The Andy Griffith Show was almost required watching where I grew up, so I have retained a fondness for this classic television show to this day. In it Andy Griffith played the role of widowed father Andy Taylor, the sheriff of the little laid back North Carolina town of Mayberry. He and his adorable moppet of a son Opie live under the watchful care of Aunt Bea. The weekly plots consisted of Andy dealing with the crazy goings-on of the quirky cast of supporting characters, like goofy deputy Barney Fife, the perpetually drunk Otis Campbell, the manic redneck Ernest T. Bass and more. The Andy Griffith Show was ensemble playing at its best.
The dynamic that really set this show apart, however, was the relationship between Andy and his son Opie. Andy was the perfect straight man in a sea full of oddballs, a strong anchor not only for his child, but somewhat of a father figure to the whole town. He tried to teach Opie by example and, unlike most television sitcom dads of the time, his lectures were not overly moralistic or ponderous, but brief snippets of sedate, folksy wisdom. There is such a tremendous unspoken bond between father and son and Andy is tender, without being sappy. The life lessons he gave Opie might have been subtle, but you knew that this kid was going to remember them and that they would shape the kind of adult he evetually ended up becoming.
Of course, the show wasn’t perfect in every respect, when you view it through more contemporary eyes. For example, there was never any explanation of just how Andy’s wife passed away. There are never any pictures of her, not even in Opie’s room. In fact, the topic of her is never even brought up, something that would be abnormal in real life. Also, not a minority in sight in the whole town, not even a black, Latino or Asian kid in Opie’s class, so that an episode could revolve around tolerence, for instance. No over-complicated civil rights stuff for Mayberry, nosiree. During the eight year run of the show, controversial topics were avoided entirely and social issues, like race, Vietnam, etc., were not approached. Viewers seemed oblivious to this during the early years of the show, when the episodes were in black-and-white. Later, though, when the show was filmed in color during the mid-to-late 1960’s and big social concerns couldn’t be as easily ignored, the show ceased to be as relevent, not only because of its convoluted portrayal of the world, but because there was less emphasis on Andy and Opie’s relationship. The show seemed to lose its center.
Andy Griffith, himself a real life North Carolina native, had been a renowned comedic monologist, making a number of popular recordings. he also did stage work and films like Onionhead, No Time for Sargents and the excellent Elia Kazan-directed Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith gave one of his best dramatic performance. His early television work included The Steve Allen Show, Playhouse 90 and Make Room forDaddy, which introduced the Andy Taylor character. The Andy Griffith Show ran from 1960 until 1980 and has been in syndication since, gaining new generations of fans. Griffith continued to do theater, film and television work and appeared as savvy Southern attorney Ben Matlock in Matlock, another popular television show, in his later years.
For most of his fans, however, he will be best remembered as the temperate, dependable dad who worked hard to raise his son and kept a small town secure.