Andy Griffith was real even if ‘Mayberry’ never existed

JASON REED REUTERS U.S. President George W. Bush (R) presents his Presidential Medal of Freedom to actor Andy Griffith at … Continued



U.S. President George W. Bush (R) presents his Presidential Medal of Freedom to actor Andy Griffith at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington in this November 9, 2005 file photograph. Actor Andy Griffith, whose portrayal of a small-town sheriff made “The Andy Griffith Show” one of American television’s most enduring shows, has died at his North Carolina home, television station WITN reported on Tuesday.

Andy Griffith, best known for his portrayal of Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy Taylor, died Tuesday. The real question is why the death of an actor most famous for a show that ended its run on television in 1968 is so much in the news?

To be sure, the show was much beloved, having ended its run at number one in the ratings and never falling out of the top 10 most popular shows in the nation.

And Griffith did go on to other successes, including his long-starring role as television attorney Matlock. Also, we live in a culture always hungry for news of celebrities, but still, something more is going on.

After all, one could easily point out that what most people are mourning is not the loss of the real person, Andy Griffith, who they never knew, but the character Andy Taylor, who never really existed! That’s actually crazy…or is it?

In fact, it’s not crazy at all. The idea that “artificial” representations create “real” emotions is what makes art work. And given the character created by Griffith, the era in which he created him, and the age in which we live, the attention his death his receiving is not only reasonable, it’s instructive.

While Mayberry never really existed, Griffith’s Sheriff Taylor embodied very real values – values which actually transcended the deep divides which tore the nation apart during the years the show aired from 1960 to 1968. The word used by Griffith to describe what his character and the show were all about that value was “love.”

At a time when families were often pulling away from each other and the term “generation gap” become popular, Andy Taylor was a loving and successful father, and single no less! Even more powerfully, Andy Taylor was a loving lawman at a time when the common image of a southern sheriff was likely to be Alabama commissioner of public safety Bull Connor or Lawrence Rainey and Cecil Price, infamously involved in the murders of civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.

Andy Griffith reminded viewers of what was possible when people lived lovingly, even as the nation was living through a time of remarkable hatred. And even though the setting was an idealized place that never existed – one in which there were no murderous tensions and problems were always resolved by the end of the episode, the love which created those resolutions could be practiced anywhere.

View Photo Gallery: Andy Griffith, whose homespun mix of humor and wisdom made “The Andy Griffith Show” an enduring TV favorite, has died. He was 86.

Andy Griffith created aspirational television. In our era of so-called reality TV, it’s probably worth asking ourselves not only which is more valuable, but which is more real.

Is it more real for production companies to stage situations in which real people would otherwise not find themselves, in order to provoke responses they would otherwise not have, or, could it actually be more real to create a non-existent community in which actors portray the values most people wished animated their real lived lives?

For Andy Griffith, that was a no-brainer. I think it is for the rest of us to, and that is why so many people are paying so much attention to death of an actor whose best-known character passed from the screen more than 40 years ago.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • ScottCF

    A marvelous column! Here’s hoping some of the suits at the networks read it and give us a new generation of Andy Griffiths — or Andy Taylors.

  • roscym1

    I always wondered though where this town in North Carolina was that had no black people?
    Not Andy Griffiths doing; he was fairly progressive, but a sign of the times we often do not want to remember.

  • jutepper1

    No need to wonder, rocym1.

    First, neither political correctness nor fear of liability had yet to become the predominant guiding principles of American behavior.

    Second, the show’s stories were about the subjects created by its producers and writers. Those stories never pretended to show everyone in Mayberry. In fact, they showed very few residents of Mayberry. So the thing to wonder about is why you wondered about the absence of black people from those stories, as opposed to what you might otherwise have in mind which, in and of itself, is probably an expected outcome of political correctness.

    Third, the absence of black people on the show had no effect on anything real that changed your life or the life of anyone else, such changing not being the obligation of the show’s creators in the first place.

    Fourth, in America, as it used to be, people were free to create the shows they wanted to create and write the scripts they wanted to write without fear of being called racists when those shows and scripts contained nothing legitimately called racist, which the absence of blacks, per se, is not.

    There is nothing about the time or the show that anyone should not want to remember, including the good and the bad. A short memory of the bad reduces the chance of an ongoing opposition to it.

    I think we should try to remember more than that immortalized time in September if we want our lives to turn out to be fantastic.

    Julian Tepper
    Placitas, NM

  • CharlesWade

    Mr. Griffith was a truly gifted individual and his kindness was genuine.

  • CharlesWade

    Oh my God! What a gross way to pay tribute to a lovely person. People who want to pander and draw attention to themselves talk about race even when it is highly inappropriate. Dig deeper and find something nice to say!

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