From 1960 to 1968, Griffith was Sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show," set in Mayberry, N.C., which he as show co-owner modeled after his home town of Mount Airy, just south of the Virginia border in the shadow of the Blue Ridge and Pilot Mountain (also the name of a tiny town that became the larger town of Mount Pilot on TV). After the show went into reruns, which still continue, it was succeeded by a spinoff, "Mayberry R.F.D," and the town's name became a metaphor for small-town America, sometimes favorable, sometimes not.
The first show "gave rise to other small town, Main Street USA shows," Joanne Ostrow writes for The Denver Post. Until then, TV "was centered in New York duplexes . . . urban police stations and hospitals, and suburban ranches and Colonials." Doug Martin of The New York Times notes that "The Real McCoys" debuted in 1957 (and offers several other tidbits, such as Griffith's endorsement of President Obama's health-care reforms). The Times' Neil Genzlinger says the McCoy show was "unflattering," but the Griffith show countered a rural and especially Southern "stereotype defined by ignorance and bigotry" and confirmed "the notion that the moral center of the country lives somewhere in a small town." Griffith "made rural values universal," The Boston Globe said in an editorial.
Mount Airy, population 10,000, gradually adopted a Mayberry image, particularly after the decline of the region's main industries: textiles, tobacco and furniture. "Tourism has really saved us," Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry County Arts Council, told CNN. Griffith originally resisted helping the town promote itself as Mayberry, perhaps remembering prejudice he felt growing up on the wrong side of the town's railroad tracks, but in recent years participated in those efforts, including establishment of the Andy Griffith Museum. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
|As Lonesome Rhodes, with Patricia Neal|
|As lawyer "Matlock"|
Rodgers concludes, "Andy Griffith never won an Oscar, an Emmy or a Tony for his acting. But then, around here we never thought of him as an actor. He was just our friend and neighbor and we were so proud of him we couldn’t hardly stand it. And if the rest of the world happened to tune in to his popular shows and just happened to assume folks in North Carolina were anywhere near as good-hearted as Andy Taylor, Ben Matlock or the good people of Mayberry, well, that was OK with us, too." (Read more)
For coverage from the Mount Airy News, click here. For an obituary from Inside TV, go here. TV Week has reaction, including President Obama's, and some video clips, including a "Face in the Crowd" trailer and a segment from another movie, "No Time for Sergeants," which followed TV and Broadway versions that starred Griffith.