Andy Griffiths lasting gift
Mayberry isn’t real. But the amusing, instructive and heartwarming “Andy Griffith Show,” set in that fictional small North Carolina town, remains remarkably authentic more than half a century after its debut. That gift to television viewers will endure long after Andy Griffith’s death Tuesday at age 86.
Though also still seen in syndication as eccentric Atlanta defense attorney “Matlock,” which originally aired from 1986-95 on NBC, Mr. Griffith will be most remembered for his namesake series. That show, which has constantly aired in reruns from its 1960-68 CBS stint, delivers down-home laughs and sweet morals of stories about, among other engaging characters, Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith), son Opie (Ron Howard) and Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts). Barney’s hilarious false bravado was sorely missed when Mr. Knotts left after the fifth season. Yet even with Barney and his lone bullet, viewers still liked — and still like — visiting Mayberry.
Mr. Griffith, born and raised in Mount Airy, N.C., brought a folksy accent and charm to the series. He and Mayberry showed a positive side of the South in an era when our region was deservedly suffering severe image problems.
Sheriff Taylor keeps Mayberry safe without carrying a gun. Barney keeps his job despite occasionally firing his gun by mistake. Opie keeps his balance despite losing his mom at a young age. Other quirky Mayberry denizens, including Aunt Bee, town drunk Otis, Gomer and Goober Pyle, and Floyd the barber, also keep viewers smiling — and thinking.
Andy, though, is the steady hand on the wheel. Beyond the laughs, his best moments come not as an easygoing yet effective sheriff but as a loving father.
In the 1963 opener, Opie kills a mother bird with a slingshot. Rightly chastised by his dad, he takes on the responsibility of caring for her three orphaned chicks. The lad’s shame and grief shifts into pride and joy in the young lives he’s nurturing. Then Opie, reminded of growing-up reality by Andy, must let those little ones take wing and fly away.
And while few real people can rise to the simple decency of Mayberry’s funny, friendly sheriff, Andy Griffith brought him to large, uplifting life on the small screen.