The Archive is sad to report that actor Andy Griffith passed away this morning at the age of 86. Griffith was best known for his role as “Sheriff Andy Taylor” in The Andy Griffith Show, and also enjoyed success playing the title role in Matlock from 1986-1995. Griffith was also a Grammy winner and talented comedian and singer.
Here are some selections from his 1998 Archive interview:
The town of Mayberry featured in The Andy Griffith Show stemmed from Griffith’s own hometown of Mt. Airy, NC. In Archive his interview he notes:
“At first, producer Sheldon Leonard didn’t want it to be in North Carolina. He just wanted it to be somewhere in the south. And I hate these made up names. So we did have Mt. Pilot which there is a place called Pilot Mountain up near Mt. Airy, but I gradually started slipping in real towns in North Carolina like Asheville and Raleigh and Silver City. And so it became during that first year, it became a town in North Carolina.”
After a pilot episode aired on The Danny Thomas Show (“Danny Meets Andy Griffith,” airdate: 2/15/60), The Andy Griffith Show landed on CBS’ following fall schedule, debuting on October 3, 1960. It led to a group of successful “rural-themed” sitcoms (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres) that populated the CBS schedule through the ’60s. Nominated for several Emmy Awards, it brought five consecutive Emmys to ensemble player Don Knotts (as “Barney Fife”), but surprisingly Andy Griffith never saw a nomination. Perhaps this resulted from Griffith’s own realization early on that his character, Sheriff Andy Taylor, should not be played for laughs, but remain the voice of reason among the off-center denizens of Mayberry. Mayberry itself became the center of the show and landed in the pop culture annuls— leading audiences to believe it was a real town (as noted in The Musuem of Broadcast Communications’ Encyclopedia of Television, “over the years the writers fleshed out the geography and character of the town with a degree of detail unusual for series television.”) The Andy Griffith Show was followed by two spin-offs (Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and Mayberry R.F.D.) and a highly-rated reunion TV movie Return to Mayberry (1986). Andy Griffith was later seen on Matlock, Don Knotts on Three’s Company, and little Ronny Howard was just getting started when he starred in follow-ups The Smith Family and Happy Days. Andy Griffith, now 84 years old, has recently appeared in such feature films as Waitress (2007) and Play the Game (2008).
“I knew that Don should be the comic and I should play straight for him. And that made all the difference. All the difference. Then Mayberry became a living town.” — Andy Griffith
“Mayberry was a little town of yesterday… where everybody knew everybody, and it was full of these funny characters.” — Don Knotts
“Andy used to say that even though we’re making the show in the ’60s, Mayberry is really the town I grew up in the ’40s. So there was something nostalgic about it already. It wasn’t trying to be current. It more reflected his memory of the south that he grew up in.” — Ron Howard
The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the talents behind The Andy Griffith Show, including a rare interview with executive producer Sheldon Leonard (1907-97) in 1996. Among the many others featured on the Archive’s The Andy Griffith Show show page, include: Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Howard Morris, Elinor Donahue, producer Aaron Ruben, writer Everett Greenbaum, composer Earle Hagen (who not only composed the theme, but whistled it, too!), and director Richard Crenna.
Aaron Ruben, who produced The Andy Griffith Show and was Emmy-nominated for Sanford and Son, has died at the age of 95. Ruben began his career as a writer in radio, transitioning to television with series and specials that included Caesar’s Hour; in his early career he also directed for television, notably for The Phil Silvers Show. One of his last producing credits was the sitcom Too Close for Comfort. In his later years, Ruben was a court appointed children’s advocate.
“I’m certainly proud to have been at the beginnings of The Andy Griffith Show. Andy gives me more credit than I deserve because he’s quoted about how I set the style for that show. I don’t know. I’m just glad I was there and was an important part of the structuring of the show. I nurtured it and nursed it and I thought I took really good care of it. It was five of the best years of my life in the business.”
Aaron Ruben was interviewed for four-and-a-half hours in Beverly Hills, CA. Ruben discussed his start as a radio writer for many popular stars including Dinah Shore, Burns and Allen, Fred Allen, Henry Morgan, and Milton Berle. He talked about the first time he worked in television on The Sam Levenson Show with Selma Diamond, and his television directorial debut on The Phil Silvers Show. He spoke about his transition to producing, starting with the now-classic series The Andy Griffith Show. Mr. Ruben talked about other television shows he produced including Gomer Pyle, USMC; Sanford and Son; CPO Sharkey; and Matlock.