AT LARGE with TOM WILLIAMS: Mayberry will always be with us

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AT LARGE with TOM WILLIAMS: Mayberry will always be with us AT LARGE with TOM WILLIAMS: Mayberry will always be with us

 If you are among the millions who have enjoyed “The Andy Griffith Show,” you can probably whistle the opening theme. It was one of the many features of a television show that made a strong impression on those who were television watchers in the 1960s.

It all started as an episode of the Danny Thomas show and went on to become one of the most successful television programs of all time. There was a lot of talent associated with it. Thomas’ production company produced the show, which was shot at Desilu Studios, owned by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.

The show was designed to be the story of a small town sheriff and his young son. But it didn’t take the writers and producers long to realize that they had a brilliant comic actor in Don Knotts. It quickly became more a show about a sheriff and his deputy.

Knotts was a regular as Deputy Barney Fife for five of the show’s eight seasons and he won the Emmy Award as best supporting actor all five years. He would return occasionally as a guest star in the final three years. Surprisingly, the only other Emmy won by the show was best supporting actress by Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bea.

There are books and websites and fan clubs all over the world devoted to “The Andy Griffith Show,” which can still be seen in syndication. Back-to-back episodes currently run every weekday at 11:30 a.m. on TVLand. The show brings back a time when people didn’t have to lock their doors and when children could play pretty much anywhere around town. But it featured terrific writing and not only great acting from the lead actors, but an impressive lineup of supporting characters, who brought great humor to every episode.

In a poll about 20 years ago, the most popular episode was one called “Man in a Hurry.” It was about a high-energy businessman whose car breaks down in Mayberry, forcing him to wait 24 hours before he can get back on the road. The slow pace of the town gradually gets him to relax.

That is the basic story of Mayberry. People were friendly and they lived their lives at a leisurely pace. The world has changed a lot since the first Andy Griffith show aired on Oct. 3, 1960. But, even then, the show was like a vacation from the fast pace of life.

Griffith, as Sheriff Andy Taylor, set that pace. He never won an Emmy – he wasn’t even nominated – probably because he made everything look so easy. (Griffith did, however, earn a Grammy Award for his album of gospel songs.)

The death of Griffith last week at age 86 left few cast members alive. Knotts died in 2006 at age 81. Bavier, who for some unknown reason did not get along with Griffith when the camera was not rolling, died in 1989 at age 86. George Lindsey (Goober Pyle) died two months before Griffith at age 83. In fact, the only significant cast members still alive are Ron Howard (Opie Taylor), Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) and Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle).

Howard has gone on to have a career with just as much stature as Griffith. Now 58 years old, Howard was Richie Cunningham on TV’s “Happy Days” and was featured in such movies as “American Graffiti,” “The Shootist” and “Grand Theft Auto.” But his work as a director and producer is quite impressive.

Howard directed “Splash,” “Cocoon,” “Parenthood,” “Apollo 13,” “Ransom,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Frost/Nixon,” among many others. He has won two Oscars and 31 other awards among 45 nominations.

Together, this cast created eight years of enjoyment for viewers in the 1960s and the millions more who have watched it in syndication and on DVDs. According to TV Guide in 2002, “The Andy Griffith Show” was the ninth greatest program in television history. The magazine listed Griffith 12th and Knotts 27th on its list of TV’s greatest stars.

Griffith, a former school teacher, had success on Broadway and in films before he moved to Mayberry. After the show ended in 1968, Griffith starred in a trio of TV series put together by his production company that were largely unsuccessful. Then, in 1986, he became Ben Matlock and starred on that series about a Southern attorney who solved cases much like Perry Mason.

Andy Griffith was successful as a singer, an actor, a comedian, a writer and a producer. But, during the eight seasons he was Sheriff Andy Taylor, he presided over a cast that created some of television’s greatest moments.

Most of them are gone now but the Mayberry they created will always be with us.

Words of Wisdom: “When a man carries a gun all the time, the respect he thinks he’s getting might really be fear. So I don’t carry a gun because I don't want the people of Mayberry to fear a gun. I’d rather they respect me.”

(Sheriff Andy Taylor)

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