One of my heroes died today, Andy Griffith. He was a TV Icon and along with a great group of ensemble actors who on both the Andy Griffith Show in the sixties and Matlock in the 80’s and 90’s helped him become a national treasure. He is of course partially responsible for the making of another American Icon Ron Howard, who started out as his son on the long running Andy Griffith Show and has over the years bestowed well-deserved credit on Andy for not only giving him is start but for being his mentor and inspiring him as well.
Along the way Andy amused and thrilled audiences for generations with his easy going laid back style of acting on the Andy Griffith Show especially and with a slightly more peckish style as the somewhat fussy lawyer Matlock in later years. His fan base has its origins in rural small town America from which he sprang and from which came some of his most endearing lines. Growing up in that environment he came quickly to understand both the thinking and the humor that rural Americans possessed and used it to his advantage throughout his career to create characters that were somewhat flawed but loveable just the same.
He got his start as a stand up comedian and became a stand-out with his classic ‘What it was, was football’ in 1953. His take on one of America’s most revered and iconic sports is still fresh today. He couldn’t quite comprehend what he had been accidentally forced into watching, but he put the whole game of football into perspective with his closing lament, “It was some kindly of a contest, whereby one bunch them men tried take that pumpkin from one end of that cow pasture to the other without either getting knocked down or steppin’ in something.”
That one classic monologue propelled him into a lifetime of TV and Movies. His first movie also remains a classic “No Time For Sergeants’. While he has become a comedic icon he also has left us with a number of dramatic roles for which he gained acclaim, especially his dark, chilling and somewhat prescience portrayal of ‘Lonesome Rhodes, as a made up character that soon comes to control everything and everybody around him and then seeks to control the nation as well and its people as well, before he is brought down by his own ego, and the people around him who helped create the monster that he had become, in the now classic ‘A Face in the Crowd’.
The Andy Griffith Show became an all-time classic because of its innate ability to address real-life issues with thoughtful though humorous insights that gave you the point and made you think without directly smacking you in the face and letting you laugh and feel good about what you saw. It was sometimes a little hokey, but with good thoughts and good humor in mind. Often teaching a lesson without preaching and still being hilarious and entertaining.
He made several other classic movies for TV in which he often played dark and menacing roles gaining kudos for his dramatic skills as an actor. But it was through his mostly comedic roles which made him the icon that he became.
Through it all he remained as fresh and new as the first day he burst upon the scene. He was likable and well-respected by his fans and his colleagues as well. He gave several actors their starts in TV and movies. Don Knotts, his bumbling and lovable deputy Barney Fife, George Lindsay as Barney’s rural hayseed cousin, Goober, of Ron Howard as Opie, and Jim Nabors, as Gomer Pyle the man with the classic singing voice playing another small town hayseed drafted into the modern Marine Corps after having served as one of Andy’s bumbling but lovable deputies.
Andy Griffith gave us so much. He made us feel good about ourselves and taught us how to laugh at our own foils and did so without prejudice or rancor. He was also an excellent musician and singer in his own right and his album from the 1990’s ‘I Love To Tell The Story’ went platinum.
I will miss his rural tinged kindly good humor and will probably watch Matlock and the iconic Andy Griffith Show for the remainder of my years.
Goodbye Andy, thanks for helping make my life a little more humorous and a whole lot more fun! —– Bob Bearden