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Friday, July 06, 2012

The Andy Griffith Show

The world lost a television legend on July 3, 2012, when we said farewell to Andy Griffith, who died at the age of 86.

I imagine that millions of people all over the world mourned his passing. None more so than the people who lived in the community of Manteo, North Carolina, where Andy Griffith had lived. I remember watching a news report that aired yesterday regarding his passing, and the people spoke so lovingly of him, and held him in such high regard. I was thinking to myself how touching it was, and how beautiful it was. It really demonstrated what an impact he had on the world of entertainment.

And what an impact it was!

I thought that for today's blog entry, I would take the opportunity to do a tribute to Andy Griffith by talking about his life and times, as well as one show that made him (and several others) household names famous.

Andy Griffith was born on June 1, 1926 in the community of Mount Airy, North Carolina (which also happens to be the date of birth of another famous star, Marilyn Monroe). He was born to a family that didn't have a lot of fact, he spent the first few months of his life sleeping inside a dresser drawer, as his family didn't have a crib or a bed for him to sleep in. But Andy made his upbringing work. He ended up spending his early childhood listening to music, as well as hearing his father tell him dozens of old family stories...stories which he later admitted contributed to the development of his sense of humour. And although he initially struggled with finding friendships in school, his jokes and charming wit won his classmates over, and the formerly shy student broke out of his comfort zone once and for all.

In high school, he participated in his high school's drama program, and had Ed Mickey as a mentor. Mickey, who was a Moravian priest, taught Andy how to play the trombone, and how to sing. He ended up being more influential than he realized, as initially Andy had decided to become a Moravian priest himself. Instead, he opted to go into the field of music, graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor of music in 1949. It should also be noted that before he graduated from college, he played roles in several student operettas including “The Mikado” and “The Chimes of Normandy”.

After graduating, Andy ended up working as a music and drama teacher at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, North Carolina. In 1953, he took on a job reading and performing monologues on records. One of his most successful projects was one entitled “What It Was, Was Football”, a monologue that was told from the point of view of a rural backwoodsman trying to understand what was happening at a football game. Believe it or not, the monologue was released as a single, and peaked at #9 in 1954! It proved to be the beginning of his recording career. Did you know that between 1953 and 2005, he released twenty albums? And, that's only scratching the surface.

In 1957, Griffith ended up netting his first role in a dramatic film, “A Face In The Crowd”. He played a country boy who thrived on manipulation and greed (characteristics which contrasted from any other role he played). Griffith enjoyed the role, because it allowed him to perform a more complex role, and even believed that the film became more popular as time went on.

The late 1950s was also a monumental period for Griffith as he ended up befriending a man by the name of Don Knotts. The two met while on the set of the 1958 movie “No Time For Sergeants” (which coincidentally was the inspiration behind Gomer Pyle USNC), and immediately hit it off.

Little did Griffith and Knotts know that this film wouldn't be the first time that they would end up working together just a couple of years later. And that this project would end up changing the life of a 6-year-old boy forever.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The year was 1960. Sheldon Leonard, who was already the successful producer of The Danny Thomas Show, had just commissioned Arthur Stander (who wrote several episodes of The Danny Thomas Show) to create a sitcom venture for Andy Griffith. Griffith had previously expressed some desire to attempt a television role, and after having meetings with Leonard, Griffith filmed an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which introduced the new character that Andy was to play.

On February 15, 1960, the episode “Danny Meets Andy Griffith” aired for the first time. It was the first introduction of Andy Taylor, the sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina, and in the episode, Taylor arrests Danny Williams (played by Danny Thomas) for running a stop sign. The episode was also notable for its guest stars in addition to Griffith. Actress Frances Bavier was cast as Henrietta Perkins, a random townsperson, and a little red-haired boy named Ronny Howard (who was just a few weeks shy of his sixth birthday) was cast as Andy's son, Opie Taylor. Remember those names for later.

The episode was a great success in the ratings, and immediately garnered the attention of the show's main sponsor, General Foods. They were the ones who had first access to the spinoff and immediately voiced their committal to sponsoring the new program as well.

That new program would end up becoming “The Andy Griffith Show”.

The show debuted on CBS on October 3, 1960, and was a hit right from the beginning. Ronny Howard made the transition to the program, continuing to play Opie Taylor, as did Frances Bavier. But instead of playing the role of an average Mayberry citizen, a new role was created for her, the role of housekeeper Aunt Bee. As if being the widowed sheriff of Mayberry wasn't stressful enough for Andy Taylor, he also had to deal with bumbling lawbreakers, demanding girlfriends, dense-minded friends, and the klutziness of his faithful deputy, Barney Fife, who was played by Don Knotts, reuniting him with his old friend, Andy.

