The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 7, 2012

BILL EGGERT | Mayberry memories

Bill Eggert
For The Tribune-Democrat

— Those of a certain age have noted with sadness the passing of a handful of television actors in the past month or so.

 In quick succession, we lost George Lindsey (Goober from “The Andy Griffith Show”), Richard Dawson (Newkirk on “Hogan’s Heroes” and later the kissing bandit game show host of “Family Feud”) and Don Grady (Robbie on “My Three Sons”).

Most recently we lost a major cultural icon who graced television screens for over 50years: Andy Griffith.

A versatile entertainer of the first degree (comedian/singer/actor), Griffith delivered a brilliant performance as a drifter turned media demagogue in Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic film “A Face in the Crowd.”

Some also remember him for his television role as the cagey country lawyer in “Matlock” (1986-1995).

But Griffith will best be remembered for his television role of the beloved Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

The series (1960-1968, plus three later reunion shows) chronicled the life of the wise and unflappable widower sheriff, Andy Taylor; his young son, Opie, (child star and future film director Ron Howard); and their matronly Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier).

Also featured was a town filled with benignly eccentric characters, headed by the bombastic and inept deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts).

It was Sheriff Taylor’s relationship with Deputy Fife, his cousin and best friend, that really brought Andy’s strengths to the forefront.

Andy possessed the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the wit of Will Rogers. He needed them all in dealing with Barney on a daily basis.

The sheriff allowed his deputy only one bullet, kept in his shirt pocket, to use in his revolver in case of an emergency. It was more for his deputy’s protection than any other reason.

Through Andy’s kindness and grace under fire, he orchestrated scenarios that allowed Barney’s weekly mishaps of ineptitude to appear to the citizens of Mayberry that Barney has actually done something heroic.  

Meanwhile, Andy quietly sat back and allowed his deputy to take credit for each triumph.

Thanks to Andy Griffith’s ongoing creative input (for which he never took credit), the fictional Mayberry, based on his hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., became more than a geographical location. It became a state of mind.

It was a small town where inebriated individuals such as Otis Campbell would walk into the courthouse and put themselves in jail.

Mayberry was a town so well defined you never needed a map. Right next to the courthouse was Floyd’s barbershop, where you could catch up on the latest gossip from Floyd himself, speaking in his distinctive drawl.

Speaking of gossip, we avoid Clara Edwards, Aunt Bee’s friend, like the plague. She is the town gossip, relaying the latest gossip faster than the telegraph.

Or you could walk over to Wally’s filling station and have a cherry soda with Gomer, or his cousin, Goober.

If you were lucky, Goober would do his movie star imitations of Cary Grant and Edward G. Robinson for you, much to the delight of cousin Gomer, his best audience.

You could have lunch at the Snappy Lunch Diner, where you might run into Helen (Andy’s girlfriend), Thelma Lou (Barney’s girlfriend) or timid county clerk Howard Sprague.

A really eventful day would include a visit from hillbilly wild man Ernest T. Bass, fresh from Myer’s Lake, throwing rocks and bricks at the windows of Mayberry stores.

Even better, Daphne and Skippy, the flirtatious blondes from Mount Pilot known as the “Fun Girls,” would blow into town, much to the consternation of Andy and Barney.

All the while, Sheriff Andy Taylor, armed with only his wits, folksy charm and common sense, would navigate the sidewalks of the sleepy little town of Mayberry; keeping the peace during days that always seemed sunny, and where it seldom rained.