I was surprised — and saddened — to learn that Andy Griffith, whose show business career included playing Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor (on The Andy Griffith Show) and Atlanta-based defense lawyer Ben Matlock on TV, died earlier today, only a day after my mother’s 85th birthday; surely Griffith’s TV work was and will be a major component of his legacy as both an actor and an icon. Of course, there was more to Griffith than just his TV work: he also recorded comedy and music albums (with one of them winning him a Grammy Award in 1996), and acted on Broadway and in the movies, with No Time For Sergeants and A Face In The Crowd showing Griffith’s superb range as an actor — especially A Face In The Crowd, in which he played ruthless and unsavory TV personality Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a character completely unlike the more decent Andy Taylor whom Griffith would play on TV by the start of the 1960’s. It’s highly unlikely that “Lonesome” Rhodes wouldn’t have cared much for Andy Taylor, if the two characters existed in real life — and yet, both remain fascinating characters, not only because they represent both the best and worst of America, then and now, but also they give us a glimpse of the human condition.
Of course, The Andy Griffith Show was more than just Andy Taylor and the people of Mayberry (including his son Opie, cousin/deputy sheriff Barney Fife, and Aunt Bee) — it celebrated the virtues of small town America and what was really important, even in a decade like the 1960’s, when our core values were being challenged and threatened from all sides. Thanks in part to Griffith’s superb performance, Andy Taylor was more than a lawman who kept the peace (without resorting to violence, I might add) — he was also an exceptional character and role model who never lost both his decency and dignity, no matter what problems he faced on an almost-daily basis, or whoever he encountered on the streets of Mayberry (like town drunk Otis Campbell and trouble-maker Ernest T. Bass, to name just a few). Of course, Andy Taylor wasn’t perfect — but that was part of his appeal as both a character and folk hero, and why reruns of The Andy Griffith Show are still popular today and will remain so, long after the more flashier (and less entertaining) TV shows, movies, and movies have been long forgotten. (And for those of you who have a serious interest in the TV shows of the past, I wrote an article for Triond a few years ago that focuses on The Andy Griffith Show‘s history, which has since been updated following Griffith’s death — to check it out, please click here.)
Andy Griffith was one of a distinguished number of film and TV greats who were associated with the characters that they played on-screen — and whose popularity has not only endured, but also outlasted even the most fleeting of fads and follies that have already faded into history. Even more important, Griffith was one of a handful of icons who represented America at its best — not only representing the country’s positive traits and virtues, but also showing us what truly matters, a simple fact that should not only be remembered, but cherished always.
John Lavernoich is the author of the novels Code Name: Chameleons and Chameleons To The Rescue, as well as various non-fiction articles and short stories that have been published in print and on the Internet — to learn more about Mr. Lavernoich and his writing achievements, please visit his official website (http://johnlavernoich.sharepoint.com), as well as his pages on Windows Live Spaces (http://cid-ef88d131988ab38f.profile.live.com), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/john.lavernoich?ref=name), MySpace (http://www.myspace.com/jlavernoich), Twitter (http://twitter.com/JLav65), and WordPress (https://johnlav.wordpress.com). Mr. Lavernoich also maintains his own video channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/JLav65?feature=mhsn) as well as his own Author Spotlight page on Lulu Books‘ website (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Highroad).
©2012 John Lavernoich.