Mayberry Was in Andy Griffith
Is there anybody who won’t miss Andy Griffith?
Scads of us grew up — and continue to grow up — in the Mayberrys of our own hearts thanks to this beloved North Carolina actor.
Like many a Tar Heel trooper, my first paid acting job was with “The Lost Colony.” It’s still playing on the same sandy island where Andy started out as Sir Walter Raleigh, where he returned to make his home, and where he died last week and now rests.
My stint lasted only two years. There was one season as Gov. John White, then one as the story’s narrator, and then on to New York. For luck, upon arriving in Manteo, I rented the same room where Andy had lived when he was there.
That lasted less than a week before three girls from the company came to collect me and announced I was moving in with them. They need one more body to make the rent at a house they wanted, so I was drafted and left Andy’s room.
I didn’t meet Andy himself until I was in Hollywood, committing television and did a week on “Matlock.”
Yes, he was just as nice as you’d imagine the man who gave us Sheriff Andy Taylor would be. He didn’t rush off to a star trailer between takes. He just sat in a chair and fiddled with pesky L-shaped plastic “shelf supports” he had to wear inside his socks. They helped him combat “foot drop” from diabetes, he said. He’d fit them in before a scene. Maybe that’s what gave him that long, loping Matlock stride.
As “Lost Colony” alumni, he and I spun memories back and forth about mutual acquaintances like Irene Rains, or “Rene” (which she pronounced as “rainy”), the longtime “Colony” costumer. We talked about the Longs — William, who directed, his wife, Mary, who played the queen to Andy’s Sir Walter, and their son, Billy, who was there in my time.
That “boy” is now the celebrated theatrical designer William Ivey Long, with 12 Tony nominations (and five Tony awards) to his credit. He lives in New York, but goes back to Manteo every summer as production designer. This summer is his 42nd with “The Lost Colony.”
“Colony” people are members of a special club, one rooted in playwright Paul Green’s symphonic celebration of the first English settlement in America. Every year the show goes on, and 2012 marks its 75th season.
Lots of us went on to a life in the theater. After fighting off other candidates in a screen test, I got to be the last sheriff of Mayberry. The part was for a CBS pilot based on George Lindsay’s Mayberry character “Goober,” and the show was called “Goober.” Naturally. At least it was at first.
Then the producers (maybe with nudges from the network) decided “jiggle” was “in” thanks to “Three’s Company.” They added jigglers and changed the name to “Goober and the Girls.” It didn’t work. I think it aired once as “Goober and the Truckers’ Paradise.” Mayberry innocence was out, and CBS passed on the series.
Goober, too, is gone. He left us not long ago. George was great to work with, always joking and kidding us, keeping spirits up. Actors take in something from their characters; so do audiences. I think the Mayberry spirit must be the kind of thing that can soak into a person.
It’s no wonder to me that Andy Griffith returned to spend his last years in a small Tar Heel town. He settled near “The Lost Colony” grounds on Roanoke Island. His 70-some-acre home place was just down the road from “that sacred spot” where Virginia Dare was born — the first English child to be born on this continent – and where America began.
I’m not the only local with ties to that place. My Carthage neighbor, Lisa Bridge, had a much longer “Colony” run than I did. During her stint as Queen Elizabeth, she had to make queenly appearances at ceremonial occasions and awards. She often encountered the man from Mayberry, since Andy was a star attraction at such events.
Once — arrayed in full regalia as Elizabeth I — she tried to let him enter first.
“You should go in before me,” she told him. “You’re the star!”
“No, you go first,” Andy Griffith said. “You are the Queen of England!”
Lisa says he was a private man, but unfailingly kind and courteous. The Bridges ran a toy shop on the island for a number of years.
One time, when the Griffiths’ church was collecting shoe box items, they had a call from his wife, Cindy. Her Mayberry husband had gone out himself and bought items for their shoe boxes. Trouble was, this was October, and he’d bought chocolate. By December it would all have melted – or worse – but she didn’t have the heart to tell him. Could they come in the shop early for more durable things?
Of course. Andy spent hours picking shoe box toys for the needy kids.
The Mayberry we all saw on TV was inside him, and wherever he was — that was Mayberry.
If I could whistle in print, I would. You know what the tune would be.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at email@example.com.
More like this story