The actor Andy Griffith died yesterday at the age of 86. He is best known for his portrayal of a quintessential and relentlessly likable American character.
As Sheriff Andy Taylor, Griffith was one of the last adult males to appear in a TV comedy who wasn’t painted as a nerd, a numbskull, a no-goodnik, or a nut job. His “brand” was quiet wisdom and abiding decency – try that in a major series today and see how well it goes over.
There will be tributes, of course. Many will indulge in the popular assumption that Andy Griffith and Andy Taylor were the same. Maybe they were, though some of the most thoughtful obits say Griffith was infinitely more complex.
But it is so easy to think of Griffith as Andy Taylor personified. Why shouldn’t he be? Somebody should! There was a tidbit in the excellent New York Times obit that shed some light on Griffith’s more nuanced personality when it described him doing something, I think it’s fair to say, most of us simply could not do – surrender control.
“Mr. Griffith’s fans may have imagined him as a happy bumpkin, but he enjoyed life in Hollywood and knew his way around a wine list. His career was controlled by a personal manager, Richard O. Linke, who forbade Mr. Griffith to solicit advice from anyone else, even his wife.
‘If there is ever a question about something, I will do what he wants me to do,” Mr. Griffith said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1970. “Had it not been for him, I would have gone down the toilet.’”
The Times article says Griffith and Linke got together after Linke, who worked for Capitol Records, heard a recording of the then 27 year old actor giving a humorous talk to a convention at Standard Life Insurance Company in Greensboro. The bit became a hit on local radio – that’s how Linke heard it. One can fairly assume that without this bit of whimsey, none of the rest would have followed. What a fortunate convergence! You’ll note in this recording that Griffith’s voice goes a might heavy on the southern syrup.
Hard to believe something so innocuous launched Andy Griffith’s memorable career. Even if Sheriff Andy Taylor did not reflect Griffith’s true personality, it led to lots of laughs and many pleasant memories for hundreds of millions.
What sort of TV character are you best suited to play?