Chang, Eng, Andy and ‘myth of old-timey homogeneity’

“When [author Yunte] Huang visited Mount Airy, or Mayberry U.S.A., he learned of a Chang and Eng exhibit kept in the basement of the Andy Griffith Museum. In other words, a shrine to an American myth of old-timey homogeneity was literally built on the more convoluted reality. Huang knew that the symbolism was almost too much to bear: ‘As Sheriff Andy says, “If you wrote this into a play, nobody’d believe it.” ’ ”

— From ” ‘Inseparable’ Finds Pride, Indignity and Irony in the Lives of Siamese Twins Chang and Eng” by Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times (April 4)

Limitless seems shelf space for biographies of the brothers Bunker. 


Andy Griffith, contemporary America’s Robert Burns?

“Is Andy Griffith our Robert Burns? One should argue Whitman or Poe, or even Frost, makes for a richer comparison. Certainly self-invented Whitman, who loved Burns, is the triumphant American version — yet the Whitman house in Camden, New Jersey, receives scant visitors. The same is true for Poe’s tidy home in Baltimore, now temporarily closed for lack of community support; and poor Frost’s New Hampshire farmhouse was vandalized and set aflame by a horde of drunken teenagers, who literally pissed on his stuff. Maybe these aren’t fair comparisons. But in the second half of the 20th century, television is popular culture.

“Perhaps whatever impulse propelled Keats in the 19th century — and Clark Gable, Irving Berlin, Joe Louis, and the Prince of Wales over a century later — to make a pilgrimage to the simple birthplace of poet Robert Burns, propels people to commune with the spirit of Andy Griffith in Mount Airy.

“The city earned over $100 million last year because people want to witness the place where this man came into being, and as any casual observer can discern from fans talking on the candlestick courthouse phone, they desire to exist inside his fiction.”

— From “Our Town: Andy Griffith and the Humor of Mourning”  by Evan Smith Rakoff” in the Los Angeles Review of Books (April 20, 2013)


Lumber industry enlisted tree farmer Andy Griffith

“Throughout the postwar years the [National Lumber Manufacturers Association] and its lobbying arms…  even recruited celebrity endorsements. In the 1960s, Andy Griffith, perhaps the most recognized television personality of the age, served as an official spokesman for tree farms. In one of his recorded messages, he explained

” ‘See I’m a tree farmer myself. My tree farm in Dare County, North Carolina is growing strong. We have 135 acres….So I know what the American tree farm system is all about and I believe in it. …There are about 4 million of us private landowners in the United States, and altogether we own nearly 60 percent of this country’s commercial land…. Without your volunteer effort and help the tree farm program wouldn’t be where it is today.’ ”

— From “American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the Making of a Nation” by Eric Rutkow (2012)


Bringing home the (Kevin) Bacon to Mayberry

Now that Google has made playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” simple and instantaneous, I couldn’t resist checking out the Bacon numbers for

Andy Griffith

Don Knotts

Ron Howard

Frances Bavier

Jim Nabors

George Lindsey

Howard McNear

Aneta Corsaut



Andy’s dead, and the rest of us are feeling right poorly

“Andy Griffith was a genial and gifted character actor, but when he died on Independence Day eve, you’d have thought we’d lost a Founding Father, not a television star whose last long-running series, ‘Matlock,’ expired in 1995….

“It was as if the nation were mourning its own demise. To the liberal media, Griffith’s signature role, Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, North Carolina, was ‘one of the last links to another, simpler time’ (the Miami Herald) and a repository of ‘values which actually transcended the deep divides which tore the nation apart during the years the show aired from 1960 to 1968’ (the Washington Post). On the right, the sermonizers quickly moved past an inconvenient fact (Griffith made a spot endorsing Obamacare in 2010) to deify Sheriff Taylor for embodying ‘a time when television was cleaner and simpler’ and for giving ‘millions of Americans the feeling the country stood for all the right things’ (National Review). Among those ‘right’ things was the fictional Mayberry’s form of governance, which, in the ideological take of the Daily Caller, demonstrated that ‘common sense and local control work better than bureaucracy or top-down management.’

“In reality, ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ didn’t transcend the deep divides of its time. It merely ignored them. ‘Local control’ of Mayberry saw to it that this Southern town would remain lily-white for all eight years of its fictive existence rather than submit to any civil-rights laws that would require the federal government’s ‘top-down management’ to enforce….

“The wave of nostalgia for Mayberry and for the vanished halcyon America it supposedly enshrined says more about the frazzled state of America in 2012 and our congenital historical amnesia than it does about the reality of America in 1960. The eulogists’ sentimental juxtapositions of then and now were foreordained. If there’s one battle cry that unites our divided populace, it’s that the country has gone to hell and that almost any modern era, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, is superior in civic grace, selfless patriotism, and can-do capitalistic spunk to our present nadir….”
— From “Mayberry R.I.P.” by Frank Rich in New York magazine (July 22)
Cover headline: “Is America Dead?”

