"The second episode was called 'Manhunt' and I knew by that episode that Don should be the comic and I should play straight for him. That made all the difference. Then Mayberry became a living town. We had all the comic characters that came on and I played straight for them. So Mayberry really was the star of the (Andy Griffith) show."
About This Interview
Andy Griffith (1926-2012) was interviewed for two-and-a-half-hours in Manteo, NC. Griffith recalled his breakout comedy debut, "What It Was, Was Football" and his first success on Broadway in "No Time for Sergeants." The two hits led to many appearances on live television shows, including U.S. Steel Hour, The Steve Allen Show, and Playhouse 90. He fondly remembers his long association with Sheldon Leonard, as well as the creation, production and eight-season run of The Andy Griffith Show. He also speaks of many television movies and miniseries he appeared in, and his successful crime series Matlock. The interview was conducted by Michael Rosen on May 5, 1998.
Andy Griffith is one of television's most personable and enduring star performers. He is perhaps best known as Andy Taylor, the central character in The Andy Griffith Show, which aired on CBS from 1960-1968 and consistently ranked among the top ten shows in each of its eight seasons. As a "down home" attorney in the even longer running Matlock, Griffith continued to make a unique contribution to television Americana.
The Andy Griffith Show began as a "star vehicle" for Griffith, who had achieved his initial success with recordings of humorous monologues based on a "hillbilly" persona ("What It Was Was Football," "Romeo and Juliet"), which led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He next played the leading role in the Broadway production of No Time For Sergeants as well as in the film and TV versions. His film debut was in the critically-acclaimed A Face In the Crowd (1957), directed by Elia Kazan, followed by Onionhead and the film version of Sergeants (both in 1958).
Having informed the William Morris Agency that he was ready to try television, Griffith was put in contact with Sheldon Leonard, producer of The Danny Thomas Show. A Danny Thomas episode was built around Thomas getting stopped for speeding by Griffith, and this show served as the pilot episode for the Griffith show. Astutely, Griffith negotiated for 50% ownership of the new program, which enabled him to be a major player in the program's creative development. Griffith's creative vision took a very different approach to TV comedy, in which place, pace and character were equal and essential contributors to the overall effect. Scenes were allowed to play out with almost leisurely timing, with character development occurring alongside the humor. Another key element to the program's success was the casting of Don Knotts as deputy Barney Fife. As the inept but lovable sidekick, Knotts took on the key comic role, enabling Griffith to play a more interesting and useful "straight-man" role. In this capacity Griffith's "Lincolnesque" character was allowed to develop--a character more appropriate to the role of single-parent father, and by extension, father to the small town of Mayberry. The Griffith-Knotts team became the driving comic relationship of the show, and the writers built most of the humorous situations around it.
Griffith left the show in 1968, feeling that he had contributed all he could to the character of Andy Taylor. Ironically, the program reached the number one position that year. The show's sponsor, General Foods, was not ready to relinquish the successful vehicle however, and a transitional program aired introducing a new lead character and a new name: Mayberry, RFD. Griffith remained as a producer, and the ratings strength continued as several of the supporting characters stayed on. The program was canceled in 1971, however, when CBS decided to abandon its rural programming for more "relevant" shows targeted at younger viewers.
Griffith's career subsequently stalled. Two series attempts, The Headmaster and The New Andy Griffith Show did not make it past their initial runs. A number of made-for-TV movies followed, many of which involved crime scenarios (and some in which he even played the villain). In 1981 Griffith received an Emmy nomination for Murder in Texas, in which he played a father who presses a court case against the son-in-law accused of murdering his daughter. Griffith played a prosecuting attorney in the miniseries Fatal Vision (1984), a performance which so impressed NBC's Brandon Tartikoff that a series was proposed utilizing an attorney as the main character. A pilot film for the show, Diary of a Perfect Murder, aired on NBC on 3 March 1986, and Matlock began airing in September 1986. Griffith plays Ben Matlock in the hour crime drama, a criminal defense lawyer whose folksy demeanor belies his considerable investigative and courtroom abilities. Many of the regulars from The Andy Griffith Show make appearances on Matlock, continuing a Mayberry legacy spanning over thirty years.
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ANDY GRIFFITH. Born Andrew Samuel Griffith in Mount Airy, North Carolina, U.S.A., 1 June 1926. University of North Carolina, B.A. in music 1949. Married 1) Barbara Edwards, 1949 (divorced); children: Sam, Dixie Nan; 2) Cindi Knight, 1983. Teacher and variety performer, 1949-51; recorded hit comedy monologue What It Was Was Football, 1953; debuted as monologuist on television's Ed Sullivan Show, 1954; debuted on Broadway in No Time For Sergeants, 1955; also in the television version and the film version, 1958; films debut A Face In the Crowd, 1957; appeared in commercials for Ritz Crackers and AT and T; various television series, guest appearances, since 1960, including star, The Andy Griffith Show, 1960-68; Matlock, series and made-for-television movies, since 1986. Recipient: Theater World Award; Tarheel Award, 1961; Distinguished Salesman's Award, 1962; Advertising Club of Baltimore's Outstanding TV Personality of the Year, 1968. Address: William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
1960-68 The Andy Griffith Show 1968-71 Mayberry, R.F.D. (executive producer) 1970-71 The Headmaster 1970 The New Andy Griffith Show 1979 Salvage One 1986-95 Matlock
1977 Washington Behind Closed Doors 1978 Centennial 1979 From Here to Eternity 1979 Roots: The Next Generations 1984 Fatal Vision
1972 Strangers in 7A 1973 Go Ask Alice 1974 Pray For the Wildcats 1974 Savages 1974 Winter Kill 1976 Street Killing 1977 Deadly Game 1979 Salvage 1981 Murder In Texas 1982 For Lovers Only 1983 Murder In Coweta County 1983 The Demon Murder Case 1985 Crime of Innocence 1986 Diary of a Perfect Murder 1986 Return to Mayberry 1986 Under the Influence 1992 Matlock: The Vacation 1994 Gift of Love 1995 Gramps
1965 The Andy Griffith-Don Knotts-Jim Nabors Show 1993 The Andy Griffith Show Reunion
A Face In the Crowd, 1957; No Time For Sergeants, 1958; Onionhead, 1958; Second Time Around, 1961; Angel In My Pocket, 1969; Adams of Eagle Lake, 1975; The Treasure Chest Murder, 1975; Hearts of the West, 1975; The Girl In the Empty Grave, 1977; Rustler's Rhapsody, 1985; Spy Hard, 1996
No Time For Sergeants, 1955; Destry Rides Again, 1959-60