And since we're talking about the show, here's some more trivia facts about the show.

1 – The show ended up running for eight seasons, concluding its run on April 1, 1968.

2 – Although the show wrapped up in 1968, that didn't mean that we saw the last of Mayberry. Frances Bavier signed on to do the spinoff “Mayberry R.F.D.”, which debuted in September of that year. That spinoff lasted until 1971.

3 – A television reunion movie was filmed and aired in 1986, “Return To Mayberry”. The film reunited most of the original cast, and was the highest rated television movie of 1986.

4 – Originally, Barney Fife was portrayed as Andy's cousin in three of the first six episodes of the series. After that, it was never mentioned again.

5 – The show was filmed at Desilu Studios.

6 – The show's music, “The Fishin' Hole”, was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer. The lyrics were written by Everett Sloane, who guest starred in a 1962 episode. The whistling was performed by Hagen.

7 – The series was very successful during its whole run. It was always in the Top 10 of the Neilsen ratings, and when the show signed off for good in 1968, it ranked at number one.

8 – It was apparent that Don Knotts and Frances Bavier were well-respected as actors. Between the two of them, they ended up winning six Emmy Awards.

9 – During the show's entire run, Andy Griffith never won an Emmy Award. Nor did the show itself.

10 – This show ended up being the launchpad for Ronny Howard's career. A few years later, he opted to simply go by Ron Howard, who starred in another successful sitcom, “Happy Days”, and became a successful film director, responsible for directing such films as “Splash”, “Cocoon”, and “Apollo 13”, amongst many others.

11 – Ron Howard is now the only original cast member of the series still living. Bavier passed away in December 1989, Knotts passed away in February 2006, and Griffith passed away three days ago.

12 - Howard McNear, who played Floyd the Barber on the show actually suffered a stroke while filming the series. When it became impossible for McNear to stand, the producers filmed his last few episodes with him sitting down.

13 – McNear eventually left the series because of his ailing health. When he left, Floyd's barber shop became Emmit's Fix-It Shop.

14 – Initially, Griffith and Knotts were committed to a five-year-contract, with both expecting the series to wrap up at the end of the 1964/65 season. When the fifth season ended, Knotts signed a five year deal with Universal Pictures. However, when the show was picked up for the 1965/66 season, Griffith attempted to offer Knotts a contract for another three years. But since Knotts couldn't break the contract, he was forced to leave the show as a regular cast member.

15 – Ever wonder why Andy's hand is bandaged up during the second season? On the show, it was explained that he had injured it apprehending criminals, but in reality, Griffith had broken his hand after punching a wall. Wow, I'd hate to see the wall.

16 – Helen Crump was supposed to be a one-off character, but producers were so impressed by actress Aneta Corsaut that they made her a series regular.

17 – Rockne Tarkington was the only African-American character to have a speaking guest role on the show.

18 – Look closely at the maps that are featured behind Andy's desk. One is simply a map of the state of Nevada flipped upside down.

19 – When Don Knotts left the series, actor Jerry Van Dyke was tapped to replace him. Instead he chose to act in the sitcom “My Mother, The Car”. He later admitted that he made the wrong choice.

20 – Opie Taylor was named after Opie Cates, a 1930s/1940s band leader.

There's a lot more trivia that I can share with all of you about this show, but I'll leave it to all of you to find it for yourselves. But one thing I'll point out about this show is how all of the stars of the program managed to become successful years after the show ended. I already mentioned the success that Ron Howard experienced post-Andy Griffith show, but Don Knotts managed to find success in his later years. He starred in the successful film, “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” the year before he left The Andy Griffith Show, and played the role of Ralph Furley on “Three's Company” from 1979 until the show's end in 1984.

As for Andy Griffith, he ended up having a fantastic and rewarding career years after his time in Mayberry came to an end. He guest starred in dozens of television series, appeared in a few movies, and in 1986, he ended up becoming the star of Matlock, which ran until 1995.

But I think the biggest legacy Andy Griffith left behind for his fans and friends was his determination and work ethic. He worked hard for all of his successes, and more importantly, he enjoyed the climb. I think his rise to success can be an inspiration to all of us, and I truly believe that we could all take a page out of his guide to life, and that we'd all be better people for it.

Rest in peace, Andy. And, know that millions of people loved, and will continue to love you.

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