andy, but he was responsible for my marriage. The image of North Carolina as Mayberry drew my future wife, Becky Johnson, both to the Tar Heel State and to bluegrass music, through which I met her.

I didn't really know Andy, but he gave me a reason to be proud of where I came from at a time—like now—when there were some real issues to be ashamed about.

Art Menius, Carrboro, executive director of The ArtsCenter


I had the pleasure of working on Matlock and met Andy Griffith in the early '90s. After Matlock ended, I got a phone call from the producers at TV Land to see if I was available to do Andy's makeup and stylist work for the unveiling of two bronze statues celebrating The Andy Griffith Show. One statue of Andy and Opie was erected at Pullen Park in Raleigh, and the other was erected in Andy's hometown of Mt. Airy. It was like being reunited with the dearest of friends for the opportunity to see Andy and Cindi Griffith [Andy's wife] once again.

We got along famously and from then on, I would get phone calls directly from Andy asking me if I was available to do a spot (as he would say) for commercials or television shows that he would be asked to do. There were so many fantastic memories and experiences that I will never forget. I always loved the way Andy pronounced my name: It was like Su-zan, as if it had some Southern maple syrup drizzled on the word!

The question is, how do you sum up such special experiences that continued on for years and years? I can honestly say that every moment I spent working with Andy, or just sitting and listening to his wonderful stories, was a gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life. People ask me very often, "Susan, who is the most favorite celebrity that you have ever worked with?" My answer is and always will be Andy Griffith.

Susan Ballard, Cary, professional makeup artist and stylist


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