Reading about Andy Griffith’s demise at the age of 86, millions of Americans must have felt as if part of them had died, too. I know I did.

Although many television fans around the world connect Griffith with his later incarnation as Matlock, for Baby Boomers and their parents, Sheriff Andy Taylor represented the best father and wisest sheriff in America!

Surprisingly, Griffith never won an Emmy for his role as Andy Taylor. However, he was such a great actor that many Americans were shocked to see his promotional advertisements for Barack Obama co-starring television son Opie, director Ron Howard.

SpouseMouse (who is English) and I happened to see his campaign announcement for Obama in 2008. Our jaws dropped. We looked at each other and asked, ‘Did Opie talk him into this? Or was he always a Lefty?’

Almost every thread that allows comments on Griffith’s obituary has many from disappointed, if not angry, Americans. We had connected Griffith so closely with Andy Taylor — a modern-day Solomon — that it seemed inconceivable he would promote any political candidate. Sheriff Taylor would have said, ‘This is a free country and I’m not going to influence your choice.’

I don’t know who was behind those adverts, but if it was an Obama operative, it was a cynical move which probably didn’t work very well with devoted viewers of The Andy Griffith Show.  Regardless, this serves to illustrate how closely a good actor is linked with his principal role — and how much we are mistaken in drawing a conclusion between person and persona.

However, although raised early on as a Baptist, Griffith later joined a pietist denomination, the Moravian Church. Many pietists are left-of-centre in their utopian emphasis on love and harmony. And it turns out that Griffith did support Democrat candidates in North Carolina. There are a number of Moravian congregations in Griffith’s home state of North Carolina.

His obituary on Fox News stated:

Griffith was born in 1926 in Mount Airy and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.

Moravians settled in the coastal Southern states during colonial days. Regular readers will recall Methodism’s John Wesley. Wesley became an Arminian — free-will Protestant — through his encounters with them:

The Wesleys, together with the members of the Holy Club, developed a methodical way to achieve what they saw as a sanctified, obedient life. This rigid system of holiness would become known as Methodism.  The word ‘pietist’ was initially used by those critical of the movement; and so it was with the word ‘Methodist’, used against the Holy Club by its critics at Oxford.

The Wikipedia entry on pietism describes the German influence on Wesley as coming from both the Lutherans and the Moravians:

Moravians (e.g., Zinzendorf, Peter Bohler) and Pietists connected to Francke and Halle Pietism.

However, Wesley’s first encounter with their pietism initially occurred not in Germany but on his journey to North America with Charles in 1735.

A storm broke one of the ship’s masts en route to the American colonies. The story has it that, whilst the English (Anglicans and/or Calvinists) panicked, the Moravians on board remained calm by praying and singing hymns.  Their reaction impressed John Wesley, and he befriended them …

Once Wesley arrived in the southern colony of Georgia at the invitation of Governor James Oglethorpe to head a new congregation in the city of Savannah, he maintained his connections with Moravian pastors which affected his ministry there adversely …

Upon his return to England, John Wesley continued his Moravian associations.

Moravians in London worshipped in Aldersgate Street, then at the Fetter Lane Society, which Peter Böhler established in 1738. Both Wesleys and George Whitefield, as well as other Anglican clergy and laypeople, began attending Moravian services …

The Moravian worship style at the Fetter Lane Society was typically pietistic, inducing meaningful religious experiences, surges in emotion and a subjective notion of the presence of God …

Back now to Andy Griffith’s life. Twice divorced, he married a third time and left a widow, Cindi Knight, as well as a daughter from his first marriage to Barbara Bray Edwards.  In 1996, he recorded a CD of hymns which went platinum and won a Grammy Award the following year.

Griffith was buried within five hours of his death. Fox News tells us that he was a private person (emphases mine):

Griffith protected his privacy by building a circle of friends who revealed little to nothing about him. Strangers who asked where Griffith lived in Manteo [North Carolina] would receive circular directions that took them to the beach, said William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.

Griffith helped Long’s father build the house where the family lived in a community of bohemian artists with little money, sharing quart jars of homemade vegetable soup with each other.

[Close friend Craig] Fincannon described Griffith as the symbol of North Carolina, a role that “put heavy pressure on him because everyone felt like he was their best friend. With great grace, he handled the constant barrage of people wanting to talk to Andy Taylor.”

The Andy Griffith Show started a trend on CBS for rural sitcoms in or of the South — The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction among them. This genre continued throughout the 1960s until the head of the network, Fred Silverman, pulled the plug on them and made a dramatic switch to purely urban comedy shows which have continued from the 1970s to the present day.

This programming switch is now referred to as the rural purge. It also affected the two other main networks in making shows more ‘relevant’:

The numerous cancellations prompted Pat Buttram (“Mr. Haney” on one of the canceled shows, Green Acres) to make the observation: “It was the year CBS canceled everything with a tree—including Lassie“;[2][3] Lassie actually survived the initial rural purge.

The first rurally-themed show canceled by Silverman was Petticoat Junction. In September 1970, The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered on CBS. All in the Family premiered in January 1971 as a mid-season replacement. Both series provided the urban demographic, cutting-edge social relevance and ratings that CBS sought.[citation needed] These ratings successes prompted Silverman and the network to cancel Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw, Lassie, and The Jim Nabors Hour at the end of the 1970-71 season. Another series, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour lasted until the end of the 1971-72 season.