Griffith remembered toilet-seat scene as a let-down

In all three versions of “No Time For Sergeants” — TV, Broadway, movie — Andy Griffith played Will Stockdale, backwoods Georgian turned Air Force private. The naive Stockdale views latrine duty as an opportunity to shine and rigs the toilet seats to salute the inspecting officers.

“We had to have a big production meeting to decide whether we could show those toilet seats [in the movie],” Griffith told me in 1979. Although permission was granted, he said actually filming the famous scene was a let-down.

“On the stage, we had had had a man lying down with a handle in his hand — all the audience saw was me stomping and the seats flying up. But for the movie the latrine scene had to shot in pieces, and we never got the immediate response. I remember the disappointment I felt on the set that day, although I knew the laugh would be there…. That’s movies.”


Doing ‘A Face in the Crowd’ almost undid Andy Griffith

“The transformation of a sweet Carolina country clown into a monster [for his role in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957)] was almost too much for Andy Griffith….[Director Elia] Kazan set out to turn his unsuspecting actor into the movie’s angry, dangerous hillbilly predator, to find the mean core in the vulnerable Griffith and expose that to the larger world, all of which caused great damage to Griffith’s marriage and to his view of himself as a human being….

“Kazan began with intimate, probing conversations; by revealing his own poor immigrant past, he got Griffith to reveal his poor hillbilly past in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Kazan learned that as a boy the actor had been labeled ‘white trash’ because of where he lived and who his people were. Bingo! Kazan had his key vulnerability….

“Kazan could merely whisper ‘white trash’ at Griffith between clenched teeth before turning on the cameras, and the fury of the outsider would rise in the actor….

“Kazan also carefully engineered Griffith’s isolation from the rest of the cast and crew , so that he would feel even more the hillbilly oddball….At a party at [co-star] Patricia Neal’s home, Griffith — who, now constantly in character as Lonesome Rhodes, seemed to feel he had to be the center of attention — showed his ignorance about art and literature in front of the very sophisticates from whom the real Andy Griffith sought approval, and his subsequent embarrassment made him withdraw sullenly….The next day on the set, Kazan suggested that members of the company line up and publicly mock Griffith for his dumb-hick ignorance of the night before. As a result, Griffith [according to an account in the New York Times] did ‘a fine psychotic day’s work.’

“In fact, Griffith the man was growing as dangerous as Lonesome Rhodes the character. Griffith made the tabloids during the filming as something of a wife abuser. He was said to ‘get out of hand.’ There was one item about his flying into ‘an ungovernable fury ‘ at his wife, Barbara, and smashing multiple closet doors…Griffith [said later], ‘I did a lot of things to Barbara, mostly with silence…. You play an egomaniac and paranoid all day, and it’s hard to turn it off by bedtime.’ ”

— From “Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains and What the Mountains Did to the Movies” by J. W. Williamson (1995)

Every time I see  “A Face in the Crowd” and “Ace in the Hole” (1951), I’m bowled over by how keenly they predict today’s media excesses.



Ngram: Good old mountain dew? Not exactly

More phrase-frequency charts from Google Books Ngram Reader:

— mountain dew vs. Mountain Dew

— Michael Jordan vs. Thomas Wolfe, Andy Griffith and Sam Ervin

— Lumbee Indians vs. Catawba Indians

— Wilmington 10 vs. Chicago Seven

— Charlotte Hornets vs. Charlotte Bobcats

New faces of 1960: Carolina Cronkite, handy Andy

” ‘Eyewitness to History’ (CBS), which takes up the top news story of each week and analyzes it in respectable detail, is a good example of the sort of first-rate service television can perform. … As impressive as the show itself is its young analyst-narrator, Charles Kuralt, 25, who wrote a human interest column for the Charlotte, N.C. News before CBS hired him. A deep-voiced Carolina Cronkite with more than a little Murrow in his bones, he has one of those low-ratchet, radioactive voices that sound like a roulette wheel stopping….

” ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ (CBS) sets up the fellow who had ‘No Time for Sergeants’ as a sort of one-man Southern town: he is the cop, justice of the peace, jailer, newspaper editor, coroner, sheriff, mechanic and mailman. As a drawling, broad-shouldered, curly-haired, grits-filled, engagingly handsome example of the U.S.’s vast natural resource of undeveloped intelligence, talented Comedian Griffith is often good for laughs, all of them canned.”

— From Time magazine, October 10, 1960

As the show developed, Griffith soon shed all his jobs except sheriff.