I’ve been thinking about Andy Griffith a lot lately. And I have Danny Thomas to thank for it.
I spend a lot of time trolling YouTube – the Internet website that allows anyone from large corporations to the average guy like me to upload videos.
Recently, I came across an Andy Griffith episode I’d never seen. For those of us who grew up watching the goings on of The Andy Griffith Show, finding an episode that we didn’t know existed is comparable to Harrison Ford finding the real Ark.
But to clarify, the show I ran across in the wee hours of the morning on YouTube wasn’t an episode of The Andy Griffith Show at all. Sure, Sheriff Andy Taylor was in it, and so was his son, Opie. Even Aunt Bee was there. Except, she wasn’t Aunt Bee. She played the part of a town widow. And the town drunk wasn’t named Otis, nor was it the actor who played Otis.
What I had found was a program that would later lead to The Andy Griffith Show. It was an episode of The Danny Thomas Show that contained a show-within-a-show that introduced us to the town where we would all one day wish we could live: Mayberry.
In this episode, Danny Thomas ran a stop sign and was stopped by Andy. I won’t recap the entire show, but suffice it to say, many jokes were written around Thomas – the rich, big city celebrity – being locked up and stuck in a town full of what Danny perceived to be uncultured, Southern rednecks.
By the end of the episode, Danny realized that judging people was a bad idea and that the folks in Andy’s town were wise and fair.
Even though it was an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, it was the roadmap that led to what arguably would become the quintessential American television program that represented the best of who we were in the 1960s.
I devoured this heretofore unknown slice of tasty Mayberry pie.
As a kid, I watched The Andy Griffith Show and I haven’t stopped since then. But the exuberance I felt seeing this “lost” episode made me evaluate why I, and virtually every other person from my generation, loved this program so much.
For those of us who grew up in small-town USA, the answer is simple. Every character on that program represents someone we know or knew. And the relationships between the characters are familiar because they were also ours.
The relationship between Andy and Deputy Barney Fife (who in the early episodes we find out are related; cousins it is revealed) is symbolic of many similar family dynamics I’ve known. The family member who is unnecessarily overly self assured is adopted by a different one who is generous with creative corrective support.
We’ve all been Barney at one point or another in our lives.
We’ve all had an Aunt Bee (if we’re lucky, more than one Aunt Bee), who was always there for us, oftentimes with a home-cooked meal and a hug.
Most of us have had a Floyd the barber in our life. That eclectic person may have been a barber, but instead could just as easily have been our next door neighbor, mechanic, or friend.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly have had a friend like Ernest T. Bass. Especially during my high school years. Some of my friends would likely argue that I was their Ernest T. Bass.
Other characters on the show, including Thelma Lou, Goober, Gomer, and the often referenced but never seen, Juanita and the phone operator Sarah, all could correlate to a person who was part of our world.
That’s what made that show so relatable. Even though the writers and actors were all Hollywood folk, they somehow were able to connect with the average men and women spread across the country. The scenarios of each episode were simple, but when paired with the characters, they became relatable. And they still are today.
The Andy Griffith Show was so well done, that it’s never left the air, and is still running in reruns some 50 years after Andy turned in his badge and Barney moved to Raleigh. They made Mayberry seem so pleasant and real that we still want to see what’s going on there.
The truth is, Mayberry didn’t exist, even when the Andy Griffith Show was on the air. Griffith himself said that the show was set in the 1960s but was meant to be reminiscent of the 1930s. No town was as perfect as Mayberry then, and it certainly isn’t now.
But it’s about as close to a perfect town as most of us can ever get.
©2018 John Moore
John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now is available on Amazon. Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.