ABC also was looking for younger audiences, and in May 1971 canceled shows that skewed toward rural viewers (such as The Johnny Cash Show) or older viewers (Make Room for Granddaddy and The Lawrence Welk Show). NBC also targeted rural and older oriented programs in its cuts, eliminating long-running programs such as Wild Kingdom, The Andy Williams Show and The Virginian, all of which ran nine seasons or more.

Several shows were still popular when the axe fell:

What made these cancellations puzzling were the fact that they had come prior to 1970, at a time when CBS had yet to air any of their more “sophisticated” shows and gauge their popularity with the television audience. The success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and newer variety shows such as The Flip Wilson Show and The Carol Burnett Show in 1970 would allow for the mass cancellations of most of the now “undesired shows” at the end of 1971 despite their high ratings and popularity. Both Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies had dropped from the Nielsen top 30 by the 1970-71 season, yet both shows continued to win their respective time slots and had a loyal following, warranting renewal for another season. Other shows that were still pulling in even higher ratings when canceled included Mayberry R.F.D. which finished the season at number 15, Hee Haw at number 16, and The Jim Nabors Hour at number 29.[7]Nevertheless, the course had been set by the networks and the shows were cancelled to free up the schedules for newer shows.

The inclusion of demographics into determining a series’ worth to its sponsors meant that high ratings alone did not necessarily warrant a series for renewal. Series such as ABC’s The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family were never truly a ratings hit; however, both series appealed to a younger demographic and thus were renewed for three more seasons.

It would seem reasonable to conclude that the shift to nearly exclusive urban and suburban settings — with certain subsequent exceptions, e.g. The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie — helped to shape the opinions of America’s viewers. The result was that ‘urban’ was seen as ‘desirable’ and ‘rural’ as ‘backward‘. I would enjoy reading a critique of this, if it exists, showing that the shift helped to denigrate the America which lies between the two coasts. My hypothesis is that the rural purge indirectly gave rise to the term ‘Flyover Country’ and explains why the South is still so despised, despite the fact that many Northerners have moved there for lower taxes or to reunite with families whom they left in the 1950s and 1960s. And let us not forget the clement winter weather and the springtime magnolias which rival England’s!

The Andy Griffith Show differed from the other rural shows, partly because it was modelled on Griffith’s home town of Mount Airy. Griffith loved North Carolina, and the show reflected this. As other journalists have pointed out, we laughed with the characters — not at them.

Griffith’s show demonstrated man’s fallibility in a poignant, instructive yet positive way. We knew that they wanted to do the right thing but, like all humans, couldn’t. Although not outwardly intended as such, the sitcom showed man’s tendency to sin and the healing which biblical values (mercy, forgiveness, obedience) produced. Every episode ended with balanced reconciliation and resolution. Griffith poured his Moravian faith into this gentle comedy, which was full of fun moments.

Viewers are still picking up on this, even if they are unaware of it, because the show has never been off the air since cancellation in 1968. It’s been running for 52 years, most of that time in syndication.

Most of the cast have now gone to their rest. George Lindsey, who played Goober, died in May 2012. Jim Nabors, who went on to star in the spinoff series Gomer Pyle, USMC, is still alive as, of course, is Ron Howard who played Andy’s son Opie.

Griffith and Don Knotts — Deputy Barney Fife — were close friends in real life and remained so until Knotts’s death in 2006. From the start of the show, Griffith let Knotts carry the comedy, for which he won five Emmy Awards.  Griffith decided to play the ‘straight man’, demonstrating fairness and wisdom. Many were the times Sheriff Andy rescued his deputy from a potential accident with his firearm!

Just as Andy Taylor treated everyone equally, he was also an exemplary father to his son Opie. The online obituary comments reveal that children from dysfunctional homes found comfort and encouragement in the programme: there really were good parental models to follow. Those half-hour episodes showed them the positive side of family life.

In 1996, NBC’s Today show featured a series on famous police shows. In this clip, presenter Matt Lauer interviews Griffith and Knotts. They explain how, although the show was set in the present-day, it also portrayed the Mount Airy, NC, which Griffith knew during the 1930s. Yet, even the small Southern town where my family and I lived for a season in the mid-1960s (job transfer for Dad), was similar to the fictional Mayberry — whilst imperfect, there was virtually no crime and many neighbourly values were evident.

Without further ado, here’s the video. Griffith explains that they purposely wanted to keep the show clean and ‘pure’, taking out any questionable jokes:

The next clip is from the backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. It was an episode of Make Room for Daddy, starring the late Danny Thomas (Marlo’s father). Thomas, travelling through Mayberry, gets stopped for speeding. He spends time in the cells. Andy Taylor is not only the sheriff but also the Justice of the Peace and the local newspaper editor. Here we see his wisdom as a lawman and shades of Matlock’s canny questioning:

In closing, some fans of the show might be unaware that the theme tune, which Griffith did not whistle, actually has lyrics. Here Griffith sings The Fishin’ Hole:

Rest in peace, Andy — and thanks for the enduring memories!

Further reading:

Andy Griffith – Wikipedia

Rural purge – Wikipedia

‘Legendary television actor Andy Griffith dead at 86’ – Fox News

‘Why People Love The Andy Griffith Show‘ – RCP

‘Andy Griffith sings original lyrics … – Zap2it

‘Andy Griffith — already buried’ – TMZ

‘George “Goober” Lindsey dead …’ – TMZ