Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Andy Griffith: A Tribute to the Best

Andy Griffith may be gone from this world, but he will never be forgotten.  A performer of stage and film, he is best known of course for his classic television series, The Andy Griffith Show, which originally aired on CBS from 1960-1968.  This show begat a sequel (Mayberry RFD, CBS, 1968-71), may still be seen in reruns (across the board on places like TV Land), and is available on DVD.  The program’s stellar cast shines in any decade: Griffith (as Sheriff Andy Taylor), Don Knotts (Deputy Barney Fife), Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee), Ron Howard (Opie), and a host of regular and semi-regulars that appeared through its superior eight-year run.

The Andy Griffith Show is clearly Andy Griffith’s best legacy.  It stands for everything that a family television show should be:  it delivers superior entertainment, displays warm-hearted sentiment; and showcases the highest caliber of talent, in front of and behind the scenes.  Each element of its production was top-notch, from the writing, to the lighting to the performance of every golden moment scene.

There are four episodes of the series that remain favorites from my personal Griffith observatory:

1] Andy Saves Barney's Moral, in which Knotts' iconic Deputy Fife looks like more than his usual fool self, due to his flighty legalities.

2] The Clubmen, in which Andy and Barney meet with the members of an exclusively private men's association, and only one of them is invited to join.

3] Mr. McBeevee, in which Andy is convinced that his young son Opie's new friend is merely an illusion.

4] Barney and the Cave Rescue, in which Barney leads a rescue attempt to save Andy and his girlfriend (and Opie's teacher) Helen Crump (Anita Corsaut), both of whom are snared in a rock-ridden cavern, after an inner-land-slide.

McBeevee holds several heart-tugging moments, several between Andy and Opie, and in one in which Andy professes to Barney and Aunt Bee that, "I believe in Opie." Meanwhile, Moral and Clubmen display the true bond between Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife, which was the central relationship of the series. In each of these segments, Andy's diplomatic integrity and generous spirit of friendship and/or family shines brightly. Coupled with Cave, these Andy tales showcase high comedy, homespun appeal, and solid interaction between the main characters.

Still, if I must select my ideal segment, I must go into the Cave Rescue. Directed by actor Richard Crenna (who was the original choice for Darrin on Bewitched), and written by Harvey Bullock, Cave caters to several agreeable Andy elements, with style and distinction.

As the episode begins, Barney looks goofy as he inaccurately coins the proprietor of Mayberry's financial institution a pilferer. Chagrin, the Deputy picnics with his gal Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn), Andy and Helen, all of whom decide to explore one of boys' childhood stomping grounds: a spooky cave. A rockslide ensues. Andy and Helen are trapped.

By the time they free themselves, Barney has arranged a mammoth rescue endeavor, involving two mean-spirited townsmen who had publicly humiliated him. Rather than further embarrass the Deputy, Andy and Helen reenter the cave and feign near-death.

The rescue works, Barney is looked upon with monumental respect, and his character is restored.

The core of The Andy Griffith Show's appeal is held together in Cave with emotional, psychological and yes, even physical strength (Barney and the town's finest work their tails off during the rescue).

Andy's affection for Barney is taken to new heights, as he infringes on the cooperation of his significant other, in the form of Helen. (Mostly before, he saved face for Barney, solo.). Not only does this enforce Andy's bond with his right hand man - and best friend, but solidifies his relationship with Helen, who proves her devotion to her Sheriff/boyfriend by going the distance (albeit, back into the cave).

Yet there are other fine bonding moments to adore within the Cave, specifically, towards the close of the segment, when Thelma Lou shares her pride in Barney What-a-Guy Fife with Helen, who seconds the notion, in reference to Andy. Helen never lets on that she and Andy really did not need to be saved, thus displaying her fondness for Thelma Lou with Andy-like discretion and poise.

Yet my favorite scene in this, my favorite episode, is when Helen and Andy venture to Helen's house in order for her to shift out of her dirty clothes (which she changed back into once she and Andy learned of Barney's massive rescue maneuvers, via the radio airwaves). As Andy initially waits in Helen's living room (which is decorated with doilies and big '60s furniture), a nostalgic, peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, inner-home cozy feeling seeps through the television, and begins to permeate into our real-life parlors.

We actually feel like we've been transported into Helen's abode...back to a simpler time, basking in the tranquil effects of that ol' Mayberry magic. Combined with Barney's pristine lunacy, and subsequently acquired legitimate (though unnecessary) courage, Andy's discretion and his "in-no-real-physical-peril-but-Barney-needs-me-to-be-in-trouble" heroics, Helen and Thelma Lou's prodigious support for the men in their lives (and despite the non-extensive use of the then-billed Ronny Howard's youthful intelligence as Opie and the central exclusion of Frances Bavier's amiable Aunt Bee), in my eyes, Barney and the Cave Rescue beams as The Andy Griffith Show's finest half-hour.

It stands for everything about classic television, and TV in general, that is good and sound and true.

Thank you, Mr. Griffith, for teaching us all about the truly finer things in life, which are always the simplest things in life.


ethelmaepotter! said...

Lovely tribute! Like you, I have always loved that line - "I believe in Opie." That one, along with another, define the series - (from Andy on Trial) "...when you're a lawman and you're dealing with people, you do a whole lot better if you go not so much by the book, but by the heart."
thanks for the memories.
PS - I didn't know Richard Crenna was first choice for Darrin!

Author/Actor/Executive said...

Hi Ethel Mae - Glad you enjoyed the tribute. Hopefully, if "And of Mayberry" is ever brought to the big-screen, those in power will "get it right." As to Richard Crenna being in the running to play "Darrin" on "Bewitched" - it's true. Bill Asher, who just passed away, and who was the show's producer/director (and then-husband to Elizabeth Montgomery), was good friends with Crenna and respected his work. But of course then Dick York walked into the audition - and stole the show. All of that and more is in my new bio about Elizabeth, TWITCH UPON A STAR: THE BEWITCHED LIFE AND CAREER OF ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY, which may be ordered directly from me by emailing