Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Remembering Andy Griffith

Andy Griffith, 1926 - 2012

I'm sure everyone remembers The Andy Griffith Show, where Sheriff Andy Taylor played straight-man to some of the most memorable situation comedy characters of its' time, like Floyd the Barber, Gomer Pyle, Ernest T. Bass, and of course, his unforgettable second-banana, Barney Fife.   Mayberry may not have existed, but it was sort of patterned after Griffith's home town of Mt. Airy, North Carolina.  I even remember the episode of Make Room for Daddy, starring Danny Thomas, in which Thomas' character is stopped for speeding in a small Southern town.  It may or may not have been called Mayberry, and although Griffith played the County Sheriff, he may or may not have been named Andy Taylor.  Those facts I don't remember.  I do remember that when Thomas' character, Danny Williams, wanted to protest the fine, he took his complaint to the courthouse, where the justice of the peace just happened to be Andy Griffith's character.  And when he wanted to take it even further, and write a complaint to the local newspaper, the editor was you-know-who (Andy).  It was a very funny episode, and was received so well, that it ended up being the pilot to spin off The Andy Griffith Show.  Both shows were produced by Sheldon Leonard, who by the way played the bartender in It's a Wonderful Life.  You'll also see him as a villain in many B Westerns of the 40's, before he became one of the most successful producers of early television.  And did you know that the friendship of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife, started way before The Andy Griffith Show?  One of Griffith's early successes was No Time for Sergeants, a story about a country boy in the United States Air Force, which started out as a one hour teleplay for the United States Steel Hour in March of 1955, and co-starred Nick Adams (The Rebel) and Don Knotts.  It was then expanded to a full length theatrical version which ran on Broadway, and earned Andy Griffith a Tony Award Nomination.  Finally, in 1958, it was made into a movie.  No Time for Sergeants is also considered the inspiration for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., starring Jim Nabors, and was itself a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show, and was probably also produced by Sheldon Leonard. 
Prior to these successes, Andy Griffith was a monologist in his early career, much in the tradition of Will Rogers.  You can't really call him a stand-up comic, because he didn't deliver jokes.  He told stories.  And they were hysterical stories, like What it Was, Was Football.  Here he's a backwoods country boy trying to figure out what the heck is going on at a football game. It is a classic routine, which ranks right up there with Abbott and Costello's Who's on First? I know, I'm dating myself, and even though I was either very young or not even born when these bits were done, they were two of my favorites growing up.

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